Jun 09

Last week, I advocated for the US radically increasing its foreign aid budget, calling for a new, global Marshall Plan. However, aid to Africa definitely falls in the category of "topics that interest me, but I am not an expert in." Gigantic foreign policy initiatives like the one I suggested last week are definitely outside my pay grade, so I pulled together some articles on the issues of foreign aid, development and Marshall Plans.

Obviously not everyone agrees with my pie in the sky proposal. Moses Naim, of Foreign Policy, argues that wars on social problems, and the "Marshall Plans" to solve them, have never worked. I agree with Naim about the overused rhetoric but, unlike the wars on drugs and crime, America hasn't yet seriously attempted a second Marshall Plan. He mentions plenty of proposals, but no actual money spent on a new Marshall Plan.

This is partly because conservatives ask a more serious question: does aid even work? The conservative anti-handout crowd would say that it doesn't. Welfare is still welfare, even on the international scale. A reader emailed us last week and pointed out that by supplying EMT services for Afghans, we prevent them from developing their own medical industry. We disagree--Afghans wouldn't have medical services with or without the US--but this debate misses the larger point: aid works.

James Surowieki endorses effective, substantial aid in this New Yorker piece. Between 1946 and 1978...South Korea received nearly as much U.S. aid as the whole of Africa," and of course it is a prospering, modern nation. In fact, American allies that receive huge influxes of cash, military aid and access to American markets--Israel, Turkey, and Taiwan--do very, very well.

Aid isn't perfect, but it isn't ineffective either.

Although constantly refining how we use aid isn't a bad thing either. In this article about Rick Warren for Relevant Magazine, Dr. Warren points out that we can't just throw money at the problem of Africa, but then offers a solution of his own based on spending labor and using education. I agree. If we started some sort of massive "Marshall Plan of Labor," that sounds great to me as well. The point is we need to give something away, be it intangibles like labor and energy, or tangibles like money and resources.

This article by Glenn Hubbard, in Foreign Policy's "Think Again" series, agrees that aid hasn't worked in Africa, but only because we haven't invested in the right places. America needs to invest in businesses, then infrastructure, not NGOs and government programs. It makes sense, but again, it would work best on a massive scale, not piecemeal solutions. He also makes a compelling argument that, though micro-finance is an incredible innovation, it doesn't go nearly far enough.

And frankly, when you see what innovative small groups can do in Africa, it amazes you that we don't fund more. Whether is is micro-finance at work in Kenya, Plumpynut in Nigeria, or AIDS vaccines through PEPFAR in Uganda, there are plenty of ideas that could be replicated if we had more energy and effort. Like the Bill Gates model, find what works and invest in it, and don't let the programs get too big.

There are two organizations currently calling for Global Marshall Plans, and I want to clarify that I don't endorse either one specifically. The owners of www.globalmarshallplan.org advocate specific social and political policies in addition to a massive new foreign aid program. A group called The Spiritual Progressives do something similar including requirements that a Global Marshall Plan get its funds from military spending. A new Marshall Plan shouldn’t be bogged down with requirements that are clearly on one side of the political spectrum (liberal/socialist). This dramatically decreases that chances it will actually happen.

As I was researching last week's post, I stumbled onto this blog that has the catchline "just asking that aid help the poor." It goes to the point that not all aid is bad, but some of it is mismanaged. We need to do a better job of finding what works, and what doesn't.

A while back, I wrote that failed states are the biggest threat to America. I still believe this. Kick the terrorists out of Afghanistan and they will just move to Somalia, which they have. And this is why we need a new Marshall Plan.

Jun 07

On Friday, June 4th, UCLA's, College Basketball's--and possibly athletic's--greatest coach, John Wooden, passed away. Not just Southern California, but America felt his passing.

Why do I feel compelled to write about him at On Violence (aside from the fact that I went to UCLA)?

Any Bruin alum can tell you the impact of Wooden's legacy. The line to get his autograph was always full, either at the bookstore signing books or before college Basketball games. His picture adorns program, buildings and memorabilia. He built the athletic tradition at UCLA. Even though I never really met him, I still feel his loss like the entire community of Bruins.

