Mar 27

If I thought super cynically about the world, I’d wonder if US defense contractors secretly paid the leaders of North Korea to keep causing provocations. Doesn’t it just seem so funny that right when Donald Trump releases his “skinny budget” with calls for huge defense increases North Korea starts launching missile tests?

That’s why defense contractors must love North Korea; if Democrats ever felt the world were safe enough to decrease defense spending, Kim Jong Un would step in to make everyone scared. And hence, the U.S. will continue to spend tons of money on defense.

In the last few weeks, Kim Jong Un and his generals have obliged this narrative. In recent weeks, they have assassinated rival brothers with nerve gas, test fired missiles, and engaged in a war of words with the United States. Of course, we have some thoughts...

Thought 1: War is NOT a foregone conclusion

Before we get to the ramifications of a potential war with North Korea--it isn’t pretty--we need to keep in mind that war is not a foregone conclusion. When we (Americans, the west, the media, conservative war hawks) assume we HAVE to go to war, we end up going to war.

Thought 2: Don’t Overreact. Don’t Overreact. Don’t Overreact.

We mentioned this in another post a few weeks back, but a potential war with North Korea always comes up in the spring almost every year. On The Media did a story on this a few years ago, appropriately titled “The Annual North Korea Missile Crisis”, and whenever North Korea hits the news we remind ourselves of this. North Korea finds provocations very useful in extorting China/the US and it is still under devastating sanctions, so it doesn’t have a lot of reason not to cause these problems. Most of the time, they don’t go anywhere.

We even wrote an entire week of posts on “A Week on the War that Wasn’t”. We could probably do the same thing this time.

Thought 3: We need to view this conflict from both sides.

If you get most of your news from US-based sources--and if you’re an American you probably do--North Korea is very dangerous, provocative and unhinged. So we turn to On The Media again, this time citing last week’s podcast, where host Bob Garfield and guest David Kang break down all the myths that interfere with our understanding of North Korea. The most notable part for me was how North Korean provocations are heavily covered in the U.S. but what could be perceived as U.S. aggression is not, echoing the U.S media’s one-sided coverage of Iran.

Thought 4: War with North Korea/Iran Won’t Look Like Iraq

The common thread between North Korea and the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps is that both countries studied the United States war with Iraq, and came away knowing they couldn’t win a straight up fight. They both also saw how unprepared the United States was for irregular warfare. As a result, both Iran and North Korea have increased their spending on special operations troops designed to fight in unconventional/irregular/non-traditional ways.

So I don’t see a war with North Korea looking like the “thunder run” of the last war in Iraq. The territory is different (flat deserts versus huge mountains), the troops will be different (regular army versus conventional/irregular as described above) and North Korea has nuclear weapons. (We’ve written about this before a few years ago.)

The old saw goes that armies fight the last war. As a country, we have the mistaken belief that overwhelming air power gives us the edge in any conventional conflict. We couldn’t be more wrong. Be very worried about this.

Thought 5: And a TON of people could die

Let’s start with the North Koreans. The U.S. military would start by directly target the North Korean military. That could mean the death of thousands of North Korean soldiers. A sustained/dedicated U.S. air campaign would devastate the already feeble economy leading to devastation and mass starvation. Those would be the North Korean civilian deaths.

Don’t forget that South Korea and North Korea share a border. This means that if North Korea wants to, it can take out its anger on South Korea in the form of artillery and rocket fire. It has inter-continental missiles, but also smaller guided missiles. All South Korean population centers would be under threat. (Joapa could be threatened as well under this scenario.)

Most Americans don’t care about the other two groups, if we are being honest. They care about the deaths of Americans. As I said above, a war with North Korea wouldn’t look like past wars. If we have to put soldiers on the ground, or in the sea, or in the sky, they are at risk. And that could mean lots of deaths of American soldiers, sailors and airmen.

Mar 23

President Trump had announced a few weeks back that he planned to dramatically increase the Department of Defense's budget while slashing the State department’s budget. At the time, we didn’t do quick thoughts because we knew it would come up later. And last week Trump released his “skinny budget” (skinny because of content not because of low BMI), so now we’re going to release our thoughts.

Thought 1: This Skinny Budget is the Anti-Liberalism Budget

A lot of media coverage has described this budget has a radical departure, focused on the “hard power” it represents. Which it is. But we want to really put it into the context of our philosophy of international relations.

As regular readers know, international relations liberals believe that, by supporting and promoting free trade, democracy, international institutions, and international development, the world has become incredibly safe and prosperous. But when you use passive language like “promoting and supporting” you obscure the fact that an ideology can’t promote those things. Even a nation really can’t promote those things. At the end of the day, people on the ground promote those things. In the United States, that means a State Department promoting international institutions. It means legions of workers at USAID and Voice of America promoting democracy and international development. The State Department also supports and promotes the international institutions that ensure free trade across the globe. The United Nations does all this as well, which again is a relationship owned by our State department.

