Whatever It Takes

Why I won't back down on climate change.

America's oil addiction is nothing new. Ever since President Richard Nixon first talked about "energy independence," presidents and politicians have called on Washington to help break our dependence on oil from foreign countries. But again and again, in all the decades since, Washington has failed to do what everyone agrees must be done. It is a sad exclamation point on our failure to act -- to really begin moving away from fossil fuels and toward alternative and sustainable energy sources -- that today the United States actually imports more oil than it did on September 11, 2001. It's long overdue to get real, get serious, and get to work on real answers to a serious challenge that is only underscored by the fact that carbon pollution dramatically intensifies the threat of global climate change. This is no longer some far-off problem that can be dealt with in the abstract. It's here and now.

Climate instability and our oil addiction present immediate, direct threats to America's national security. In 2007, 11 retired American admirals and generals warned, "Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world, and it presents significant national security challenges for the United States."  In fact, Pentagon, CIA and even analysts from George W. Bush's administration have all affirmed that the instability resulting from our changing climate poses a clear threat to our security. They see a shifting strategic landscape of unrest and extremism -- both between countries and within them -- as competition for dwindling resources spreads. In just one sobering example, scientists have warned that the Himalayan glaciers, which supply fresh water to a billion people in India and Pakistan, will face severe impacts from climate change. If rivers dry up and famine spreads in this strategically vital region, it's not hard to see how climate change could have a direct and destabilizing effect on U.S. national security. It is only prudent for those responsible for our security strategy to imagine and assess the strategic consequences of such looming climate change threats as scarcities of clean water, fresh food, and fertile farmland.

On top of that, it costs our government somewhere between $50 billion and $132.7 billion each year to maintain and protect the global infrastructure that delivers foreign oil to our shores. This doesn't even take into account the potentially devastating costs of sending more than $500 billion a year from the U.S. economy to often unfriendly nations overseas. And don't forget that every time oil prices go up $1, another $1.5 billion goes straight to Iran.

We have to solve this problem now. President Obama has put greater emphasis on a comprehensive solution than any American president before him. He's pounded the bully pulpit for action -- and been crystal clear about the actions needed when he said that "the only way the transition to clean energy will ultimately succeed is if the private sector is fully invested in this future -- if capital comes off the sidelines and the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs is unleashed. And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.

"Now, many businesses have already embraced this idea because it provides a level of certainty about the future. And for those that face transition costs, we can help them adjust. But if we refuse to take into account the full costs of our fossil fuel addiction -- if we don't factor in the environmental costs and the national security costs and the true economic costs -- we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future." The president has convened bipartisan White House meetings to find a way forward on comprehensive energy and climate legislation. He has made it clear that he's committed to finding the votes we need to pass a real answer this year. We know what it means when this president makes a full-throated commitment to overcome partisan bickering and achieve a pragmatic, historic accomplishment. And just as this was the year that we finally passed real health-care reform, this can be the year we transform our energy future in a real, lasting way.

We don't know the exact shape that the final bill will take, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that he intends to get a comprehensive climate and energy bill on the floor this summer -- and if there is any spirit of genuine bipartisanship, we can find the 60 votes we need to pass it. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico reminds us just how much is at stake, and America can't afford to have the Senate put off the tough decisions for another year or another Congress. We have to make hard choices -- and hard compromises -- right now, because the challenge only grows every day that we wait.

Over the last year Senators Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and I met with stakeholders on all sides of the climate and energy debate. Generals, admirals, CEOs, venture capitalists, environmentalists -- I've heard every viewpoint on this issue, and I've always kept an open mind. Many of their proposals are incorporated in the American Power Act Lieberman and I submitted to our colleagues, and I'll continue to pull together the best ideas from all corners, no matter who proposed them first.

But there is one area where I know we have to stand firm: Whatever we pass has to include a price on carbon pollution. This will determine whether we're going to get serious about our oil addiction this year, or whether we're only willing to pass a stopgap "energy-only" measure that will at best kick this problem down the road for another few years.

