Secretary of Defense Robert Gates landed in Afghanistan today on an unannounced trip. Gates is meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to begin assessments of how many U.S. troops can be withdrawn from the country in July. The war in Afghanistan has been going on for nearly a decade, making this one of the longest periods of sustained combat in U.S. history. Yet unlike past wars, only a small percentage of the population, namely military members and their families, carries the burden. A look at the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and whether the military has a growing sense of isolation in its sacrifices.

Guests

  • Matt Pottinger fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, former Wall Street Journal reporter, and a U.S. Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Joseph Collins professor at the National War College; retired Army colonel; former deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations from 2001 to 2004; author of the upcoming book "Understanding War in Afghanistan."
  • Michelle Joyner director of communications at The National Military Family Association.
  • James Kitfield senior correspondent, National Journal magazine.

Transcript

  • 10:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. is engaged in one of the longest periods of combat in its history, but just a small percentage of the population has been sacrificing for the war. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is in Afghanistan today to discuss the start of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan in July. Currently, some 100,000 troops are in the country. Joining me in the studio, James Kitfield of National Journal, Michelle Joyner of the National Military Family Association and Joseph Collins of the National War College.

  • 10:07:45

    MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from NPR's New York bureau, Matt Pottinger of the Council on Foreign Relations and a U.S. Marine. I do look forward to hearing your comments throughout the hour. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

  • 10:08:19

    MS. MICHELLE JOYNERGood morning.

  • 10:08:19

    MR. JAMES KITFIELDGood morning.

  • 10:08:20

    PROF. JOSEPH COLLINSGood morning.

  • 10:08:20

    MR. MATT POTTINGERGood morning.

  • 10:08:20

    REHMAnd, James...

  • 10:08:21

    POTTINGERGood morning.

  • 10:08:21

    REHM...Kitfield, if I could start to you, what issues is Secretary Gates considering and looking at as he considers a drawdown?

  • 10:08:34

    KITFIELDWell, you know, we had that December strategic review and, you know, basically, Gen. Petraeus made a pretty good argument that he's making progress. They've sort of recaptured Kandahar, taken it away from the Taliban. They've expelled the Taliban from the Helmand. But the Obama administration is still determined to start a drawdown in July of this year, so he's trying to figure out how many troops he can initially start to pull out, how -- you know, basically, how much success have we had and how much of it is sustainable, so he can start to figure out what the glide path down starts to look like. And that's what he's trying to figure out.

  • 10:09:08

    REHMAnd, Matt Pottinger, how do soldiers that you served with think of the time table of the drawdown for July?

  • 10:09:20

    POTTINGERYeah, well, thanks for having me, Diane.

  • 10:09:22

    REHMSure.

  • 10:09:22

    POTTINGERI came back from Afghanistan in May and wrapped up back duty in the Marine Corps just this past fall. So, you know, I think the troops are going to tackle whatever timeline they're given. One of the things that I was always struck by during my service in Marine Corps and deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan was how, in a sense, apolitical the environment is, that there was not a lot of discussion about the major strategic decisions being made in Washington about timelines and so forth. People are focused on whatever several dozen square kilometers they're responsible for or several hundred square kilometers they're responsible for and are, to a large extent, insulated from the debate.

  • 10:10:16

    REHMAnd, James Collins, when it comes to shared sacrifice, these wars are so different from what we've gone through in the past.

  • 10:10:27

    COLLINSRight. Diane, I don't think anyone, when they designed the volunteer force, really thought about the U.S. military becoming engaged in protracted warfare for over a decade. And that's become problematical and something that's caused a lot of stress on the force -- repetitive tours, family problems, et cetera.

  • 10:10:52

    REHMJoseph Collins, he is professor at the National War College, a retired Army colonel and author of the upcoming book titled, "Understanding War in Afghanistan." Michelle Joyner, some 5,500 American families had lost their child in the war. What are some of the issues you see dealing with these families?

  • 10:11:23

    JOYNERYou know, it is a very tragic loss. And supporting those families is unique as each of those families are, but, in addition to those families, we also have the families of the wounded and the families of those who are deploying on these multiple assignments. And you don't go to war and don't come back changed, and so it's affecting millions and millions of families. And one of the things that we're looking for when we talk about troop withdrawal is that doesn't mean the war is over. The war is going to be along and around with us for a very, very long time.

  • 10:11:59

    REHMBecause, James Kitfield, you'll have still troops left in both countries.