You also need money to help promote all those things. You need a budget to provide international aid. You need budgets to hire democracy watchdogs and to donate to the UN. You need money to project soft power and reinforce the international order that has made the world so great. Donald Trump’s budget won’t do any of this. In fact, it will hurt all those efforts, causing potentially decades of harm.

Thought 2: Trump Disses the Greatest Generation

Another way to put the “anti-liberal” budget in context is that Trump (with Bannon doing a lot of the philosophical work here) is saying to America, “The Greatest Generation didn’t know what they were doing.”

We haven’t hit this point yet--and it may be a logical fallacy (just because the Greatest Generation was great does not make them perfect)--but it may become my new go-to defense of liberalism. The Greatest Generation saw the destruction wrought by World War I and World War II. The solutions after World War I (punishment, fines, weak international institutions, trade wars) didn’t work. So they developed the entire liberal world order in response (and also to fight the Cold War). Donald Trump wants to roll back all their work.

Though 3: Trump is an Untutored Realist

Let’s settle one thing about international relations realism. Sure I disagree with it as a larger philosophy, but smart realists provide good analysis. Going back in time, Thucydides created the discipline of international relations. Hans Morgenthau helped create modern realism. John Mearshimer and Stephen Walt are must read thinkers. (And Walt is super critical of Trump.)

Trump thinks of the world in realist terms, but he does so poorly and without any true conception of real power, soft or hard. That’s why the best description of Trump is as an “untutored realist”. (With a side helping of Steve Bannon’s Clash of Civilizations attitude.) He’s not informed on realism as it relates to foreign policy, and it could be a disaster. Unfortunately for the realists.

Thought 4: This Budget Gives More Alcohol to an Alcoholic

Since Republicans love to talk about business (and the free market), imagine you run a business whose costs are too high. Say a lot of these costs are from one specific, unprofitable division. So the company desperately needs that division to get more efficient, to cut costs. So the leader of the company would ask that division to cut costs.

You know what that leader wouldn’t do? She wouldn’t give them more fricking money,

If you told a division to become more efficient, why would you also tell them they are getting a 10% budget increase? Where is the motivation to drive for more efficiencies? Giving the Pentagon billions more each year, while insisting on nothing, is a recipe for inefficiency. Unlike the ruining of the State department, it probably won’t end in disaster, just huge amounts of money wasted.

Thought 4: The Pentagon is Just Plane [sic] Inefficient

Just need to send that reminder. We did a host of links a few weeks back and will probably keep repeating it every so often as reminders. (Send us good links we have missed.)

Link 1: The Pentagon Doesn’t Have an Auditable Budget

Link 2: McKinsey Found $125B in Waste in the Pentagon

Link 3: The Army Found Trillions in Accounting Errors

Link 4: Pentagon Wasting Billions in Multiple Places.

Link 5: Countless articles on terribly managed new weapon systems (F-22, F-35, Comanche Scout Helicopter, Littoral Combat Ships, and more) while failing to buy weapons that work (A-10 Warthogs, AC-130)

We’ve also written a few posts on the budget. We wrote an open letter to our congresspersons and did a guest post at ForeignPolicy in Tom Ricks’ blog on “Running the Pentagon Like Bain Capital”. The number of posts we’ve written on waste in the military and its huge budget are legion.

Mar 07

Before we rehit the potential costs of a war with Iran (coming next week), it is important to remember that a year ago, in January 2016, America could have gone to war with Iran but did not. And understanding why we didn’t go to war explains the threat Donald Trump poses to our security.

It would have gone down something like this: an American Navy vessel is in Iranian waters. The U.S. says it is lost or off-course. Iran seizes the vessel. Americans demand the sailors back with threats. Iran refuses. The President launches a rescue mission that encounters “resistance”, i.e. Iranian soldiers. Shooting starts. Suddenly, the U.S. or Israel or Iran is launching missiles or dropping bombs.

War has broken out.

This didn’t happen. Instead, American Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif worked out a peaceful solution. Iran released the sailors.

I have a simple theory for why this happened: former President Obama didn’t blame Iranians or the leader of Iran for seizing the U.S. warship. Because he didn’t do that--because his default position wasn’t blame--we averted this crisis. I want to drill down into that word “blame” because I think it explains how crises like this one are either averted or erupt into war.

You could start by blaming the largest group possible, as Neil Cavuto did at the Republican debate shortly after the incident. Cavuto opened a question to Jeb Bush saying:

“Governor Bush...the Iranians have provoked us, detaining us, as we've been discussing, with these 10 Navy sailors Tehran had said strayed into their waters..”

