Monday, July 27, 2009

Is it a battlespace or is it "humanitarian space"?

My colleague Dr. Gene Bonventre has been hard at work considering ways to get USAID to work with DoD. One of the irritating fundamental arguments I have heard from USAID/DoS and NGO personnel against DoD's work is that we are 'crowding the humanitarian space'. Part of the problem, in my view, is that DoD doesn't view where it works as "humanitarian space." Afghanistan, for example, is a "battlespace" in my view. Some USAID personnel do not share that view and believe the country to be a "humanitarian space" that is being poisoned by DoD. In fact, some would argue that DoD's presence in Afghanistan creates danger to their personnel. From the DoD perspective, the U.S. President ordered up a war against the Taliban who were lurking in Afghanistan.

But back to the brilliant Dr. Bonventre who used to work for DoD. He apparently has been slaving away on a committee to make recommendations about how we can all get along. The report is here: I haven't read it thoroughly yet but it looks promising.

Also, Dr. Bonventre and another brilliant former military guy, Dr. Skip Burkle, have posted their views here, on the New Security Beat blog (

I take issue with Skip Burkle's blog in that he views the discussion from a development perspective (the title of the blog, after all), and he maintains that USAID is best for development actions. He criticizes Secretary Gates for asking for more civilian personnel positing that Gates was asking for the personnel to be under the control of the military. Finally he criticizes DoD for be inexpert at development which he calls "winning hearts and minds" and which I would argue is "counter insurgency" when referring to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Regardless of his critique I think the question is the wrong question.

I don't think we have the luxury to have "either/or" agencies any more. I have written about this before--I think Michele Flournoy hit the nail on the head with a proposal for a new breed of security expert. Or, you could have a new breed of development expert. Either way, staff at USAID who are being paid with my tax dollars should be promoting the US Government agenda, and part of that is our national security interests. Cognizance of what that is would be a good starting point. Much like we can no longer leave military actions in these hybrid wars to the combat arms dudes who view every problem as something to shoot and kill. The world has moved on, but perhaps our gut reactions have not.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Nat. Mus. of Health and Medicine - Resolved exhibit

More from Flickr on Health and War.

Healthcare not Warfare protests in the U.S.

I was searching for visual evidence of the "healthcare not warfare" argument in the U.S. and have found several photos in Flickr. The issue, obviously, is perceived to be one of resources. It's an important debate.

Bullet wound (National Museum of Health and Medicine)

I was surfing for images about Health and War on Flickr and have come up with some oddities.....

War and Culture: Sarah Trigg and "Santa Susana with Mexican Border"

I stumbled across the work of Sarah Trigg in an online journal called "Cultural Politics" (URL: Trigg has produced a series that depicts the lines and traces of war etched on the earth and captured in images. This image is my favorite.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Undersecretary of Defense for Policy takes on StratComm

USD Policy has been undergoing significant reorganization lately, and it's shape and function is not exactly clear to those of us on the 'outside'. The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy is perhaps "The Source" of power within the Pentagon, and the new Undersecretary, Michele Flournoy, is trying to shape her office to be more responsive to the global context, it seems. Those of us around D.C. not within USD(P) are waiting to understand the new organization and it's new direction. The Defense News reported last week (URL: ) that Flournoy was going to put together a small team to shape communications both to Congress and to other US Govt agencies. The team will replace an office within USD(P) that used to be called "Support to Public Diplomacy". Flournoy disbanded the Support to Public Diplomacy office this year, seeking a fresh start to Strategic Communications efforts after the Support to Public Diplomacy office became embroiled in an internal conflict over it's issuances. (Apparently it was issuing 'propagandistic' information that soldiers in Afghanistan refused to use about casualty rates). While this all sounds rather archaic, it's not. The goal of the team is to coordinate Strategic Communications across DoD. I would suggest they start by reading the CENTCOM reports to Congress on progress in Afghanistan and Iraq. As I've blogged before the reports are pathetic at best, and do not show off the significant efforts in either theater of war.

As the U.S. tries to shape its global presence to positively effect and stabilize the international commons, it must be cognizant of its communications. It's all part of the "Smart Power" construct.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

War, H1N1, and Personnel Readiness

This blog is about DoD's health communications, and the potential utility of a "whole of government response" to assist DoD with H1N1.

As H1N1 makes its way around the globe via public travel, and --troop deployments-- we also are apparently busy in Southern Command delivering protection kits to health care workers in Latin America (Click on the title of this blog for the story from Southcom). I have thought about this particular post for several days now because I am currently in training at a military base. Training at a military base involves heavy 'social' interaction. We eat together, do physical fitness training together, sit in a classroom, huddle around maps for harried planning discussions, congregate over a computer to produce briefing slides for the group, eat together some more, and live in a dorm-like setting. Social distancing is nearly impossible. A trip from my class room to the ladies' bathroom room requires that I touch 3 door handles/doors one way, or a total of six 'fomites' (things that carry germs by being touched repeatedly--like a door knob) for a round trip. While it might seem paranoid that I know this, apparently on this particular base there are verified cases of H1N1. We were told 22 cases when we first arrived. Yesterday, a class mate told me that someone in my class of about 125 students (but not in my particular section of 13 students) had fallen ill and was 'quarantined' to the back of the class. "WHAT?" I asked him. "Yah, the guy had to sit in the back of the class away from everyone-that's what I heard" said my colleague. We were warned, on the first day, that were we to fall ill, we would be quarantined and therefore miss more than the acceptable amount of course work with the end result of being expelled from the the course. Obviously the use of the word quarantine has strayed from its actual meaning.

There are real and potentially unpleasant results should we come down with H1N1. Most of us have been toiling for about a year now, and this is our last phase--to drop out now would be distressing. It might even mean that we would have to start all over because there are limited amounts of upcoming classes, and a limited amount of time to complete the entire course. (Therefore, my heightened sense of concern about the door handles is at least explainable, and perhaps entirely warranted. ) The dire warnings of quarantine therefore produce an incentive to not seek treatment for flu symptoms.

But getting back to the protection kits. While I completely understand the goodwill gesture of distributing protection kits, I am somewhat baffled by the institutional response of DoD. Rumors are starting to circulate about H1N1, with odd descriptions of quarantine and treatment (e.g. treatment with Tamiflu--one of the more dubious rumors) with a predictable amount of resulting confusion. This is how the military works, unfortunately.

So I went surfing through the publicly available DoD information on H1N1 is illuminating--it tells us to wash our hands, cover our nose and mouth when sneezing and stay at home if we get ill. The efficacy of face masks is unproven, therefore not among the recommended actions. Here's the DoD watchboard for H1N1: Although we did receive a 'briefing' about H1N1 that told us that the symptoms of H1N1 are remarkably long lasting, and to cover our nose and mouths when we sneeze, we were not told about where to get more information, and the briefing concluded with the warning about quarantine.

Health communication seems to be the weak point in the DoD's response. While we are generous with our neighbors, I have to wonder if we are appropriately generous with ourselves? Is one website really an appropriate instutional response? Or, a briefing given to an officer with no public health background to present to a packed auditorium of students freshly arrived from disparate parts of the globe? Is this really the best we can do for ourselves? And, is this the appropriate level and style of communication considering the importance of troop readiness? After all, we are in the middle of two wars and troops cannot fight if they are sick. The military health system is stretched thin. Could the Public Health Service be useful here? Where is our "whole of government" response when we are trying to cope with a threat to our own national security right here at home?

While it could be argued that I'm thinking like Chicken Little and fretting over a falling sky, I suspect that our response to this relatively benign flu does not indicate a measured response should a more virulent flu appear this fall.