Welton Chang is a psychology PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania. From 2005-2014, he served as a Defense Department analyst and U.S. Army officer. His overseas experience includes 21 months in Iraq and a year in South Korea. He sits on the board of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding and is a Truman National Security Fellow. Welton earned a B.A. in Government from Dartmouth College, an M.A. in Security Studies from Georgetown University, and an M.A. in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.
Does America need a cyber force? On one side of the debate is retired Adm. James Stavridis who analogizes the requirement to have a separate entity capable of operating in cyberspace to the creation of the U.S. Air Force. To Stavridis, the growing importance of cyberspace in future conflict is clear and the need for a cyber force obvious, and America can speed up adoption by bypassing the 20-year debate that surrounded the creation of the Air Force.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Mentioning his name guarantees a visceral response from people in the military and veteran communities, eliciting a “Fuck Bergdahl” retort or feelings of sympathy for what he endured during five years in captivity. One Army veteran of the Korengal Valley I spoke with recently said he had to stop listening to the Serial podcasts because Bergdahl’s voice caused him to grip the steering wheel so tightly out of anger that he risked driving off the road.
Events of the past several weeks indicate that the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State is at a turning point: The world is weighing potential responses to the terrorist acts in Paris, reportedly up to 50 special operators will deploy to assist Kurdish forces, and Secretary of State John Kerry visited Vienna to start a concerted effort toward a political resolution to the Syrian civil war. The Obama administration’s current airpower campaign and limited security assistance to Syrian rebels has come under criticism, with many asking what more should the United States do about ISIS in Syria? Before making any further decisions, and especially before sending ground forces into Syria, three conditions must be met and held.
As the city of Kunduz attempts to rebuild, its temporary occupation by Taliban forces should force the U.S. foreign policy establishment to stop and reflect on what the entire 14-year long war in Afghanistan has accomplished. It is indeed valuable to ask whether the value of the city and Afghanistan as a whole exceeded the cost of American and coalition blood spent fighting for control over the years. Focusing on events like the takeover of Mosul and Kunduz force us to confront the bigger question: Was the war worth it? If yes, then how much additional cost should we be willing to bear to ensure the viability of our investment?
It is not yet known if the recent U.S.–China agreement to limit cyber espionage is a meaningful step toward a more secure cyberspace. Without broader reaching, enforceable, and verifiable agreements coupled with a history of compliance, the Internet remains a near lawless and ungoverned battleground. Militaries around the world continue to stockpile cyber weapons and conduct reconnaissance on potential targets. The U.S. is no different and cyber is one of the highest priorities for the Defense Department: even in the age of austerity, U.S. Cyber Command’s budget will double and personnel count will increase to 6,200. While some may laud the expansion of CYBERCOM and other U.S. government entities involved with cybersecurity, before we spend all of this money, we should pause and ask: Will all of these people and funding actually make us better at prosecuting cyber war and defending against cyber attacks?
Although thousands of miles separate Kunduz, Fallujah, and Saigon, these cities are metaphysically connected by the collective emotions of the U.S. veterans who served in each location. It is nearly impossible for veterans and those currently serving in the military not to feel strongly as they observe local security forces squander past investments made with periodic deposits of blood and sweat.