  • 10:12:07

    KITFIELDYou know, supposedly, we'll be out of Iraq end of this year. There'll be some residual presence there, but most of the 50,000 still in Iraq will probably get out this year. We're going to have troops in Afghanistan well through 2014, 2015, just a matter of what troop level. But this -- it's clear to me that we're going to be there for quite a while. And, you know, you look at the Middle East now, and you can't feel too comfortable there won't be some other conflict that we get involved in.

  • 10:12:32

    KITFIELDSo, you know, what is interesting to me is that if you spend time in war zones or if you spend time with the military, is that there's a sense that the United States is not at war. The U.S. military is at war. And you get that -- you go to a base like Fort Hood, which I was at not that long ago, and there were blood drives going on. And there's Gold Star Mothers who, you know, have lost a son. There are people on crutches all over the place. And you leave the gate to that base, and you would not know that America is at war.

  • 10:13:04

    KITFIELDAnd this is very -- this sense that it's the military at war, not the country, is one that is striking to the people who are fighting this war. I think it does create kind of a disconnect in their mind that, you know, they come back from war zones where they've lost friends and buddies and seen the horrors of war, and America is tripping along and doesn't seem to be too engaged in these conflicts.

  • 10:13:25

    REHMAnd, Joseph Collins, no demonstrations throughout the country.

  • 10:13:30

    COLLINSAbsolutely. I think since the beginning of the global war on terrorism, back to 2001, I don't think there's been a solid, major anti-war or critical demonstration across the whole country. And, I think, the big difference between now and Vietnam is the fact that in Vietnam, the people in the United States had skin in the game. College students knew that if they didn't do something, then they were subject to the draft.

  • 10:14:01

    REHMTheir number was coming up.

  • 10:14:03

    COLLINSComing up, exactly.

  • 10:14:05

    REHMMatt Pottinger, what can you tell us about the demographics of those people who are serving in the military?

  • 10:14:15

    POTTINGERWell, it's -- you know, I think a lot of Americans don't even know who their military is. When there was a -- the draft was done away with and we established an all-volunteer force back in, I believe, it was 1973, the assumption was that it was going to be a career path only for the most troubled Americans, for the poorest Americans. It ended up being quite the opposite. It is largely middle class and upper-middle class kids. It is very much a well-integrated institution in every sense. It's really one of the last great integrated institutions in American life, where you've got kids from privileged families and less privileged. Racially, it reflects the country's demographics.

  • 10:15:03

    POTTINGERBut the people who are missing or least represented -- and there's a significant consequence in their not being there -- is the absolute most privileged Americans. So kids coming -- really, the top percent, kids coming from the top 20 to 40 percent of schools, kids who go on to have a lot of influence in government, in our culture, in the financial sector, but who don't have any connection through their families or through their own experiences to the military.

  • 10:15:34

    REHMMichelle.

  • 10:15:35

    POTTINGERAnd that had...

  • 10:15:35

    REHMOh, I'm sorry. Go ahead, Matt.

  • 10:15:38

    POTTINGERWell, I was going to say that it has enormous consequences because these -- when people do come in to positions of power in our culture and in our government, the lack of that experience or connection with people with that experience leads often to very unwise choices. There's a lack of understanding of what the limits of military power are and what questions need to be asked of the military on -- by the civilian leadership.

  • 10:16:02

    REHMMichelle.

  • 10:16:03

    JOYNERYou know, I think we've touched on a very good point here, is that we don't know who America's military is. As James said, Fort Hood, everybody knows Fort Hood. That's the army. You step outside Fort Hood, and it's not quite as apparent. But people have to know that every community around the United States is a military community. You've got military families and military service members that are living in -- 70 percent of them are living in our civilian communities.

  • 10:16:30

    JOYNERAnd so, even though you're not right next to a formal military installation, you've got military servicemen and families that are Little League coaches, that are teachers, that are firefighters, that, you know, are working and supporting our communities throughout. And so that's one of the big disconnects that we're missing -- that we're finding here, is that we don't know how to identify who our military families are.

  • 10:16:55

    REHMNow, I know your dad was a military man. How are the kids who are part of military families today different from what you experienced?

  • 10:17:09

    JOYNERYou know, I wouldn't even compare my experience with growing up with my dad in the army as I would to a child that's growing up today. I never had to worry about my father's safety. We have children who were toddlers when their parent first went off to war, and, now, they're in middle school and they know nothing else of the family dynamic. And we're asking these children to bear very adult emotions and very adult responsibilities. That's not something that was in my stream of consciousness when I was growing up as a child.