More than anything, Wooden was a leader. I think every sports commentator has said this: on and off the court he embodied character. It doesn't make it less true.

He won 10 national championships, seven in a row. He won 88 straight games. Despite retiring thirty five years ago, John Wooden kept working. He published books on leadership and basketball. Wooden on Leadership has better stuff in two pages than the entire Army FM on leadership. His "Pyramid of Success" adorns classrooms, boardrooms and bedrooms around America, inspiring new generations.

And he was also by every single account a man of character. No one speaks ill of him, no one.

And I bring all this up because despite all the accolades we in America give our servicemembers, I don't think any General or Admiral of the contemporary age comes even close to this. In the World War II generation we had several generals who earned respect on a John Wooden level: Marshall, Bradley, perhaps Patton. General Petraeus is our most famous general, but will he stand out in thirty years the John Wooden has? Our Army loves "values," be they the Warrior Ethos or the Army values. Wooden created leadership through character, do our current Generals and Admirals have that character?

Maybe a comparison between the Army and Men's college basketball is unfair, but leadership is leadership, and sports is probably the closest field to war short of combat. Wooden is important to me because he was first and foremost a leader. A leader we should all emulate.

Post Script: Oh and he was also immensely quotable, so check these quotes out (they are all correctly sourced to John Wooden). And check out his website, pretty good design quality and a wealth of information.

Jun 04

(To read the entire "War Memoirs" series, please click here.)

In the comment section of last Friday's post, jumpinjarhead remarked that there is "a good deal of opinion in many of the military related memoirs." I agree. I put the cart before the horse with last week's post because I hadn't told our readers about a major problem endemic to war memoirs:


I really can't think of a better word for it. There is just so much complaining in war memoirs. The military, so unthinkingly bureaucratic and illogical, is ripe for criticism, but criticizing your boss in your memoir is just petty. Finishing personal vendettas on the page, where the other party can't fight back, smacks of bad art.

Four examples of what I'm writing about:

- Nathaniel Fick, in One Bullet Away, introduces his Captain as a "genial...all-American” football player, then spends the rest of the book criticizing him in self-censored terms. The company's men eventually pseudo-mutiny against “a leader they no longer respected,” and the higher ups nickname him "S***man."

- Kayla Williams rages at her Lieutenant, her fellow Soldiers, and even other platoons throughout Love My Rifle More Than You. Mostly she rages at both of her Sergeants, first Sgt. Moss "a small woman who looked confused all the time" whose only redeemable quality is good PT scores, and then Sgt. Simmons, who Williams describes as an air-headed flirt.

- In Joker One, Donovan Campbell introduces Ox as "the most experienced lieutenant in the company" and a "star football player" but describes him sarcastically as a "training extraordinaire" or straight-forwardly as "screwing up" the improvements to their base. This rivalry runs throughout the book.

- Andrew Exum rails on the "overweight...fun police" that try to keep him and his platoon from destroying Camp Doha in This Man's Army.

I could find an example from every memoir I read. That's why I was so impressed with Rooney's My War: even when he's bitching, it doesn't feel like bitching. So what can we learn from these characterizations?

1. Every Commanding Officer in the army is incompetent. Obviously this isn't true, or even close to being true. But almost every memoir describes the officer or NCO one rank higher than the author as an idiot. This leads us to this more accurate realization:

2. S*** flows uphill in the Army. People hate their bosses. This isn't some sort of revelation, but memoir authors don't get it. Soldiers hate their bosses as much as clerical workers hate theirs, but on the battlefield, petty disagreements become matters of life or death. Either way, it makes for mundane plotting.

3. Be clear. Many memoir authors dance around the incompetence of other officers, demonstrating it through conversation or actions. I'm thinking of Campbell and Ox, or Fick and his Captain. Sometimes blunt honesty is needed, something like, "Officer X was a bad officer, and could have gotten men killed."