Notice Neil Cavuto used the term “The Iranians”. That’s a pretty big group. You have to wonder how the entire country of 77 million people agreed to kidnap the sailors?

Of course, they didn’t all agree with it. And it says a lot about your foreign policy positions, whether you hold the people of the country morally responsible for the actions of an Iranian officer in a patrol boat off your coast or whether you hold that officer alone responsible. Terrorists routinely blame “Americans” for drone attacks. Have you personally launched a drone attack? Probably not, so it seems unfair to get blamed for it. (Especially if you don’t think our country should be using them in the first place.)

The next level down on the blame scale is the leaders of Iran. Some Republicans don’t blame all Iranians, merely the Mullahs. Like Chris Christie:

“We need to rebuild our military, and this president has let it diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships.”

In this case, there are two explanations for the Mullahs being responsible for kidnapping the sailors. In the first, they ordered a patrol boat to kidnap the sailors. That doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering they decided to release the sailors 15 hours later.

So the only other explanation for why Christie blamed the Mullahs is that he blames them for everything their Navy does under their watch. Complete responsibility. This would mean if Chris Christie ever had any underlings who, say, shut a bridge down for political revenge, he is as equally responsible as the underlings. Obviously, he doesn’t believe that.

We could extend this “blaming the leaders” analogy to Obama. Was he the one responsible for the U.S. sailors being in Iranian waters? Of course not. He didn’t order them there and can’t be held responsible for them getting lost. Those two American analogies (Christie and Obama) show why we can’t blame the Mullahs. Or Prime Minister Rouhani.

Instead, it is much better to look down to the individual unit commanders involved.

The Iranian boat commander and his superiors could have been doing one of two things. Either they were honestly trying to do their job and protect their territorial integrity--something the American military absolutely would do--or they were trying to provoke a regional war. Now the latter explanation is totally feasible. A rogue commander is upset at the Iran nuclear deal and--perhaps goaded/ordered by other hard-liners in the Quds force--tries to force a war by kidnapping U.S. sailors.

But then Iran returned the sailors. So even if rogue forces were trying to upset the nuclear deal, other more powerful forces overrode them. Either it was an accident that the U.S. boat was in the wrong place and the Iranians were simply doing their duty, or the moderates in power in Iran were able to avert a power play by the hard-liners. That’s great news.

Of course, there were two actors in the sea that day, the Iranians and the U.S. sailors. The U.S. sailors had two possible explanations for their actions as well. Either they were in Iranian waters by accident (negligence), at which point the situation was resolved appropriately. Or they were in Iranian waters deliberately, at which point the U.S. still wants to save face and get them back. (As isn’t unusual, the U.S. narrative of what happened changed after the initial news cycle.) We should hope Iran assumes the best (accident) as opposed to worst (deliberate).

To sum up: the situation with the Iranian sailors was really an interaction by the lowest levels of the military of both Iran and the United States. And instead of assuming the worst, each side assumed the other side was acting in good faith, and the situation was resolved without violence. The best possible outcome.

Do we think with Donald Trump (and Steve Bannon) the same thing will occur? Will they assign blame to the lowest possible levels? Or will they blame the Mullahs and the IRGC for future interactions like this? Instead of de-escalating, could they use it as pretense to start a war?

So much has changed in a year.

Mar 01

I recently reread, or more accurately re-skimmed, Waltz’ Man, The State, and War to refresh myself on his three “images” for foreign policy theory. The three images all try to explain the cause of war, but from different perspectives. Somehow, Donald Trump manages to make war more likely across all three.

His distaste for international organizations makes the world more dangerous through his actions from the perspective of the third image (the international order image) and if he turns America into an illiberal democracy and encourages autocracies around the globe, he makes the world more dangerous from the perspective of the second image (the domestic politics image).

But we neglected the most important way Trump makes the world dangerous:

Donald Trump is a war hawk.

Waltz started with the “first image”, the personalities of leaders around the globe, because when most people try to answer, “Why does war happen?” they usually respond, “Well, people of course.” This is part of a grand historical tradition of the “great men of history” who, usually, in these tellings, through exceptional charisma or character or ineptitude, make things happen in history.

Take World War II. Another great power war would probably have happened at some point. Without the constraints of the liberal world order and the threat of nukes, what would have stopped it? But when it happened specifically in the late 1930s, well, Adolf Hitler deserves the blame. Hitler wrote about the glory and power of Germany, talked about restoring an empire, and believed in the idea of “Anschluss”, or the uniting of the German homeland. He talked like a war hawk and delivered on that promise. More concretely, he alone gave the orders to invade Austria, Poland, Russia and France.

