May 22, 2014

To Change the World, Start by Making Your Bed

I've had the distinct pleasure of briefing Admiral McRaven on just a couple of occasions. One can't help but be impressed by his demeanor, professionalism, intelligence, and focus. Quite an extraordinary leader. His advice to the graduating class of UT is superb and something I think you'll enjoy.

McRaven to Grads: To Change the World, Start by Making Your Bed

By Tim Taliaferro in 40 Acres on May 17, 2014 at 9:18 pm

Because we can’t improve upon perfection, and because it’s silly to try and summarize a speech that should be read in full, we present the full copy of Admiral William McRaven’s May 2014 Commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin. McRaven, BJ ’77, Life Member and Distinguished Alumnus, is the commander of U.S. Special Operations and led Operation Neptune Spear, which resulted to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Remarks by Naval Adm. William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S.Special Operations Command

University-Wide Commencement

The University of Texas at Austin, May 17, 2014.

President Powers, Provost Fenves, Deans, members of the faculty, family and friends and most importantly, the class of 2014. Congratulations on your achievement.

It’s been almost 37 years to the day that I graduated from UT.

I remember a lot of things about that day.

I remember I had throbbing headache from a party the night before. I remember I had a serious girlfriend, whom I later married—that’s important to remember by the way– and I remember that I was getting commissioned in the Navy that day.

But of all the things I remember, I don’t have a clue who the commencement speaker was that evening and I certainly don’t remember anything they said.

So…acknowledging that fact—if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable— I will at least try to make it short.

The University’s slogan is,

“What starts here changes the world.”

I have to admit–I kinda like it.

“What starts here changes the world.”

Tonight there are almost 8000 students graduating from UT.

That great paragon of analytical rigor, Ask.Com says that the average American will meet 10,000 people in their life time.

That’s a lot of folks.

But, if every one of you changed the lives of just ten people– and each one of those folks changed the lives of another ten people—just ten—then in five generations—125 years—the class of 2014 will have changed the lives of 800 million people.

800 million people—think of it—over twice the population of the United States. Go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world—8 billion people.

If you think it’s hard to change the lives of ten people—change their lives forever—you’re wrong.

I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A young Army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the ten soldiers in his squad are saved from close-in ambush.

In Kandahar province, Afghanistan, a non-commissioned officer from the Female Engagement Team senses something isn’t right and directs the infantry platoon away from a 500 pound IED, saving the lives of a dozen soldiers.

But, if you think about it, not only were these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children yet unborn– were also saved. And their children’s children— were saved.

Generations were saved by one decision—by one person.

But changing the world can happen anywhere and anyone can do it.

So, what starts here can indeed change the world, but the question is…what will the world look like after you change it?

May 15, 2014

"First they came..."

While reading Henninger’s piece I was reminded of this poetic version of a theme developed by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller who repeatedly wrote about the “cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis' rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.”
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.”
This is the danger of the ‘politically correct’ litmus test applied by extremists on both the Left and Right; it is a self-destructive spiral that ultimately results in a contest among the self-selecting ‘most correct’ as to which of them will be the final arbiter of what is acceptable. In the course of the battle, sadly, one finds the field littered with the remains of those who didn’t quite measure up to standard. During a brief foray into politics not too very  long ago, I was consistently immersed in this nonsense wherein candidates competed to prove just how much more ‘party pure’ or ‘true to the cause’ they were than their rivals...and the crowd (the few activists who cared enough to even attend a political event) expected–demanded–such. Lost, of course, was any opportunity to actually discuss issues and debate not only the nature of challenges but the merits of alternative solutions. We see this all the time at the national level–a given candidate not sufficiently Right- or Left-wing enough for the hardened extremists. The result: an increasing divide between left and right, rational people driven from the debate, a dysfunctional governing apparatus, and lost opportunity.

Ideological purity is unattainable and the policies that extend from such are un-implementable except by force…which leads to authoritarianism. It takes extraordinary effort to keep from veering into an extreme camp when one perceives that ‘the other side’ is irreconcilable and too much ground has been ‘lost.’ I do agree that at some point one has to say ‘enough,’ hold ground, then methodically and relentlessly push back but how that’s done and the costs extracted in the fight have to be thoughtfully considered otherwise greater things are lost in the process.
So what to do? For the 'common man' to care enough to be involved, to summon both the energy and the courage to say 'enough' when the extremists are on a rant, to realize that what we have enjoyed as a country and as a culture – based on profound principles that are at the heart of our foundational documents – is not permanent and can actually be lost. Take an interest. Get involved.