Why is this the case? First, the Army is bad at criticizing itself. Two, the Military is even worse at criticizing personnel. If you've ever read an Officer Evaluation Report (OER), you know that even terrible Soldiers receive glowing statements.

Also, don't introduce the person in glowing terms if you're going to spend the rest of the book tearing them down. Both Joker One and One Bullet Away describe their antagonists as star football players, misleading the reader about their actual feelings. (Though based on this, I assume being good at football means you're a terrible officer.)

4. I hate anonymous criticism. Fick, in One Bullet Away, refuses to name his disagreeable and incompetent Captain. Evan Wright uses nicknames for his shitty officers, dubbing them Casey Kasem, Captain America and Encino Man. Campbell only uses the nickname Ox when referring to his XO. Friedman, in The War I Always Wanted, introduces his Captain but states that he won't print his name.

If you are going to to hate on someone, hate on them. Don’t hide behind nicknames.

5. No self-reflection. The only authors who criticize themselves are Van Winkle, O'Brien and Rooney. Van Winkle describes his battle with PTSD, and his carelessness on the battlefield. O'Brien, the fictional narrator of The Things They Carried, writes about his cowardice during a mortar attack. Rooney writes openly embarrassing things about himself. Everyone else writes in glowing terms of their leadership, or attempt to justify their decisions. The closest Andrew Exum comes to criticizing himself is writing that “Some sergeants and officers questioned my style...They said I openly cared too much for my men.” I doubt anyone has ever been criticized for that, except maybe at VA clinics.

6. In real-life, feelings change. “Casey Kasem” the hapless Operations Chief from Generation Kill, goes on a second tour, leads a team successfully and everyone’s opinion of him changes. It perfectly illustrates something: people in war zones like to bitch. Facts are optional, ditto with cruel stereotyping. It turns out this guy was as much a hero as anyone else in the battalion, but never had the chance to prove it until his second tour.

7. Don't be hypocritical. Kayla Williams writes disparagingly about her fellow translators sleeping around, based on rumors she heard. Of course, a forward operating platoon she worked with claimed she slept around, and her fellow translators called her a slut. I wish she would have presented all of these sexual rumors as just that: baseless sexual rumors.

In a perfect example of hypocrisy, Brent pointed out on our One Bullet Away post, “In his book [Fick] says that he had an epiphany at OCS, and that suddenly the little things like having his belt buckle perfectly in place was connected to keeping Marines alive in combat. Later, though, he chafes at enforcing the grooming standard in the field.” I’m upset I didn’t notice this, because it epitomizes what I'm writing about: petty one-sided criticism.

In closing, this is all a reason why war memoirs should be war novels. Novelists are free, free to criticize the people they love and admire the people they hate. As I wrote in this post, a famous author once told me that you have to love your characters. Memoirs don't have characters, so instead of love they have petty grudges.

Jun 02

After 9/11, as a naive high school student, I didn’t get it. How would invading Afghanistan stop terrorism? How would a military invasion change the fact that Muslims across the world hated America? I disagreed with classmates who argued that you can't spend money and expect the world to love you. I was stumped. I didn’t know how we could get the rest of the world to love us, or at least stop hating us.

Two weeks ago, I started looking back to the days after 9/11, playing "Monday morning quarterback" with the decisions of President Bush and Congress. I compared Bush with Eisenhower, a president who choose to invest in our long-term future domestically to solve a national security crisis abroad. To beat terrorism we don't need new weapons, we need to invest in foreign language training, an edge that will carry over to the globalized economy.

The Eisenhower analogy only goes so far. To stop terrorism, or the political violence that wracks the third world, we need a solution that isn't counter-insurgency. The proper analogy is the Marshall Plan. To prevent future wars in Europe, America invested in the Marshall Plan; to stop terrorism, America needs to invest in a new Global Marshall Plan. At the very least, we need to dramatically increase our foreign aid budget.

Like investing in education, this is an idea President Bush almost had. In 2003, he launched the most audacious health care initiative, ever. PEPFAR--President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief--spent 15 billion dollars on fighting HIV/AIDS in Africa and lowered the AIDS deaths on that continent by ten percent. Hate President Bush and republicans if you will, but this program delivered results on a serious world issue, while improving the good name of the US.