Or take the Iraq War. Can you imagine Al Gore pursuing war with Iraq as revenge for 9/11 given that Iraq wasn’t related to Al Qaeda, had actually fought Al Qaeda, and didn’t have WMDs? So yeah, probably not. On the counter side, would Gore have invaded Afghanistan? Probably.

America faced a clear choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. America chose the President who will likely turn out to be a war hawk and no one can realistically argue otherwise. From the things Trump has said to the recklessly aggressive posture of many fellow Republicans, you can assume Trump is inclined to send America to war. And today we’re going to lay out that case.

(Would Hillary Clinton have started wars? Probably, but the flavor of war would have been “responsibility to protect”, to stop war crimes or genocide, or to prevent tragedy, than in the pursuit of the always vague “protecting America’s interest” which will now be known as “America First”.)

First, the Republican party is a war hawk party.

Sorry, but it is, and we’re tired of pretending that it isn’t. The Republican convention was filled with invective against ISIS. And the Republican party has been opposing the Iran Deal since Obama signed it. Together, ISIS and Iran represent the evils of the world, for some reason. (Along with helping doses of insulting Barack Obama.)

As an example, take Senator Tom Cotton. Cotton fascinates me (Michael C) because we were both in the U.S. Army, both led platoons, and both are clearly interested in politics. From there we both went completely different directions. Take the time Cotton recommended punishing innocent civilians over Iran sanctions:

”Once in the House, Cotton’s anti-Iran advocacy showed a mean streak. When, in 2013, a new Iran sanctions bill came before the lower chamber, Cotton introduced an amendment that would “automatically” punish family members of sanctions violators. “There would be no investigation,” Cotton explained during the mark-up. “It’d be very hard to demonstrate and investigate to conclusive proof.” Cotton wanted to punish innocent people; he called it “corruption of blood,” and extended the category to include “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids.”   

Tom Cotton is just one example of hawkish-ness in the Republican party. They have many vocal leaders  in Congress who want an enemy for America to fight, from Iran to ISIS to Russia to North Korea to new countries we haven’t even thought of yet. Our posts from the Republican primary started on this topic and it’s one we’ll return keep hitting.

Second, Donald Trump is expanding the military.

Why not “rebuild?” our military as Donald Trump says? Because you can’t fix what isn’t broken and you  can’t rebuild something that is already built. The U.S. military is the greatest fighting force on the planet, and that’s that.

But he can make it even greater-er. Lats night, he proposed a budget increase of $18 billion (that he is misleading spinning as a $54 billion upgrade). He can increase the number of jets (and people flying them). He can increase the number of brigades (even though he should increase the number of battalions per brigade first, but the former is sexier). He can increase the number of boats in the sea. And our elite special operations units of uber-elite hyper-special forces of elite SOCOM? He can just give them tons of money they can stack in piles and burn. (Though if we gave stacks of money to SOCOM under orders to burn it, some of those elite special operators would totally steal it.)

If all you have is a giant military, every global problem looks like a war. Forward positioning so many troops so close to so many hot spots just increases the odds we send them to a war zone. And a huge upgraded military will beg to be used. Before World War I, each side started building up troops and navies. Before Germany started World War II, it had to build up its military. A huge Cold War military got America drawn into Vietnam and Russia drawn into Afghanistan. This is just what happens.

Third, Donald Trump has said he will use force to solve problems.

Repeatedly, in debates and during his RNC acceptance speech, Donald Trump vowed he would wipe ISIS off the face of the Earth. That will require force. He’s also said he’d bomb women and children if needed. He vowed to tear up the Iran deal, and the likely consequence will be war.

We should take him at his word. Trump sees force as a solution to his problems.

Fourth, Donald Trump is temperamentally suited to be a war-hawk.

We’ve seen him lose his temper via Twitter and news reports say he also lost his temper on a diplomatic phone call to Australia, a staunch ally.  He will get drawn into potential conflicts with countries like Iran or, God forbid, China because he values his own personal reputation more than our country. We saw this after the election when Trump spent more time concerned with the size of his inauguration crowds than appointing cabinet officials. Or when he delivers speeches railing on the media rather than make an Affordable Care Act replacement plan. 

Hillary Clinton easily got under his skin during three debates. It didn’t work, but she poked the bear and he roared. Unlike Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush or Obama, all men who could calmly assess threats and makes the right strategic decisions, Trump responds to every perceived slight. Why would we think he won’t do this on the global stage?

What can we say from all the evidence? Donald Trump is temperamentally suited to be a war hawk president. Whether he uses his power to start wars--or whether his administration is competent enough to pull it off--remains to be seen.