Bonfire of the Humanities
Christine Lagarde is the latest ritualistic burning of a college-commencement heretic.
Daniel Henninger
May 14, 2014 7:19 p.m. ET

It's been a long time coming, but America's colleges and universities have finally descended into lunacy.

Last month, Brandeis University banned Somali-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali as its commencement speaker, purporting that "Ms. Hirsi Ali's record of anti-Islam statements" violates Brandeis's "core values."

This week higher education's ritualistic burning of college-commencement heretics spread to Smith College and Haverford College.

On Monday, Smith announced the withdrawal of Christine Lagarde, the French head of the International Monetary Fund. And what might the problem be with Madame Lagarde, considered one of the world's most accomplished women? An online petition signed by some 480 offended Smithies said the IMF is associated with "imperialistic and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide." With unmistakable French irony, Ms. Lagarde withdrew "to preserve the celebratory spirit" of Smith's commencement.

On Tuesday, Haverford College's graduating intellectuals forced commencement speaker Robert J. Birgeneau to withdraw. Get this: Mr. Birgeneau is the former chancellor of UC Berkeley, the big bang of political correctness. It gets better.

Berkeley's Mr. Birgeneau is famous as an ardent defender of minority students, the LGBT community and undocumented illegal immigrants. What could possibly be wrong with this guy speaking at Haverford??? Haverfordians were upset that in 2011 the Berkeley police used "force" against Occupy protesters in Sproul Plaza. They said Mr. Birgeneau could speak at Haverford if he agreed to nine conditions, including his support for reparations for the victims of Berkeley's violence.

In a letter, Mr. Birgeneau replied, "As a longtime civil rights activist and firm supporter of nonviolence, I do not respond to untruthful, violent verbal attacks."

Smith president Kathleen McCartney felt obliged to assert that she is "committed to leading a college where differing views can be heard and debated with respect." And Haverford's president, Daniel Weiss, wrote to the students that their demands "read more like a jury issuing a verdict than as an invitation to a discussion or a request for shared learning."

Mr. Birgeneau, Ms. McCartney, Mr. Weiss and indeed many others in American academe must wonder what is happening to their world this chilled spring.

Here's the short explanation: You're all conservatives now.

Years ago, when the academic left began to ostracize professors identified as "conservative," university administrators stood aside or were complicit. The academic left adopted a notion espoused back then by a "New Left" German philosopher—who taught at Brandeis, not coincidentally—that many conservative ideas were immoral and deserved to be suppressed. And so they were.

This shunning and isolation of "conservative" teachers by their left-wing colleagues (with many liberals silent in acquiescence) weakened the foundational ideas of American universities—freedom of inquiry and the speech rights in the First Amendment.

No matter. University presidents, deans, department heads and boards of trustees watched or approved the erosion of their original intellectual framework. The ability of aggrieved professors and their students to concoct behavior, ideas and words that violated political correctness got so loopy that the phrase itself became satirical—though not so funny to profs denied tenure on suspicion of incorrectness. Offensive books were banned and history texts rewritten to conform.

No one could possibly count the compromises of intellectual honesty made on American campuses to reach this point. It is fantastic that the liberal former head of Berkeley should have to sign a Maoist self-criticism to be able to speak at Haverford. Meet America's Red Guards.

These students at Brandeis, Smith, Haverford and hundreds of other U.S. colleges didn't discover illiberal intolerance on their own. It is fed to them three times a week by professors of mental conformity. After Brandeis banned Ms. Hirsi Ali, the Harvard Crimson's editors wrote a rationalizing editorial, "A Rightful Revocation." The legendary liberal Louis Brandeis (Harvard Law, First Amendment icon) must be spinning in his grave.

Years ago, today's middle-aged liberals embraced in good faith ideas such as that the Western canon in literature or history should be expanded to include Africa, Asia, Native Americans and such. Fair enough. The activist academic left then grabbed the liberals' good faith and wrecked it, allowing the nuttiest professors to dumb down courses and even whole disciplines into tendentious gibberish.

The slow disintegration of the humanities into what is virtually agitprop on many campuses is no secret. Professors of economics and the hard sciences roll their eyes in embarrassment at what has happened to once respectable liberal-arts departments at their institutions. Like some Gresham's Law for Ph.D.s, the bad professors drove out many good, untenured professors, and that includes smart young liberals. Most conservatives were wiped out long ago.

