In “Cut the Strings to George III” MoDo has a question: Why do we cling to a British military legal system that the Brits have rejected? Beats the hell out of me, MoDo. However, the odds of them changing are slim indeed. The Moustache of Wisdom also has a question in “Israel Lives the Joseph Story:” What does it mean when even Turkey is in turmoil and Stephen Hawking is weighing in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Here’s MoDo:
You see glistening mermaid sightings on Animal Planet more than you catch glimpses of vintage John McCain on Capitol Hill.
But there he was on Tuesday, succinctly saying what needed to be said about the scourge of sexual assault cases in the military. Looking grimly at the ribbon-bedecked white male heads of all the services testifying before the Armed Services Committee, McCain scolded: “Just last night a woman came to me and said her daughter wanted to join the military, and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so. I could not.”
Are women who want to join the military now more afraid of being raped by their brothers in arms than dying for their country?
The seven women on the committee are driving the mission to curb the plague of sexual transgressions in the military, with 26,000 service men and women assaulted in 2012.
“Women are not going to be turned away on this one,” Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri told me.
But men on both sides of the aisle were also pressing the top generals and admirals, even though some, like Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia, still seemed to be getting up to speed on the issue. “Several years ago, when we had the first females go out on an aircraft carrier that when they returned to port,” Chambliss said he recalled, “a significant percentage of those females were pregnant.” Was any investigation done, he asked, to determine whether those pregnancies were the result of “consensual acts”?
The brass agreed there was a “cancer” in the military, but their rigid, nonsensical response boiled down to: Trust us. We’ll fix the system, even though we don’t really believe it’s broken.
They were unanimously resistant to the shift that several of our allies have made, giving lawyers, rather than commanders, the power to take cases to court. This even though they were having a hard time coming up with examples of any commanders who had been removed from their posts for allowing a toxic climate on sexual assault.
In fact, the military honchos made it clear that, after months of public dismay, they hadn’t even gotten around to studying the systems our allies put in place to achieve objective decision making, where commanders can’t protect buddies or Top Gun criminals. “Talking to people who have managed this problem longer than we have seems to me the very easiest place to start,” chided Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri.
Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School, told me the arguments of the brass “boiled down to an almost mystical notion of the commanders’ responsibility. Why can’t we cut the strings to the British system we inherited from George III? The British are baffled by us. They gave control over major crimes to professional prosecutors years ago. It’s an institutional structure that has outlived its utility and credibility.”
As Sarah Plummer, a beautiful ex-Marine who served in Iraq and says she was raped by a fellow Marine who was never prosecuted, explained to NBC News’s Jim Miklaszewski: “Having someone within your direct chain of command handling the case” is like “your brother raping you and having your dad decide the case.”
The military big shots admitted that they had taken their eyes off the ball, but blamed it on a decade of two wars.
“Commanders having the authority to take a case to trial hasn’t gotten rid of the large number of sexual assaults and rapes or encouraged more people to come forward and report crimes,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told me. “In fact, it has had the opposite effect.” She told the military chiefs that “not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape.”
There’s no excuse for permitting a system to allow commanders to sweep things under the rug and allow threats of retaliation. The Naval Academy is reeling from a case of a female midshipman who reported she was raped by three Navy football players at an off-campus party last year. The men were not charged, but the woman was punished for underage drinking.
West Point is roiled by two cases: a sergeant first class in charge of the welfare of some cadets has been accused of illicitly videotaping female cadets as they disrobed in the bathroom or shower; and the men’s rugby team was temporarily disbanded after players exchanged e-mails that were degrading to women.
On the Hill, the brass argued that they could not retain “cohesion” and “order” if commanders were not calling all the legal shots. But Nancy Parrish, the president of a victims’ rights group, told a chilling story about a young woman in a combat zone who had tried four times to report a soldier she says raped her. She saw him coming toward her truck as she got ready for a mission and recalled her feelings: “I shut down inside. I was lead driver in our convoy, and I kept hoping to hit an I.E.D. after that.”