Like No Child Left Behind, the issue is one of scale. We spend the equivalent of our yearly foreign aid every month in Iraq. Factor in Afghanistan and regular defense spending, and there is no doubt we spend way more on war than peace. We often mention carrots and sticks, but our budget only buys large, expensive sticks. And sticks don't help development.

We should have increased our foreign aid and international presence immediately after 9/11. Fortunately it isn’t too late. Our government should immediately double our foreign aid budget, and we should take it from the defense budget. Seeing as one aircraft carrier is about 4.5 billion dollars, and doesn't do squat to fight terrorists, the money is there.

Basically we need US billionaires to take the lead. Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett have done their part. Unfortunately, after those three, the push for philanthropy ground to a halt. We need our billionaires to do more frankly. I don't know how we convince the billionaires, short of using crazy taxation policies I don't agree with. I admit this is a pipe dream, but it would help our world stature.

Finally, we need to reinstate the Peace Corps or USAID in a meaningful way. It should be funded at least as well as one of our military branches. And it should strive to get away from government contracting as much as possible. One of the great failures of foreign aid is the addition of multi-national corporations as an extra-layer of bureaucracy between our government and the people we are trying to help.

I said investing in the world would improve the US’s long term future, but I haven’t explained how. The way I see it, huge swaths of the world live on a dollar a day. In other words, they have to buy food, and necessities, and nothing else. That means no IPADs, no Fords, and no Coca-Cola. If the rest of the world could buy more goods, then they will need the services the US can provide. We funneled what will eventually be trillions into the war in Iraq, money that didn’t end up returning to American shores.

May 31

Reader Joel forwarded me this article by C.J. Chivers in the NY Times. In short, a pit viper bit an Afghan boy on the face in Helmand province. The boy’s father brought him to the nearest Marine COP hoping the US could save his life. After fighting with higher headquarters, a helicopter picked up the boy and moved him to Kandahar, where it looks like he will survive.

Joel then asked this question: “To what extent does this actually, ‘win hearts and minds?’ Can anyone confirm whether or not the village this boy is from has become more accepting of US forces?”

Counter-insurgency is a war of inches and degrees. This individual incident won't win the war, the survival of this one boy will only change how his father feels about the US. Then again, maybe it won’t. It probably won't even affect his entire village. The bigger question is whether the policy of evacuating seriously wounded Afghans will eventually win over the population.

Because in the short term the effects of one single mission are hard to identify. I wrote about this when I described two Medical Civil Action Patrols (MEDCAP) my company conducted in Konar province. One succeeded wildly; the other failed miserably. Trying to figure out why was a next to impossible task. Again, victories in counter-insurgency show up over time, not single moments. It's like some sort of militaristic Chinese proverb: to fell the counter-insurgency tree, one must use many swings. By swings we mean MEDCAPs.

This isn't to say we have no way of knowing if we are winning. Our Human Intelligence Collection Teams can determine the “atmospherics” of local populations through polling. Most maneuver commanders tend not to employ them in this capacity, instead they try to target the bad guys. Modern polling can accomplish wonders. Determining if villages love us or hate us isn't as hard as we make it out to be.

Even though the Army screws up metrics all the time, there are ways of measuring progress. Having the level of violence plummet in Iraq showed progress. Having elections in Iraq showed progress. Training more Afghan police will show progress. Measuring success is possible--even seeing how many hearts and minds we have won--if we use the right metrics.

The core of Joel's question is whether we can win Afghan's hearts. Frankly, I don't see how this action couldn't help but convince one father, and possible mother, to support the US. Do drowning victims hate life guards? Do students hate organizations that gave them scholarships? Do cancer survivors hate their doctors?

The answer is no. Saving a boy's life will buy the US at least some goodwill. No one hates the person who saved their life, whereas denying the ability to save a life will almost certainly engender hatred. They see our money, wealth and health care, the natural reaction is to be upset if we don't share it. This goes for curing someone's club foot, or saving a little girl's eye sight. In the long term, building a sustainable Afghan medical capacity will bring us generations of good will; in the mean time, we should do what we can.