One might conclude: Who cares? Parents are beginning to see that this is a $65,000-a-year scam that won't get their kids a job in an economy that wants quantification skills. Parents and students increasingly will flee the politicized nut-houses for apolitical MOOCs—massive open online courses.

Still, it's a tragedy. The loonies are becoming the public face of some once-revered repositories of the humanities. Sic transit whatever.

May 8, 2014

It is our fight! - America's Role in the World

There is this wonderful scene in the second film of the The Hobbit trilogy where Tauriel, the captain of the Elven guard, confronts Legolas following a running battle with a band of orcs who have been trying to kill the escaping dwarves and their Hobbit-burglar, Mr. Bilbo Baggins. Legolas has taken her to task for disobeying the Elven King's orders to remain within the walls of their fortress even though Tauriel did so to render aid when it was most needed. Tauriel angrily observes, "The King has never let orc filth roam our lands, yet he would let this orc pack cross our borders and kill our prisoners!" "It is not our fight," Legola replies, to which Tauriel passionately responds: "It is our fight! It will not end here. With every victory this evil will grow. If your father has his way we will do nothing! We will hide within our walls, live our lives away from the light, and let darkness descend." Then imploringly she says, "Are we not part of this world? Tell me, Mellon, when did we let evil become stronger than us?"

Last week I had the great privilege of hosting Dr. Robert Kagan who was the kick-off speaker for The Heritage Foundation’s “Protect America Month,” a series of lectures on issues relevant to US security interests and the defense of our country. [His lecture can be seen here.] Dr. Kagan used a brief overview of WWI and its aftermath to provide context for today’s current situation and dangers. He did a remarkable job in describing the perspective of the various European countries and their peoples who were in a position to 'do something' to stop the rise of Nazi Germany but chose not too for sundry reasons, thus setting the stage for the horrors of WWII. He then discussed the various attitudes of both Europeans and Americans today, noting the similarities and differences in context and perspective between then and now. A primary theme of Kagan's was the vast good that has resulted from America's efforts to promote and sustain a world order based on trade, freedom, and liberty since WWII. But this 'common good' and the world order that has been underwritten and guaranteed by the US is now in jeopardy with profound consequences. Why? Kagan explained: prolonged peace and extraordinary prosperity for America (since the mid-1940s) has caused our citizenry to take for granted what was necessary to create such an enjoyable state of affairs in the first place. A chief problem we now have is that most Americans just don’t understand the need to remain engaged in global affairs, especially when it comes to our national defense capabilities and their posture, with the result that the ‘global order’ is fraying. He maintains it is not that Americans are isolationist; they still very much want to trade with the world and enjoy what it has to offer. But Americans are much less willing to remain 'engaged' with the world when it comes to investing the resources necessary to sustain the world order that has benefited our country so richly and for so long.

We are seeing the consequences of this as competing powers move to exert their influence in areas once firmly within America's sphere, powers that are exploiting America's waning presence and willingness to counter their tactics of intimidation and occupation. China is aggressively asserting itself in the Western Pacific. Russia has annexed Crimea, is destabilizing Ukraine, exploiting Europe's dependence on Russian energy, and intimidating a host of states formerly within the old Soviet system. North Korea is increasingly provocative. Iran is making strides toward realizing its nuclear ambitions. Instability plagues an increasing number of countries stretching from Latin America, across Africa, through the Middle East, and into Central Asia. International criminal syndicates undermine the fabric of law and compromise the ability of smaller governments to maintain order, most notably in Latin America and Western Africa. The list continues.

Can the US be everywhere as the 'world's policeman'? Should it be? No...but that misses the point. Like a parent who is present at home, a policeman who is routinely out in the community, the CEO who regularly engages with his workforce, or a commander who makes his presence felt throughout his unit, simply being there and engaged has a way of keeping things in check, of preventing small problems from become large crises, of drawing to us friends and allies and the benefits to extend in terms of trade, influence, and access to resources. Our values are protected and promoted; not those of someone else. Threats to our homeland and interests and to the global good that we benefit from are mitigated. "But," some will say, "why should we carry the burden? These are problems for those other countries. We have our own problems here at home. Let them take care of their issues and we'll take care of ours!" Simply stated, easy to understand, and so attractive to believe. The reality, however, is that no other country has the ability to do what we have done; and to the extent distant regions descend into chaos, we will ultimately feel the effects right here at home.