  • 10:17:43

    REHMAnd yet, at the same time, Joseph Collins, here on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, you read that Republican members of Congress are urging President Obama to do more about Libya. Now, what could that possibly mean?

  • 10:18:05

    COLLINSWell, I think that there's a lot of things that we can do to help the Libyan people. But, clearly, when you are talking about things like no-fly zones or cratering runways, you are talking about engaging in acts of war. And, you know, Christian fighter pilots dropping bombs on Muslim lands, that's going to be really tough.

  • 10:18:31

    REHMJoseph Collins, he's professor at the National War College, a retired Army colonel. Short break, and we'll be right back.

  • 10:20:03

    REHMAnd we're back, talking about sacrifices of the few for the larger good. With me here in the studio, Joseph Collins, he's professor at the National War College. Michelle Joyner is director of communications at The National Military Family Association, and James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal magazine. On the line with us from NPR in New York, Matt Pottinger, he is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • 10:20:48

    REHMWe have an e-mail from Amy, who says, "When I was young and active in the anti-Vietnam War movement, I called for an end to the draft. But now I think we should revive it. I know this position is not popular with many of my friends in the peace movement, but if more Americans were forced to bear the burden of the government's war decisions, we would not be in Iraq now." Matt Pottinger, what say you?

  • 10:21:26

    POTTINGERWell, I think Amy -- that's a -- it's a very interesting statement. And, you know, you'd be interested to know that the military -- probably even more than you and many of your friends at that time -- today, views a draft in even less favorable light. So the military today -- you'd be very hard-pressed to find people in the military who want to see a draft again. People...

  • 10:21:52

    REHMAnd why is that?

  • 10:21:54

    POTTINGERYeah, well, people that I served under remember that era. They remember having to go into combat, leading people that did not want to be there, and it was incredibly difficult. It was a less effective military than it is today. You know, a second aspect is that, by bringing in volunteers, not only do you have people who want to be there, but people end up staying in for a longer time period. So they gain, and they acquire skills that a draft force can't acquire when you're running, you know, a high tech military, or even the types of expertise that you need doing a counterinsurgency.

  • 10:22:32

    REHMAt the same time, James Kitfield, was the all-volunteer military designed to fight a sustained war?

  • 10:22:43

    KITFIELDNo, it was not. And I take Matt's point. This is the dynamic we've created. We've made it easy on politicians to send this military on foreign adventures because the sons of the elites do not serve. And we -- the military has no interest in going back to a draft because it is a professional, very effective, good force. We've seen that, you know, constantly in recent conflicts. It would never be as good as a draft force. So you've created the dynamic where we're not going to go back to the draft. However, you know, we should think about some of the second-order effects of this. We have cut an incredible important line between the society and the military that it serves.

  • 10:23:17

    KITFIELDWhen we -- I mean, when Nixon, in 1973, right in the midst of Vietnam, you know, abolished the draft and established an all-volunteer force, it was political expediency that drove him. We had all these college campus demonstrations that were very uncomfortable. They had to ring the White House with buses to keep the demonstrators from -- they were afraid they were going to storm the White House. There was 500,000 demonstrators in Washington. So he wanted that office play, and we did sever an important sort of connection between society and our military. And it has second-order effects. And I would also say that, you know, President Bush, also, when he sent this Army to war, he, for the first time in our history, did not cut taxes, did not raise taxes.

  • 10:23:59

    KITFIELDSo no sacrifice whatsoever to the American people for fighting this war. Secretary Rumsfeld got this all-volunteer force involved in two wars and refused to increase its size, so all of these burdens of multiple tours with only a year between the tours was a result of that. And, also, Secretary Rumsfeld started to cut some of the ties to the reserve units because he found it too cumbersome to have to do -- issue presidential call-ups reserve all the time. That was the key remaining sort of connective tissue that -- former Army Chief of Staff Creighton Abrams said, we will never let them take us to war again without the reserves. So we cut these -- we sever these ties to society at our own risk when we do this.

  • 10:24:44

    REHMJoe Collins.

  • 10:24:45

    COLLINSWe still have a great reserve and guard participation in Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom today. We have 90,000, still, reservists and guardsmen who are mobilized. But, I think, the larger point here is we need something between the all-volunteer force and the draft to take us in -- when we become involved in situations that are protracted warfare, we need to open the doors more to the people who are not there. We need to find ways of doing that.

  • 10:25:24

    REHMMichelle, going back to James Kitfield's point about repeated assignments, what has that meant for the families?