One MEDEDVAC won't win the war in Afghanistan, but thousands might. Some Afghans might still hate Americans despite billions in aid, but in the long term I believe they will come around.

May 28

(To read the entire "War Memoirs" series, please click here.)

Of the many mistakes in Marcus Lutrell's Lone Survivor, perhaps the one that upset me the most was his opinion. Luttrell injects his opinion onto every other page, and it reads terribly. This led to my theory on war memoirs: keep your opinion out of it. Especially if you're angry.

That is, until I read Andy Rooney's World War II memoir, My War. It is all opinion. And it is amazing.

If you've watched Sixty Minutes at all since 1979, then you know Andy Rooney is TV's premier opiner, delivering hilarious and cantankerous opinions for nearly 30 years. Rooney was also a soldier and a reporter during World War II, and My War should be considered a pinnacle of the genre. (I'm not planning on starting a World War II memoirs project, I'm up to my neck in post 9/11 memoirs as is. Anyways the novels of World War II--Slaughterhouse-Five, Catch-22, The Naked and the Dead, From Here To Eternity, Gravity's Rainbow--are much better than its memoirs.) My War exemplifies what a memoir can, and can't, do well.

Like The Things They Carried, another book with a lot of opinion, the strongest characteristic of My War is that Andy Rooney understands the limitations of the memoir as a medium. In the prologue, Rooney writes, "If you're pleased with the way you've been remembering some of the major events of your life, don't set out to write a book about them. The chances are, they weren't that way at all." He goes on to say that his facts are probably wrong, and that he is going to censor the profanity in his memoir. This is refreshing: he puts all his cards on the table.

Rooney flouts memoir convention. His book contains almost no dialogue, and even mocks the dialogue in historical fiction. Structurally his book begins and ends with awkward non-war based book-ends, but even Rooney admits there really isn’t a reason why. Explaining why he included the last chapter on his trip to Los Angeles to write a screenplay, “Somehow the brief time we spent in Hollywood...attaches itself in my mind to the war.”

Freed from these conventions, Andy Rooney fills his book with his opinions. He muses on football, the military, the media, old friends, old enemies, patriotism and dozens of other topics. Most of them are hilarious. After thirty years of writing, Andy Rooney knows what is funny, and how to phrase a punchline. Rooney has a great eye for what is memorable, honed from years working as a reporter. He waxes poetically about his favorite typewriter or the Jeep, and he discusses all of the taboo topics, like animals dying, the idiocy and consequence of unfeeling leadership, and how the occupied hate the occupiers. Almost every page has something interesting on it.

Written 50 years after the fact, Rooney is free to write about everything that happened to him without censoring himself. This includes admitting he lost the Jeep the Army gave him, or describing a Medal of Honor winner as a "f***-up" (One of the rare curse words in the book.)

On the "f***-up, Andy Rooney both doesn't censor himself regarding the Army or the military, and is keenly aware of how ridiculous and bureaucratic the Army is/was. The Army gives a Medal of Honor to someone who doesn’t deserve one, while snubbing another division of medals of any type. In a telling passage on field drills: “You put down your olive-drab blanket on the hard clay and laid out on that every single item the Army had issued you...It was a tedious experience. Your canteen had to be in exactly the right place on the blanket in relation to your rifle...This is how a peacetime Army thinks wars are won.”

Rooney is critical of almost everything, from the Army to General Patton to war in general. After a number of memoirs that toe the line, desperately avoiding criticizing anyone or anything, this was refreshing. Most importantly--and this is a big distinction between this war memoir and others--Rooney is critical of himself. He includes embarrassing scenes where he cruelly pranks a good friend, or fails to return photographs to a soldier, or describes the petty grudges he holds. He understands himself, which means he understands others.

