Bacevich, Chollet debate U.S. military policy in E.N. Thompson Forum
Two U.S. military experts said major reforms are needed for America’s armed forces. What those reforms should be, and how they should be implemented was Tuesday’s focus of the E.N. Thompson Forum at UNL’s Lied Center.
Derek Chollet, a U.S. assistant secretary of defense, discussed military reforms he said the government is already attempting to put into place. Andrew Bacevich, a professor in history and international relations at Boston University, discussed military reforms he believed should be put in place based on his research.
Chollet said that the government has had to work to reform its military defense strategy to fit a tighter budget. He talked about ways the U.S. military has been influential without “a shot ever being fired” and said that this strategy of “smart power” is the best way to approach military policy.
“Our military…should be one of many instruments in our power,” Chollet said. “Our defense should be agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced, all within the limits of reasonable cost.”
Bacevich agreed with some of Chollet’s ideas, but that policies being put in place are not enough. Bacevich said America’s military needs a “big change.” He said the U.S. views itself too much as the “global leader” and that reforms should help America determine how it realistically fits in the world.
“If you wanna drive a stake through something, then go after the concept of American exceptionalism,” Bacevich said. “There may lie the ultimate explanation for our inability to think creatively and realistically when it comes to national security policies.”
Sexual assault in the military
One hot button topic the mediator asked Chollet and Bacevich to discuss was the issue of sexual assault in the military.
Chollet said that the military is a leader in social change and that the U.S. government is working to prevent sexual assault.
Bacevich took a historical view of women’s rights in the U.S. military saying sexual assaults have long been a problem.
“Frankly, I’m glad it’s not my problem,” he said. “It’s a difficult one deeply rooted in biology if nothing else.”
After Tuesday night’s forum, Bacevich clarified this statement and said he in no way was attempting to “blame the victim,” for sexual assault incidents in the military.
“Young people—and I’m sorry to say—particularly young men, have very powerful biological urges that can lead them to behave stupidly,” Bacevich said. “And I’m also sorry to say that sometimes young women behave stupidly when they put themselves in certain situations when reckless and stupid young men take advantage of them.”
Georgia Davis, a 71-year-old Lincoln resident, said she enjoyed the discussion on women’s rights to “speak up” in the military.
“I remember back in the 70’s when they’d ask for men’s opinions politically and women weren’t asked for their opinions,” the mother of a daughter and several sons said. “I sure wouldn’t like it if the girl didn’t have the same power the boys had.”
The speakers also discussed America’s military use of drone aircraft in combat episodes where innocent civilians were injured or killed. Chollet argued in favor of using drones for military surveillance and weapons strikes, but acknowledged they are not the best solution for a better defense system.
“The administration is embarking on a process…to come up with a system in which new technology could be used to give you all confidence and we’re doing so responsibly, understanding that there are risks in doing so,” he said.
Bacevich understood the need for drones, but said the government hasn’t considered all the effects they could have on other countries.
“What if, in assassinating bad guys, and occasionally inadvertently killing people who are not bad guys, what if the effect is simply to create more bad guys?” he said.
One topic the speakers agreed on completely is the need for all Americans to better support our U.S. troops.
“If indeed we support the troops and care about the troops, then that should go beyond the obligations of cheering or buying beer,” Bacevich said.
Steve Wagner attended the forum with his sixth-grade daughter Anna. Mr. Wagner said that this was mostly a learning experience for her. Anna said she didn’t understand all of the forum, but enjoyed what she did understand.
Mr. Wagner said he really enjoyed the overall focus and discussion of the forum.
“I like the idea of the changing role of American military in this century,” he said. “I thought they both had really good points.”