  • 10:25:35

    JOYNERFamilies are tired. And they support their service member, and they do the best that they can. But families are tired. You're seeing elevated stress rates, signs that show that the war and the separation is growing weary on them, but they are determined to stay strong. And military families are magnificent, but they need the community support to stay strong to continue this pace.

  • 10:26:06

    REHMWhat kinds of support does the military give these families back home while their spouses are being deployed?

  • 10:26:17

    JOYNERThe Department of Defense and the service branches actually have a lot of different programs. The problem comes when you have families that live far away from a military installation. I was mentioning earlier that 70 percent of military families live in a civilian community. And you -- once you count the National Guard and reserve troops, they oftentimes live in areas in which there is no large military installation. And so you can't avail yourself of as many programs, and there's no central feeding place for military families to go to get information. And so that's what our call is to civilian communities, is that we need to step up, and we need to recognize the families that are serving and help them out where we can.

  • 10:27:02

    REHMJames Kitfield, you mentioned no war tax -- instead, a decrease in taxes. Talk about the actual cost, in dollar terms, of the wars.

  • 10:27:18

    KITFIELDWell, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have topped off at a trillion dollars now, which is a lot of money, even by Washington standards. But we have --we are going to be paying down the road for a long time. Our equipment, their arsenal, is very worn by this war. We have put off a lot of modernization to pay for ongoing readiness. We have all these wounded. We have, you know, 190,000 who have had either a brain injury or concussion from all these IEDs in these war zones.

  • 10:27:50

    KITFIELDWe've got 140,000 who've been diagnosed with PTSD, maybe 300,000 who probably, according to one RAND study, may be showing either deep depression or signs of PTSD. Five-hundred thousand veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have gone to VA hospitals. So there is a down-the-road cost to all the treatment of recapitalizing the force that we have not yet begun to confront. And I will just say this, too, that this is an -- you know, when -- the military was most worried about -- when you start the all-volunteer force, is that the country would kind of lose interest and not support it.

  • 10:28:24

    KITFIELDYou know, we are starting to cut our defense budget right now. But we are spending roughly 4, I think, .9 percent -- no, 3.9 percent of GDP on our military right now. That is much less than any former conflict. Vietnam was like 8 percent. Korea, World War II -- all much higher. So, again, we are not sort of funding this effort as we should. And, again, this lack of sacrifice that we're willing to, as a society, do, it has a direct impact on these people in uniform who serve.

  • 10:28:54

    REHMAnd what about the use of contractors?

  • 10:28:58

    KITFIELDWell, the use of contractors is actually, you know, a lot of people in the military like, that one thing the contractor -- the explosion of the use of contractors came about as part of the all-volunteer forces because, when you -- you have to attract people into the military. You have to make their jobs kind of interesting. And they join the military to do military things. They join to fight, to sort of do the kinds of things you expect the military to do. They don't join the military to do KP duty and wash dishes and to -- you know, and to run mess halls and to do -- you know, cut the grass on bases.

  • 10:29:29

    KITFIELDWe've hired contractors to do a lot of these sort of -- you know, this kind of work that used to be in the draft Army. You would spend your weekends doing KP duty. That doesn't happen anymore. So, in some effects, the contractors have been a way to sort of help the all-volunteer force.

  • 10:29:43

    REHMMatt Pottinger, how do U.S. soldiers relate to the contractors?

  • 10:29:50

    POTTINGERWell, you know, one of the reasons that there are so many contractors is that it supposedly costs less because you're not bringing people in to the military full-time and having to worry about their lifelong, you know, pensions and health care and so forth. So, going back to Joseph's point about needing to find something between a draft and between the current all-volunteer force, you know, one possibility would be to have some kind of national service, where people would come in for two years to do those types of jobs 'cause in the long run, that means that you've got more -- a larger segment of the American public involved in those wars and connected to the military.

  • 10:30:37

    POTTINGERBut they're only doing a couple of years, so you're not worrying about the long-term pensions and whatnot. I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up being cheaper, just in dollar terms, to replace contractors with volunteers or national service conscriptees -- if you want to call them that -- or people who've opted to do this kind of service off of a menu of choices of types of national service.

  • 10:31:02

    REHMJoseph, do you agree?

  • 10:31:04

    COLLINSAbsolutely. I think the contractorization thing has gone way too far, and we need a major study to figure out whether or not we've saved money. I particularly am concerned about contractors in the business of carrying weapons on the battlefield and doing things that are normally the preserved of intelligence agents or military intelligence personnel.

  • 10:31:29

    REHM'Cause it's not just KP duty.