There is a danger that I only like the memoirs I agree with the most. Rooney is about as close to being a pacifist as you can be while still serving in a war. He's a democrat who believes "of all the things that men do - historically mostly men - fighting a war to kill other men is the most uncivilized." which is nearly the exact sentiment I wrote about here, so of course I should like the book he writes. I don't know the solution to this problem, but I recognize it exists.

There isn’t really a thesis in My War, except maybe that Rooney hates war, but comes to accept it. He opens the book as a pacifist, believing that “any peace is better than any war.” Or from Ernie Pyle "these are days...when you see things so horrible that you wonder what it is that can make this war worthwhile." Of course, that thing is the Buchenwald concentration camp. When Rooney finally goes there, he writes “I was ashamed for ever having considered refusing to serve in the Army...For the first time, I knew for certain that any peace is not better than any war.”

Of course, he still doesn’t love war. "When I get to thinking that perhaps there is a balance between the good things and the bad things about war, I think of Obie and Charley and I know there is nothing so good about war that it isn't overwhelmed buy the death of young men like them.” War may be exciting, but for Rooney it isn’t worth the price paid. If you saw this piece from the November 8th 60 Minutes (text here), then you know how he feels about war, even the one he was in.

May 27

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

I've always enjoyed Star Trek in its many forms because Gene Roddenberry used a vision of a more peaceful and advanced future for mankind as a conduit to discuss current socio-political controversies. Whether it was civil rights or the Cold War or creating super soldiers we cannot control, he attempted to provoke our preconception as well as entertain.

One of my favorite quotes was: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one." It seemed a simplistic and honorable logic to live by.

Star Trek in its newest conception as a reboot seems a far departure from the original. The emphasis now on action and combat as opposed to the cleverly hidden mirroring of our own fears and social issues. I began to wonder how Star Trek as a concept has changed and how a concept like the aforementioned quote can so easily be adapted to fit our times.

I wondered about our needs; most prevalent among them, the simple need to continue to exist. I could begin to fit the needs of the many to different aspects. The need for security, per se. For example, we give our secret police power to restrict civil liberties or even take lives in the effort to keep us safe. It may sound like hyperbole to call the FBI, NSA, CIA, SS, etc. secret police, but in effect, are in point of fact, organizations that police our state while operating on principle of clearance levels and locked files and a need to know basis. Is this not an example of the needs of the few being outweighed by the needs of the many?

I apply the concept to torture and interrogation because it is logically the ultimate test of the absolutism of the axiom. Causing immense pain, basically destroying a human being in the service of a collective. Having a silent protector willing to bloody his hand and his soul by torturing a potential threat theoretically keeps me from harms way. Two men are sacrificed to protect tens, or hundreds, or more. Statistically, this is a net gain.

Now I say two men because two people are sacrificed in the name our sound sleep. We take the life of not just of the suspect but the interrogator as well. We've done something by asking this man or woman to inflict unbearable amounts of pain on a fellow human being, no matter what acts that the suspect has committed or plans to commit. We've allowed them to dehumanize themselves.

I put it this way: is a person humane if he or she beats a rabid dog to death for biting a child? No, it is in fact inhumane. This is an objective truth. However, it must be noted that this is my position based on the fact that the hypothetical child is not mine. Undoubtedly I would be far more outraged and apt to violence other than humanely putting the dog down if I had an emotional investment in who the dog attacked as my objectivity is compromised. Regardless, that act of beating a dog to death is inhumane objectively, and if I attempt it, it dehumanizes me.

This is of course only an analogy, an oversimplification to pose a moral question. It fails to encompass the scale of terrorism and war and human rights. A rabid dog is unlikely to kill and maim dozens or have information about the location of other rabid animals intending to harm to countless civilians. Nor is a dog a human being.

With regards to the quote that began me thinking, I want to conclude by placing a context on the quote above and hold this idea of "the needs of the many" to this context.

The character who states this, Spock, gives his life in order to save the lives of others. He gives it freely and without hesitation believing that his death results in the greater good. He did not, and I believe this is key, ask or command another to die. He forfeited his own life, not another's. If he were to do this, to order the death of subordinate the same principle begins to lose moral ground. Logically, it has the same effect; one dying in the place of many, but now Spock must take responsibility for a life. He must take responsibility for sending a man to his death.