Sadly, our relative affluence and freedom from overt threats to our way have life have desensitized us to the subtle but very real dangers always present but which have been kept in check while we were strong and engaged. The more we withdraw from the world and the weaker we allow our defenses to become, the greater those dangers will grow as stronger, hungrier, and more confident powers step in to fill the space we create. It needn't be this way but we have to be willing, as a people and as a country, to reawaken to the necessity to shoulder the burden of a great power if we desire to reap the benefit of being a great power.

With this in mind, a friend of mine raised this question: “How would the world be different if the current international system that we established after World War II and which is fully dependent on America’s guarantee/underwriting is allowed to fall apart? Americans need to know how their standard of living would fundamentally change and what that would look like on a day to day basis.”

For all this talk about ‘weariness’ of bearing the cost of being the preeminent world power, we need more talk about the benefits that accrue to America and the losses that would accompany American withdrawal. Is such an argument a “hard sell” in today’s political climate? Sure. But making such an argument is what leadership is all about.

Here are some other items recently in the press that echo similar themes:

The Return of Geopolitics: The Revenge of the Revisionist Powers, By Walter Russell Mead
     “The second part of Fukuyama’s book has received less attention, perhaps because it is less flattering to the West. As Fukuyama investigated what a post-historical society would look like, he made a disturbing discovery. In a world where the great questions have been solved and geopolitics has been subordinated to economics, humanity will look a lot like the nihilistic “last man” described by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: a narcissistic consumer with no greater aspirations beyond the next trip to the mall.
     “In other words, these people would closely resemble today’s European bureaucrats and Washington lobbyists. They are competent enough at managing their affairs among post-historical people, but understanding the motives and countering the strategies of old-fashioned power politicians is hard for them. Unlike their less productive and less stable rivals, post-historical people are unwilling to make sacrifices, focused on the short term, easily distracted, and lacking in courage.
     “The realities of personal and political life in post-historical societies are very different from those in such countries as China, Iran, and Russia, where the sun of history still shines. It is not just that those different societies bring different personalities and values to the fore; it is also that their institutions work differently and their publics are shaped by different ideas.
     “Societies filled with Nietzsche’s last men (and women) characteristically misunderstand and underestimate their supposedly primitive opponents in supposedly backward societies -- a blind spot that could, at least temporarily, offset their countries’ other advantages. The tide of history may be flowing inexorably in the direction of liberal capitalist democracy, and the sun of history may indeed be sinking behind the hills. But even as the shadows lengthen and the first of the stars appears, such figures as Putin still stride the world stage. They will not go gentle into that good night, and they will rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

What would America fight for?, The Economist
     “Europeans think they can enjoy American security without paying for it. Emerging-world democracies like India and Brazil do even less to buttress the system that they depend on. America is preoccupied with avoiding foreign entanglements. Mr Obama began his presidency with the world wondering how to tame America. Both he and his country need to realise that the question has changed.”

The decline of deterrence, The Economist
     “Some will celebrate the decline of America’s ability to deter. But wherever they live, they may find that whatever replaces the old order is much worse. American power is not half as scary as its absence would be.”

And this item by Eliot Cohen in The American Interest, The Reluctant Strongman, which has a collection of Essays in this month’s edition on America: Self Contained:
     “The Administration has been remarkably reluctant to make the case for American strength, and particularly American military strength. Its actions reflect its silence: The impending defense cuts are premised on the notion that the United States will not, and should not, fight a land war again. The wars it will fight, if any, will be against terrorists; and as it presides over a shrinking Navy, it seems to have a limited conception of what the United States should do in the Pacific.
     “Some of this attitude may reflect a deep doubt about American prudence; some of it a belief, shared by many in the foreign policy elite, that the world is fundamentally a benign place in the wake of the end of the Cold War. Some of it may reflect as well a preoccupation with domestic concerns, and a belief that until some of those are dealt with (health care, yes, but the structural problem of unsustainable entitlements, no) the United States should not engage abroad.
     “But some of it, too, reflects an approach to foreign policy in which one’s first moves are to extend a hand to one’s opponents rather than to one’s friends. Thus the risible Russian reset, and a nuclear arms control treaty as disadvantageous to the United States as it was favorable to Russia (whose tactical nuclear weapons were kept off the table). Thus, too, the repeated outreach to Iran, even when the revolutionary regime was slaughtering unarmed protesters in the streets. Thus the summits with China and the shunning of a sometimes tactless Japanese leadership, without even going to the trouble of acknowledging its entirely understandable anxieties. Enemies first means friends last—which is why countries like Colombia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Poland have found themselves at various points ignored, run roughshod over, or rebuked by this Administration.”