As Parrish sardonically asked, you call that “unit cohesion” and “good order and discipline”?
Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
How would you like to be an Israeli strategist today? Now even Turkey is in turmoil as its people push back on their increasingly autocratic leader. I mean, there goes the neighborhood. The good news for Israel is that in the near term its near neighbors are too internally consumed to think about threatening it. In the long run, though, Israel faces two serious challenges that I’d dub the Stephen Hawking Story and the Joseph Story.
In case you missed it, Hawking, the British physicist, cosmologist and author of “A Brief History of Time,” canceled a planned trip to Israel this month to attend the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference. Cambridge University, where Hawking is a professor, said Hawking had told Israelis that he would not be attending “based on advice from Palestinian academics that he should respect the boycott” of Israel because of the West Bank occupation.
“Never has a scientist of this stature boycotted Israel,” Yigal Palmor, of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, declared. I strongly disagree with what Hawking did. Israelis should be challenged not boycotted. (After all, Palestinians are also at fault.) Nevertheless, his action found wide resonance. The Boston Globe said Hawking’s decision was “a reasonable way to express one’s political views. Observers need not agree with Hawking’s position in order to understand and even respect his choice. The movement that Hawking has signed on to aims to place pressure on Israel through peaceful means.”
That was not Al-Ahram. That was The Boston Globe — a reminder that in this age of social networks, populist revolts and superempowered individuals, “international public opinion matters more not less,” notes the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi, the author of “Imagined Democracies.” And, in Israel’s case, it is creating a powerful surge of international opinion, particularly in Europe and on college campuses, that Israel is a pariah state because of its West Bank occupation. It is not a good trend for Israel. It makes it that much more dependent on America alone for support.
This global trend, though, is coinciding with a complete breakdown in Israel’s regional environment. Israel today is living a version of the Biblical “Joseph Story,” where Joseph endeared himself to the Pharaoh by interpreting his dreams as a warning that seven fat years would be followed by seven lean years and, therefore, Egypt needed to stock up on grain. In Israel’s case, it has enjoyed, relatively speaking, 40 fat years of stable governments around it. Over the last 40 years, a class of Arab leaders took power and managed to combine direct or indirect oil money, with multiple intelligence services, with support from either America or Russia, to ensconce themselves in office for multiple decades. All of these leaders used their iron fists to keep their sectarian conflicts — Sunnis versus Shiites, Christians versus Muslims, and Kurds and Palestinian refugees versus everyone else — in check. They also kept their Islamists underground.
With these iron-fisted leaders being toppled — and true, multisectarian democracies with effective governments yet to emerge in their place — Israel is potentially facing decades of unstable or no governments surrounding it. Only Jordan offers Israel a normal border. In the hinterlands beyond, Israel is looking at dysfunctional states that are either imploding (like Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Libya) or exploding (like Syria).
But here’s what’s worse: These iron-fisted leaders not only suppressed various political forces in their societies but also badly ignored their schools, environments, women’s empowerment and population explosions. Today, all these bills are coming due just when their governments are least able to handle them.
Therefore, the overarching theme for Israeli strategy in the coming years must be “resiliency” — how to maintain a relatively secure environment and thriving economy in a collapsing region.
In my view, that makes resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more important than ever for three reasons: 1) to reverse the trend of international delegitimization closing in on Israel; 2) to disconnect Israel as much as possible from the regional conflicts around it; and 3) to offer a model.
There is no successful model of democratic governance in the Arab world at present — the Islamists are all failing. But Israel, if it partnered with the current moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, has a chance to create a modern, economically thriving, democratic, secular state where Christians and Muslims would live side by side — next to Jews. That would be a hugely valuable example, especially at a time when the Arab world lacks anything like it. And the world for the most part would not begrudge Israel keeping its forces on the Jordan River — as will be necessary given the instability beyond — if it ceded most of the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
Together, Israelis and Palestinians actually have the power to model what a decent, postauthoritarian, multireligious Arab state could look like. Nothing would address both people’s long-term strategic needs better. Too bad their leaders today are not as farsighted as Joseph.