Now for the loop-hole. As a society, I would say we should not condone torture to protect us. But what if we didn't? What if we punished and abhorred it? If we did this and individuals still took it upon themselves to dirty their hands without our consent or our thanks and even faced criminal punishment in an effort to protect the peace; would they then be justified? Would that be the needs of the many out-weighing the needs of the few?

May 26

(A few weeks ago, I unfavorably compared the Bush administration's response to 9/11 with the Eisenhower Administration's response to launch of Sputnik. Eisenhower choose investments that aided America's long term growth; President Bush didn't. Today I recommend my post-9/11 investment.)

Recently, I heard a talk by a seasoned Human Intelligence professional--the type of guy who's been around the world a few times. He deftly described our intelligence system as designed "to find metal objects, be they missiles, tanks, or ships." What the US really needs, he went on to say that, is the ability to look inside someone's head.

Obvious, impossible, but true. And a fact that is routinely overlooked. Our intelligence community has improved its human intelligence since 9/11, but we have a long, long way to go. This isn't just an intelligence failure; this is a military, national security and cultural failure.

The main reason we can't collect human intelligence is that we don't speak the right languages. We don’t have enough agents, operatives, spies, and Human Intelligence collectors who speak Arabic, Persian, Pashtun, Urdu, Chinese, and countless other needed languages.

If right after 9/11, President Bush redirected the billions we spend on technology (or just a fraction of some of the billions) towards a massive foreign language training program, not only would America be safer, our economic future would be brighter. Funding engineering research helped America win the Cold War, but also launched a computer revolution; funding foreign language training will help America defeat Islamic radicalism, but will also launch America into the globalized business world.

As soon as he entered office, President Bush approved the “No Child Left Behind” Act. Demanding accountability through test scores, it increased federal education funding by 12 billion dollars from 2001 to 2007. Investing in education is investing in the future. After 9/11, though, the program wasn’t dramatically altered. The administration didn't see the connection between education, foreign languages and terrorism. President Eisenhower saw that an interstate highway would usher in an industrial boom; President Bush couldn't see that foreign language education will usher in a globalization boom.

Don't consider this a knock on Republicans, Democrats didn't see it either, and neither did the media. When discussing education reform, we talk about reading, writing and math; no one talks about foreign languages.

Fixing the Gap

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?
A: Trilingual

Q: What do you call someone who speaks two languages?
A: Bilingual

Q: What do you call someone who speaks one language?
A: American (H/T Foreign Policy Watch)

How many high schools offer Chinese classes? How many elementary schools offer Arabic? I grew up in California and we didn't even start Spanish until middle school. Our university system has plenty of grants and scholarships for scientists and engineers, but few for foreign languages.

We need to fix the gap. America should immediately double, then triple, the bonus given to our service members who speak critical languages (like Arabic, Chinese, Urdu or Persian). It should offer full scholarships for students studying foreign languages with only a two-year service requirement upon graduation--be it the military, CIA, FBI or other three letter agency. America shouldn't go in half-heartedly either, this effort should be in the billions of dollars range.

At the same time, Congress should offer grants to schools to radically overhaul their foreign language programs. To provide immediate language training, we should aim our sights at colleges. For our long-term future, elementary schools should institute foreign language training. High schools should then make four-year foreign language training mandatory.

As I see it, not only terrorism, but globalization--the same force that energizes international terrorism--necessitates culturally literate individuals who can speak multiple languages. Training a core of foreign language experts will initially benefit our national security, and will eventually benefit businesses and academics. As On The Media reported last week, America has trouble translating Chinese newspapers. If we can't even read Chinese newspapers, how can we conduct complex business relationships?

Fortunately, we aren't too late. Even now America could regain the foreign language edge throughout the world. We are a diverse melting pot of every culture in the world. If our government invested the resources--and I mean billions of dollars--we could capture a key edge for future global interaction.