Feb 27

When I was young, I celebrated the entire catalogue of Tom Clancy. This included his non-fiction books celebrating various types of units across the US military. I started with the Marines, continued to Armored Cav, and then blasted through Airborne, Special Forces and Aircraft Carrier. Since the US Army sections were the best, I joined the Army ROTC program in college. I wish I were joking.

In the Armored Cav book, Clancy interviewed a young Captain in the Armor branch who had squared off against Saddam Hussein’s tank forces and won accolades for the accomplishment. This Captain? H.R. McMaster, currently a Lieutenant General and now Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser.

I’ve thought highly of McMaster since I read about him in middle school, so I have some quick thoughts on his recent appointment.

Thought 1: He’s really good at personal PR.

Not only did I know of McMaster from that interview in a Tom Clancy book, but his book, Dereliction of Duty, made the Chief of Staff reading list when I was in college, so I tried but failed to finish reading it while in ROTC. (I have four or five other books sitting on a bookshelf in this same category.) McMaster then went on to do a military-world famous 60 Minutes interview about his experience in Tal Afar waging counter-insurgency well.

So the guy’s good at public relations and getting media. Why does this matter? Because I hope he can stand up to the Trump machine’s PR onslaught. Not a ton of hope, but some hope.

Thought 2: McMaster did COIN right.

Essentially, McMaster was the opposite of the “Rakkasan approach” to COIN, which is to kill them all and let God sort it out. (We wrote about this in a very disturbing, very early On Violence post.) This is the sort of thinking that believes if we just kill enough bad guys, well, then we win the counterinsurgency.

This never works and McMaster’s approach--which later went on to inform Petraeus’ COIN handbook--emphasized respecting the locals, building government capabilities, and influencing the population. I can’t wait to see how McMaster’s approach to COIN meshes with Trump’s approach to terrorism, which seems like the exact opposite.

Thought 3: And we agree on a bunch of other things.

McMaster thinks that war is fundamentally political. So do we.

McMaster believes that we need to fight our wars ethically. So do we.   

McMaster believes that we need to focus on the human element of war more than the technological. So do we.

McMaster has warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex. So have we.

Thought 4: Too Much of “Defense” in the Three Ds.

Why did Trump have to pick another general for his administration, specifically for a national security post?

This is his third candidate for National Security Adviser if you count Admiral Harward, who declined the position and they’ve all been former/current military flag officers. He put a general in charge of Homeland Security and another general in charge of the Pentagon. It’s a miracle he didn’t pick a general as Secretary of State, instead choosing a hundred-millionaire business man, which is his other favorite type of person after billionaires.

Early in the Obama administration, it was trendy to talk about the three Ds of global affairs, Defense, Diplomacy and Development. Ideally, they work in concert and in balance. With Trump, he has no plans to use two of the Ds, it seems.

Thought 5: McMaster may really help stand up to bad decisions.

That was the point of McMaster’s book after all. Wars can be won or lost by the decisions in Washington D.C. first and foremost.

So will McMaster bring that same critical decision-making ability to the war on terror as he chastised the Joint Chiefs, McNamara and Johnson for Vietnam? I think so and we’ve already seen the signs. Take his approach to terrorism, which marries his willingness to disagree with his approach to COIN:

“President Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser has told his staff that Muslims who commit terrorist acts are perverting their religion, rejecting a key ideological view of other senior Trump advisers and signaling a potentially more moderate approach to the Islamic world.

"The adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, told the staff of the National Security Council on Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” according to people who were in the meeting."

Thought 6: But still Bannon.

Yet one thought worries me. With Steve Bannon in the White House, the right wing’s war with Islam will continue, regardless of who holds the National Security Advisor position. Who will have Trump’s ear, McMasters or Bannon? Bannon runs the so-called “Strategic Initiatives Group” with Jared Kushner, and they have focused on stopping Islamic terror. As long as Donald Trump uses this group (and Fox News) instead of daily intelligence briefings to get information, McMaster's influence may be limited.

Nov 02

So it’s become fairly common for people to opine that the 2016 election is a choice between “the lesser of two evils”. If your Facebook feed looks anything like mine, I’ve seen people make this complaint daily. I’ve had five people say it to me in person. And South Park has mocked the current election as a choice between a “turd sandwich” and a “douche”.

This is absurd. People complain about choosing between the “lesser of two evils” every election. (Here’s a Christopher Hitchens example in 2000, another example in 2004 and an example from 2008. It took maybe three minutes to find these; I’m sure I can find more.) Clearly, the problem isn’t the candidates; it’s unrealistic expectations. I’m sure Jesus could run against Hitler and disaffected Green Party voters would complain about his tax policies. Though many people like to point out that these are “the two most disliked candidates in American history”, both Hillary and Trump’s supporters actually like them.

But that’s not really the counter-argument that matter. This is not a choice between the “lesser of two evils”; it’s a choice between a normal candidate versus one of the worst, most dangerous candidates in American history.