  • 10:31:33

    COLLINSExactly. KP duty, that's all right with me. And some of these outfits that I've seen over there have done terrific work on the logistics end of things, and that's where, I think, they really belong.

  • 10:31:46

    KITFIELDI agree with that. I mean, there are -- there's Blackwater. There's XE Services now -- I think they call themselves. They're doing all kinds of things, but, again, you know, Matt's right. Usually, the decision comes down. Does it make sense to put off careerist in here that costs us a whole lot of money? Or can we do this temporarily with a contractor? So it's a double-edged sword. On the national service thing, if you're thinking about ways to reconnect the society to the military, I think that would be some -- that would be your number one concern -- not a concern, but that was where you would focus on, national service. Because we're finding in these places, like Afghanistan and Iraq, there's huge nation-building effort required.

  • 10:32:27

    KITFIELDAnd we could certainly use all kinds of people in that kind of effort. It wouldn't be you have to -- you'd have to carry a gun. If someone who comes in there and talks about, you know, engineering, urban planning, all kinds of democracy programs, all kinds of programs like that that would be nice to have...

  • 10:32:42

    REHMBut it does seem as though each of you is saying, in your own way, had this been a war or wars involving a draft, society would have been far more involved and far more engaged. James Kitfield, senior correspondent for National Journal magazine, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First, to Paul in Wood River, Ill. Good morning. You're on the air.

  • 10:33:25

    PAULYeah, my comment was about the draft. I really -- I have a daughter that spent two terms over in Iraq, and I think there should be a draft once you declare a war. You have to have one to involve the American people, and you have to pay for it. It doesn't make any sense, whatsoever, for the American people to just go on their way. I think that -- I think this was done on purpose so that we would not be involved in it, and they could pretty much do what they wanted to do.

  • 10:33:56

    REHMJames Kitfield.

  • 10:33:58

    KITFIELDI think that's exactly right. I mean, this was a decision made for political expediency. If you don't ask any sacrifice from the country, it's very popular for a politician to do that. But putting all this on a credit card for our kids to pay for strikes me as being irresponsible.

  • 10:34:12

    REHMAnd to Brighton, Mich. Good morning, Richard.

  • 10:34:17

    RICHARDOh, yes. You know, my son just came home from Afghanistan after a year, and, I tell you, this is not the same human being that left. And there's an anger there, and it worries me. But I was really glad that this young man could get his family on base because, at least, he found some support on the actual base. And the other thing is I'm just -- it's outrageous that we can send our young men and women off to a war, and we sanitize this thing and we don't ask the American people. If we're not going to have a draft, then we should be paying for it. And we're not. So thank you.

  • 10:34:54

    REHMThank you. And thank you for your son's service. Is that the case, Michelle, that so many of these young people come home filled with anger?

  • 10:35:08

    JOYNERI don't know if it's always anger, but it's definitely a different emotion. Like this gentleman said, you don't go over and don't come back changed. But, you know, it was really disappointing to our association and to military families to see that the war was such a low priority in these past elections. It...

  • 10:35:28

    REHMHardly even talked about.

  • 10:35:30

    JOYNERHardly even talked about, correct. And what we've been talking about here, the cost of paying for the war, no matter how you pay for it, you're going to have to pay for it for years to come because these service members are very young. Their families are very young. They're going to be living with injuries for a lot of years.

  • 10:35:49

    REHMAnd, Joseph Collins, here's an e-mail from Francile (sp?) in San Antonio, Texas, who wants to know, "What happens when these brave men and women are brought home and dumped into our weak economy?"

  • 10:36:09

    COLLINSThere certainly are problems there with veterans getting jobs, and there are certain adjustment problems as we've mentioned before. And it's something that we have to make a national priority, and we need to work on it.

  • 10:36:25

    REHMWe have to, but we're not doing it.

  • 10:36:28

    KITFIELDHundred and seven thousand former veterans are now homeless on the streets of America. I mean, that's outrageous to me.

  • 10:36:34

    REHMA hundred and seven thousand.

  • 10:36:36

    KITFIELDThousand veterans are homeless in the streets.

  • 10:36:38

    REHMHow can this happen?

  • 10:36:40

    KITFIELDWell, that's why we're having this discussion. Good question.

  • 10:36:44

    REHMMichelle.

  • 10:36:47

    JOYNERI'm at a loss for words because I wish I had the answer to how could this happen. But our service members and our military families expect that this wouldn't happen. It's definitely a disappointment to see that it does.

  • 10:37:01

    REHMBut what is the military's responsibility after these people return, Joe?