Actually, it’s barely a choice since the choice is obvious.

If you don’t believe us, check out the work by various media outlets systematically cataloguing Donald Trump’s failures as a candidate for America’s highest office. Slate currently has a running tally of the “230 Things Trump Has Said and Done that Make Him Unfit for Office”. The Atlantic has a running time capsule of his daily embarrassments. The New York Times has an ongoing tally and a tracker of when Republicans pulled their endorsements. Major conservative newspapers have not endorsed him, many for the first time in their publishing history.

Or you can compare our writings in 2012 to today. We wrote a grand total of 4 posts for the entire 2012 election. Check out our introduction:

“Confronted with the first presidential election in On Violence’s short history, we want to write something about both men campaigning for the country’s highest office. We’ll discuss Barack obama first, then Mitt Romney.

This isn’t an endorsement, even though it is probably pretty obvious which candidate we support...But we can say that neither candidate comes out glowing.

We’ll focus on the this blog’s main topics: foreign policy, defense spending, veterans affairs and civil rights...We will criticize both candidates for their failings on foreign policy, and compliment them where they get it right. For Obama, we’ll analyze his time in office, good, bad and inbetween. For Romney, we’ll discuss his stances on the issues. Both candidates get an equal word count.”

Wow. We really ripped in Romney there. Some conservatives have blamed liberals’ rhetoric for Trump’s rise, saying they’ve overhyped threats by conservative candidates in the past. That’s both wrong (Trump rose for other reasons which we don’t have time to get into), one-sided (just ask 50% of Republicans what country Obama was born in) and doesn’t apply to us (see above quote).

By contrast, we’ve written over a dozen posts on Donald Trump and the Republican party’s dangerous foreign policy positions this year. (Check out yesterday’s post ] or this entire series on the 2016 primary.)

Like we said above, Donald Trump is unfit to be President of the United States of America. You could point to his disastrous foreign policy positions, including endorsing torture or civilian air strikes. Or his terrifying obsession with using nuclear weapons. Or the hate speech and vilifying of Muslims. Or his racist and sexist behavior. Or his stances against free trade. Or his desire to build a wall on our borders. Or his shoddy business record. Or his poorly run campaign for President. Or his ignorance on far too many policy positions. Or his irrational temper. Or his constant lies. Or his disdain for the American political system and its norms, which we’ll cover tomorrow.

Of all these faults, the second most-concerning is Trump’s ignorance on basic policy issues, both foreign and domestic, which can be hard to pin down, given his penchant for lying. Despite Trump’s assertions, crime is down, ISIS is crumbling, and illegal immigration rates are falling. Trump claims NAFTA destroyed America’s economy, but it barely had an impact.

Here’s a clearer example. In the second debate, Donald Trump repeatedly referred to Hillary Clinton “acid-washing” her emails. What does that even mean? Nothing, since Trump is confusing the software program “BleachBit” with bleaching clothing. Trump literally doesn’t know what he’s talking about. On one of his primary campaign talking points.

The job of President, despite the high profile optics, is mainly bureaucratic. The President has to run the most important organization in the world. They have to hire a bunch of people, go to a bunch of meetings, and dive deep into complex policy issues. In short, Trump has shown no capability to do this job. Clinton has spent her whole life training for it.

We realize that a significant portion of Republicans will vote for Donald Trump no matter what he says or does, and we get that we can’t reach them. But there are a lot of moderates and liberals who may feel uneasy about voting for Hillary.

But know this: Donald Trump is unfit to be President.

Even worse, he could threaten the future of America, which we’ll cover tomorrow.

Aug 08

So...Marcus Luttrell’s speech wasn’t all that exciting from an On V perspective. (Hence why it took so long to post this.) He didn’t recap his own personal story (which is the main thing we wanted to fact check) or say anything noteworthy. Instead, he delivered a standard convention speech, albeit one filled with conservative talking points. (Though he did endorse Donald Trump, and what can be more disappointing than that?) Nor did the media cover it all that much, with much bigger news--like Melania Trump’s plagiarism charges--taking the spotlight on the first night.

We plan to analyze the whole Republican foreign policy night (“Make America Safe Again”) in greater detail before the election. And we’ll fact check as many claims as we can (repeating “Americans are actually quite safe”, ad nauseum).

Still, Luttrell’s speech wasn’t entirely honest. Most of the coverage centered on the fact that Luttrell went off teleprompter in the middle of his talk. AOL ran the headline, “Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell goes off-script at RNC in stunning tear-jerker speech”. Breitbart had something similar.