  • 10:37:07

    COLLINSI think it's a national responsibility and not just the military.

  • 10:37:11

    JOYNERAbsolutely.

  • 10:37:12

    COLLINSWhen you look at how we've spent our money in this war, we spent $1.2 trillion -- 94 percent to the Department of Defense, 5 percent to the State Department, 1 percent to Veterans Affairs.

  • 10:37:27

    REHMAh.

  • 10:37:27

    COLLINSWe need to do better.

  • 10:37:28

    REHMJoseph Collins, professor at the National Military War College. Short break. More of your calls when we come back.

  • 10:40:03

    REHMAnd here's an e-mail for our guests who says, "One of your guests just remarked that there were few anti-war protests since the beginning of the global war on terror. This is maddeningly untrue. I -- like thousands of thousands of Americans -- participate in many protests in the time before and after the beginning of the war in Iraq in spring 2003. Despite the many thousands participating, the news media barely notice these protests. When we were noticed, we were vilified as unpatriotic. I remember a huge protest that began at the Washington National Cathedral walking all the way down to the White House." This e-mail is very accurate, James.

  • 10:41:04

    KITFIELDYeah -- no, there were protests. I mean, I would have to point out that, compared to the protests in Vietnam, which were sustained and huge, they were fairly small and not sustained. I mean, the country was attacked on 9/11, so there was a sense that -- certainly, with Afghanistan, I think -- that, you know, this was a just war. But, again, as we segued into Iraq, which a lot of people couldn't understand, started to lose that. But, you know, I would have to say that, basically, you know, Nixon's calculation that if you remove the draft, you will remove, really, a lot of the social agitation that goes with these wars has proven to be the case.

  • 10:41:41

    KITFIELDWe've used this military all over the place in the last 20 years, and we sent it to scores of places in harm's way. And it's -- well, the flipside of the fact -- and Matt might want to talk to this -- we had this very effective force. It -- and it is fairly easy to deploy because it's not really a tough political calculation like it was during the draft. Makes it very tempting to use the military 'cause it's -- you know, if everything is -- if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  • 10:42:08

    POTTINGERYeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, in fact, I was just reading a book by two academics, Peter Feaver of Duke University and a fellow named Christopher Gelpi, called "Choosing Your Battles." They did a study of all of the conflicts that America has been involved in since 1816, all the way to the present. And what they found was that the fewer veterans that were serving in government, whether it was in the executive branch and in the Congress, the fewer you had, the more likely the United States was to intervene in a conflict overseas. I mean, that's pretty stunning if you think about it.

  • 10:42:46

    POTTINGERThat -- I think that goes to your comment about the hammer. People who've never wielded a rifle in combat, once they're in a policymaking position, a hammer looks easy to use. It's a shiny thing. And people are tempted to use this incredible military to solve conflicts that, probably, the military isn't best suited to be solving.

  • 10:43:13

    REHMAnd here's an e-mail from Diane in New Hampshire who says, "American taxpayers are now paying in excess of $190 million per day for the Afghan war effort. NATO forces recently killed in error nine children in the eastern Pech valley. These killings resulted in a denunciation by Hamid Karzai. Isn't it time to cut and run from this misadventure?"

  • 10:43:48

    COLLINSNo. I definitely think that it's not time to cut and run. We have a vital interest in making sure that along the Durand Line between Pakistan and Afghanistan that we introduce stability and that we...

  • 10:44:05

    REHMDo you think we can really do that, Joseph?

  • 10:44:08

    COLLINSI think we can create -- help to create a government in Afghanistan that can handle its own problems and, over time, win itself away from its dependence on foreign aid. I think it's quite possible, and, I think, on the security front, we've made tremendous progress in the past year. And, I think, we're on a good glide path to the year 2014, where the Afghans would take over all of the security work across the country.

  • 10:44:39

    REHMIsn't it interesting that polls in Afghanistan published last December show that Afghan opinion of the United States is down? What do you make of that?

  • 10:44:53

    COLLINSYes, absolutely. The Afghans are tired of the war, and their opinion of their own government is significant -- which we criticize frequently -- is significantly higher than NATO and American forces. And it's time for us to get this back to Afghans doing as much of the security work as possible. And that's, I think, the path we're on, and that's a better path than cutting and running.

  • 10:45:22

    REHMAll right. To Rochester, N.Y. and to Tom. Good morning.

  • 10:45:28

    TOMGood morning. My comments are that I'm disgusted with the United States for a couple of reasons, and this primarily is for enlisted individuals. When they come home, if they want to go to college, it takes time, takes money, takes effort. They go to the back of the line. People that didn't serve are ahead of them in terms of getting the degree, getting experience. And I know a disabled vet that had a doctorate degree and was also qualified as a principal who never got an interview.

  • 10:45:59

    TOMAnd, to me, that's just the most disgusting thing in the world. To me, the country does not deserve the service of the veteran. A veteran with 100 percent disability gets about $2,700 a month. They can't raise a family on that. And there's roughly 700,000 hundred percenters (sic) in the country. They should get at least $5,000 a month.

  • 10:46:20

    REHMMatt Pottinger.

  • 10:46:23

    POTTINGERYeah, well, the comment about going to the back of the line. You know, the GI Bill that was passed while I was, you know, deployed, that Sen. Webb sponsored, was an incredible improvement on -- in benefits. So that a lot of the Marines that were in my platoon and that are getting out of the Marine Corps, enlisted Marines, are going to get degrees. And they're getting a significant amount of help from that GI Bill, so it's an improvement. There's more that's got to be done for sure.

  • 10:47:02

    REHMOf course, and we're getting several e-mails, like this one from Jack who says, "With all the current discussion of balancing the budget, paying for things as we go, would beginning a war tax make sense and help reduce the current deficit? In addition, if the American people had actually paid for these activities every year, they would, without doubt, be more engaged in our ongoing commitment." Michelle.

  • 10:47:38

    JOYNERWell -- thanks, Diane. We definitely need to know what the cost of this war is along with the cost of the equipment and the troops. You also have your family support programs, and those are paid for in the supplemental. They need to be paid for in the regular budget so that we can have some stability for military families and for our service members, so that they know that their support services are going to be around for a long time.

  • 10:48:03

    REHMAnd to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Good morning, Megan.

  • 10:48:09

    MEGANGood morning. I would like to weigh in on following up with the support for military families. I've been on military staff now for four years. And we definitely see the disconnect as a military family. I work with an organization called Blue Star Families. And in their recent 2010 study, we found that 92 percent of military families across the country do not feel the general public understands what we go through. And,, I think often people don't know what they can do so they're afraid to say anything because they don't want to say the wrong thing. And what people don't realize is that we're tired as military spouses and family members, and, really, a hug or a thank you or a meal or offering to watch our children can mean more than anything.

  • 10:48:52

    MEGANAnd it's really that support that we need as families to keep going through these multiple deployments and multiple moves. And we've moved three times in four years, and it takes a lot out of you. So I'm glad -- thank you so much for drawing attention to this cause. I think people don't always know what to do, and we really appreciate it.

  • 10:49:07

    REHMAnd, Megan, thank you and your family for your service. Michelle?

  • 10:49:16

    JOYNERYou know, military families don't wear a uniform. And so it's very difficult to recognize them when you're shopping or when you're out in town. It used to be when my husband was still in the Navy and he'd wear his uniform, there would be people that would walk up and buy him lunch, buy him a cup of coffee or just come up and say thank you. Because military families and military children also don't wear a uniform, it's hard to do that same type of appreciation.

  • 10:49:43

    JOYNERBut it's very critical that we -- that the schools know who the military children are in their schools so that they can help them if they have a mom or dad deployed or even an older sibling. It's important that doctors know this. It's important that you know if your neighbor is going through a deployment because there are things that go on that you need help with. And we depend on our community to step up and help.

  • 10:50:08

    REHMJames?

  • 10:50:08

    POTTINGERCan I add something to that, Diane? Just that, you know, I second that strongly because many of the deployments -- I'm telling you, families in America would be surprised to know that these deployments are harder on the families than they are on many of the servicemen and women who are over there. And one of the largest sources of stress for servicemen and women is concern about their family back home. So, you know...

  • 10:50:33

    REHMOf course.

  • 10:50:35

    POTTINGERI always wanted -- you know, if people ask, what can we do? I'd say, look after families back home.

  • 10:50:43

    REHMMm hmm. Mm hmm.

  • 10:50:43

    POTTINGERYou know, we love the care packages, but look after our family members.

  • 10:50:48

    JOYNERI'd like to add one additional point to that. We recently commissioned RAND to do a study on the effects of multiple deployments on military families. And just because you've managed through a deployment once doesn't mean that you now know what you're doing and it gets any easier. What our study found was that it was the cumulative effects of deployment that were really becoming most difficult on a family. And so if you were deployed 12, 13, 15, 24 months, 36 months -- whatever that accumulation was -- the higher that rate was, the more difficult the family was having.