Here is Jody Avirgan from FiveThirtyEight describing that moment:

“Halfway through his speech, Marcus Luttrell said that he wasn’t used to teleprompters, and that he was just going to speak from the heart. The crowd here in Quicken Loans Arena ate it up. It was a great moment of showmanship. The catch? Given our vantage point behind the stage, we could see that every subsequent word of his speech was also in the teleprompter. Great theater takes practice, folks.”   

What else to say about that?

Next up, Jake Tapper sent a tweet and mentioned on air that Marcus Luttrell was a part of “Operation Red Wing”, and linked to Luttrell’s website. We took a screenshot the day of the speech. To be clear, this is still the wrong name as the mission was Operation Red Wings, named after the hockey team.

As Neil O’Hanlon said on Twitter, “7 out of 8 letters isn’t bad.”

Jul 18

(To read all of our Lone Survivor posts, please click here. The most important post is "A List of the Mistakes and Differences Between Lone Survivor (Film), Lone Survivor (Book) and Reality" so read that first if you are new to the blog or this topic.)

So....here we are again. For eagle-eyed observers following the news, you may have noticed that Marcus Luttrell is speaking at the Republican National Convention tonight. (Tonight’s theme is “Make America Safe Again”. Remember, these are the safest times in American history.) Honestly, we thought we were about done with Lone Survivor and its author, but Luttrell keeps himself in the news, especially as a Republican spokesperson.

We’ll be watching Marcus’ speech today (and hopefully live-tweeting @onviolence), looking to see if he either A. repeats misinformation (especially misinformation reporters could easily fact check) or B. rebuts his past statements or writing.

In case anyone is googling his name and landing at our website, here’s a quick summary:

- Marcus Luttrell continues to exaggerate or distort the facts about Operation Red Wings. (His website still calls it “Operation Red Wing” as of July 17th, 2016.) For a primer on all the mistakes and inaccuracies, check out our post here. For a mainstream feature article, check out the second half of R.M Schneiderman’s Newsweek cover story from last month, “Marcus Luttrell’s Savior, Mohammad Gulab, Claims ‘Lone Survivor’ Got It Wrong” and our reaction to it here. SOFREP has an in-depth discussion (alas, it’s behind a paywall) here. And finally, this all started with Ed Darack, so read his stuff here.

- Marcus Luttrell is a political figure, which both justifies this level of scrutiny and indicts the media for not providing it. This can’t be said enough.

- Operation Red Wings was an historically important mission for the U.S. military. Getting the facts right about it matters, as Michael C wrote about here. Also, as we’ll discuss later this week, the U.S. military never seriously investigated this failed operation.

- Despite the above two bullet points, the media (hate to say it, but “mainstream media”) has shown almost no interest in covering Luttrell’s persistent distortions. If we had to call one figure out in particular, it’d be Anderson Cooper, who regularly invites Luttrell on as a guest and did the really bizarre, softball 60 Minutes feature (our link here).

In honor of the convention, we’re posting a piece we tried--but failed--to get published last year, after the Brian Williams’ fiasco, comparing the Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly controversies to Marcus Luttrell and Chris Kyles’ repeated inaccuracies, along with the media’s response to both.

The Media Shouldn’t Hold Veterans to a Different Standard than Brian Williams

In February of 2015, when Brian Williams admitted he fabricated a war story about his time in Iraq, the news media rightfully excoriated him. Anderson Cooper called it a “blow to the profession.” David Carr on CBS’s This Morning with Charlie Rose called Williams’ actions “dumb”. (Williams was demoted last month to MSNBC.) Also in February, Bill O’Reilly also came under fire for exaggerating his experiences in war zones (O’Reilly’s exaggerations literally filled a book).

Seeing the outrage over Williams and O’Reilly fabricating events in a war zone and the media’s continued obsession with debunking non-fiction memoirs, it made us ask: what about Republican political operatives who happen to be veterans--specifically former Navy SEALs Marcus Luttrell and Chris Kyle? Why aren’t they held to the same exacting standard, especially when they use their stories to push Republican candidates and endorse conservative policies like gun rights?

Take Lone Survivor, the story of Marcus Luttrell and Operation Red Wings. Both the film and memoir of Lone Survivor contained massive inaccuracies on par with the Williams and O’Reilly exaggerations. We’ve spent years debunking the claims of Luttrell in his memoir Lone Survivor on our blog, On Violence. For those not familiar, Marcus Luttrell was part of a four man sniper team whose position was discovered by three goat herders in Afghanistan. After freeing the Afghans, the team was attacked by insurgents, and only Luttrell survived.