  • 10:51:22

    KITFIELDAnd there was a Pentagon study also that found that, you know, on the issue of do people come back from war, you know, changed or different. I mean, the chance that you will get post-traumatic stress syndrome increase by 50 percent if you go on a second tour. And they haven't -- they don't have the database to go, you know, three, four tours, which is pretty -- pretty common now. And, also, on support of families, I will say one thing that's different from Vietnam -- and I think it's a good thing -- is that society has learned not to equate on unpopular war with the people who we send to fight it.

  • 10:51:50

    KITFIELDYou know, when people came back from Vietnam in their uniform, and in some cases were spit on, were really vilified. We have learned from that lesson. I think people have a huge amount of respect. All the polls show this. The military is the most respected institution in America. And so we've learned that important lesson. That's a silver lining, if you will.

  • 10:52:06

    REHMThanks for calling, Megan. And to -- let's see -- Londonderry, Ohio. Good morning, Bob.

  • 10:52:14

    BOBHi. Just a couple of points to make. I'll make them as quick as possible. First of all, the -- with all of the, you know, money that's being spent -- billion dollars a day, whatever -- and what we're going to be spending on the, you know, continuing care of all these people who come back maimed in body and mind, it seems to me like we all, you know, as a country -- at least the 97 percent who don't get big tax breaks -- sorry -- are bearing the burden.

  • 10:52:59

    REHMDo you agree?

  • 10:53:01

    KITFIELDI -- no, I mean, I don't agree. I think that, again, we have -- we've created a dynamic of a war that requires no sacrifice out of 99 percent of Americans and a huge sacrifice out of the 1 percent who serve in uniform and their families. Again, we talked about a war tax. This is -- this is an American tradition. When you fight a war, you raise taxes to pay for it. It's the first time we've not done that. It was a mistake.

  • 10:53:24

    REHMJames Kitfield of National Journal magazine. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Mark in Dallas, Texas. Good morning to you.

  • 10:53:36

    MARKGood morning, Diane. I'd like to make just a couple of quick points...

  • 10:53:39

    REHMSure.

  • 10:53:39

    MARK...and then my partial solution to one of them. And there has been some discussion amongst the panel about the tremendous economic and personal costs that are borne by the country, the United States, and, overwhelmingly, the military families. But what I have heard no discussion of is you multiply that by 1,000 or 10,000, and those are the costs that are borne by the Afghani people and the people in Iraq. And the overarching point is not the disconnect between the military or the United States population in the military sacrifice.

  • 10:54:15

    MARKThe overarching point that needs to be addressed is this concept that, simply because we deem it in our vital interest, we can go, you know, drop Nobel Peace bomb these people into submission and slaughter women and children. And my solutions to that -- briefly, you know, partial solution -- is those people that vote for these -- you know, these endeavors, these debacles, these admittedly or arguably war crimes of aggressions, those politicians need their children, if they are of military age, to serve in combat roles.

  • 10:54:54

    REHMJoseph Collins.

  • 10:54:56

    COLLINSWe shouldn't forget here that we're not in this by ourselves. In Afghanistan, we have 49 nations that are fighting with us. And in Iraq and Afghanistan, over a thousand of our allies have also been killed. Our Afghan soldiers and Afghan police in particular are put upon by the enemy and are suffering more casualties than us. The people in Afghanistan have suffered less than the people in Iraq, but still tremendously, and, you know, about 8,000, since 2007, have been killed. I'd like to make a point, though, about how they've been killed. The U.N. says 70 percent of the Afghan civilians who do die, die at the hands of the Taliban, and that's the sort of people we're fighting. And although we're struggling, we also have to remember that there are larger purposes involved in some of these battles.

  • 10:55:58

    REHMSo the question becomes, will what has happened in these wars change our thinking, going forward? James?

  • 10:56:09

    KITFIELDI worry that it won't. I think that -- I mean, the dynamic we've created is, again, it's easy for politicians because they don't have to face some of the backlash of these decisions to go to war. And the military prefers a professional force. So we've created that dynamic where it's going to be very hard, very little political space to sort of reinstitute a draft. I would think, you know, again, maybe we could coalesce around a debate about a national service, but I also think that's unlikely.

  • 10:56:35

    REHMLast word from James Kitfield of National Journal magazine. Michelle Joyner of the National Military Family Association, Joseph Collins of the National War College, Matt Pottinger of the Council on Foreign Relations, thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 10:57:02

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is drshow@wamu.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.

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