Luttrell’s memoir has significant discrepancies from official military reports about the battle. In his memoir and later speeches, Marcus Luttrell claims 200 men attacked his team while the U.S. Navy’s official documents said it was closer to 50. Other reports have cited 20 to 30 attackers (and some even lower). In the memoir and interviews, Luttrell falsely claims that the target of the operation, Ahmad Shah, was a high level Taliban operative with ties to Osama bin laden. Neither claim is true. In both interviews and his memoir, Luttrell claims Shah had killed many, many Marines in the months before the mission, when only five Marines had died in Afghanistan at that point and none were killed by Shah. Luttrell also claims he saw evidence of WMDs and, more shockingly, an al Qaeda training camp in Iraq. (And there are many more mistakes, including getting the title of the operation wrong.)

When Charlie Rose interviewed Marcus Luttrell before the release of Lone Survivor (the film), he let Luttrell repeat many of these exaggerations, including Luttrell saying, “We were sent out to capture/kill a high ranking individual in bin Laden’s army.” Charlie Rose also played a clip from the film repeating the claim that 20 Marines died the week before in Afghanistan, when in reality no Marines had died, a fact easily discovered by using iCausualties.org.

Most egregiously, in his memoir, Luttrell claimed the SEAL team took a vote over whether or not they should kill three goatherders. During Marcus Luttrell’s appearance on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper--in addition to ignoring the other discrepancies and exaggerations in Luttrell’s memoir--Cooper only casually mentions that in, “the past [Luttrell has] been criticized for saying they took a vote… something that’s not supposed to happen in SEAL teams because it’s up to the team leader to make a decision.” But Cooper didn’t ask Luttrell why he wrote that in his book, why Luttrell told Matt Lauer on the Today Show that they took a vote, or ask Luttrell why he changed his story. In other words, ask the same questions the media asked of Brian Williams.

And on the same night Anderson Cooper described Brian Williams’ actions as a “blow to the profession”, who was his earlier guest? Marcus Luttrell.

Outside of an article we wrote for Slate and a piece by Ed Darack in The Marine Corp Gazette, no major media outlet has asked Luttrell about the discrepancies in his book versus reality, compared to the thousands of new stories about Brian Williams. [Update: As of today, Newsweek is the only exception.] Despite Marcus Luttrell endorsing Rick Perry for President (twice) and regularly appearing as a pundit on Fox News, he has not been held to the same standard as journalists. He also joined other Navy SEALs in founding a company they bill as a “movement” that runs paid speaking tours and sells ammunition.

Perhaps you could explain away Marcus Luttrell’s exaggerations as minor details, but Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame made up at least three stories since he left the military: he claimed he punched Jesse Ventura in the face (Ventura later sued Kyle for defamation and won), he claimed he shot looters in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and he claimed that he killed two men who attempted to carjack him in Texas. (Like Luttrell, Kyle also claimed he saw evidence for WMDs in Iraq, something not even the current crop of Republicans running for president think is the case.)

Yet the most important falsehood told by Chris Kyle is this: despite claims on American Sniper’s website that Kyle “donated the proceeds of American Sniper to the families of his fallen friends”, according to court transcripts, less than 2% of the over $3 million in book royalties went to charity.

Promoting American Sniper when it was released in January, outside of a few blog posts, the majority of media coverage ignored Kyle’s tall tales. On February 9th, after covering the Brian Williams scandal, Anderson Cooper closed his show by announcing the CNN special Blockbuster: The Story of American Sniper. This special didn’t debate any of the above fabrications, including Katrina, Jesse Ventura or shooting the carjackers.

Luttrell and Kyle used their bestselling memoirs to promote Republican politics and profit. Both American Sniper and Lone Survivor are filled with political rants against liberals, the media and the military’s rules of engagement. Marcus Luttrell tours the country giving speeches for conservative groups, like the NRA, Glenn Beck’s rally, and Rick Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign. He’s also started selling gun ammunition. Taya Kyle, Chris Kyle’s widow, recently gave a speech at an NRA convention. And she has her own memoir coming out in the next couple of months. Tara Kyle also joined Marcus Luttrell in founding their company-styled as a philanthropy Team Never Quit.

And a few weeks ago, both Taya Kyle and Marcus Luttrell endorsed Rick Perry for president and joined him on-stage for the announcement. [Update: And now, of course, Luttrell is supporting Donald Trump for president and speaking at the RNC.]

We criticize veterans from the position of one who served. One half of our writing team deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as an officer in the US Army. We believe we (veterans) should be held to the same standard as the rest of society. The fact that Luttrell and Kyle have profited from exaggerating their stories upsets many veterans, just like Brian Williams’ exaggerations.

In the end, Brian Williams has been replaced with Lester Holt. Last year, Holt did NBC News’ segment on Lone Survivor and this year covered American Sniper. He didn’t cover any of the mistakes or exaggerations of either Luttrell or Kyle, and in fact, allowed deliberately false information to stand.

In other words, veterans continue to get a pass.