We've passed "energy-only" measures before -- most recently in 2005 and 2007 -- and they've failed to deliver the transformative shift our energy policy needs. China and Germany have surged ahead and built thriving markets around green technologies that our country invented. And we haven't pushed back against the daunting threat that climate instability poses for our planet.

A comprehensive bill with a price signal on carbon is the only way to really address the environmental, economic, and national-security challenges we face. It will send a clear signal to the market that it's time to develop alternative fuel sources so we can finally sever our dependence on distant nations and regimes that don't share our values.

The nonpartisan, independent research is clear. In May Third Way, a leading moderate think tank, released a study showing that a carbon pricing plan would cut U.S. foreign oil consumption in half by 2020. The report also showed that a carbon price would promote job growth in all 50 states, creating about 1.9 million jobs in the next decade. And the nonpartisan Peterson Institute for International Economics affirmed those findings. Its analysis of the American Power Act concluded that this legislation will reduce foreign oil imports by 40 percent, create 200,000 new jobs each year, and lower household energy costs by $35 a year through 2020.

So there are the facts. A carbon-pricing plan will decrease our dependence on foreign oil, create American jobs, lower energy bills, and protect our environment. This will be the measure of a real bill, and I'm prepared to fight to get this done, following the strategy Winston Churchill laid out at the outbreak of World War II: "Never give in, never give in -- never, never, never, never."

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The Missing Civilians

We soldiers can't win the fight in Afghanistan on our own.

It is time for the U.S. military to develop an understanding of counterinsurgency that acknowledges the limits of what it can accomplish on its own. Without the close cooperation of civilian expertise, America's armed forces are limited in what they can achieve in Afghanistan.

Having served with an infantry battalion and brigade in Kunar, Wardak, and Logar provinces in 2009, I know that American soldiers and their commanders are tasked with confronting an "insurgency" that is difficult to identify, much less defeat. As our recent withdrawal from the Korengal Valley so poignantly demonstrates, we are prone to initial missteps and miscalculations as we try to understand a culture that is wildly different from our own. We don't yet fully understand our enemy: The insurgency is not a single entity, but a diverse collection of warlords, smugglers, and terrorist organizations, such as the Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and others.

Many young leaders still arrive in Afghanistan with the mistaken urge to get into the mountains to "go after" the enemy, before realizing that there is more important, albeit less exciting, work to be done down in the valleys. The practical realities of counterinsurgency are mundane and exceptionally time-consuming. The life of a company commander in Afghanistan quickly takes on a routine of daily meetings with powerbrokers and tours through villages to assess development projects, visit schools, and connect with local people. Incoming soldiers are told what to expect, but the true complexity of the task often doesn't sink in until they arrive.  Some young commanders, such as Capt. Michael Harrison, excel in this environment, but I can recall many more who were exasperated by the ambiguity of their mission.

And for every town like Baraki Barak, which was been singled out for praise by the military establishment as an example of effective counterinsurgency strategy, there are many areas like the nearby Tangi Valley, not 10 kilometers away, which in 2009 was known for having the greatest concentration of IEDs in Afghanistan. We shouldn't be surprised that our progress is inconsistent. Not only are the dynamics of every district dramatically different, but we are simultaneously asking young captains to lead their companies, partner with the Afghan army, oversee the police, and develop the capacity for effective local self-governance. Few in that situation are able to establish a baseline of security while simultaneously wearing the hat of local potentate and development chief.  We ask our junior leaders to do too much with too little.

Conceptually, the military recognizes the need to understand the local political dynamics that lead to the formation and support of insurgent organizations. Yet our understanding of these dynamics is still superficial, maybe even nonexistent. Most officers and soldiers are broadly familiar with the "Taliban" prior to arriving in Afghanistan, but the only way to really understand the movement's local variants, offshoots and competitors is through extended immersion in a particular province. Unfortunately, by the time units finally understand the nuances of local politics, it is time for them to depart, and another unit must start the process all over again.

Compounding the problem is what the Army calls its "operational tempo." The limited time between deployments means that units are hard-pressed for the time and resources to train young soldiers and officers. Leaders spend the 12 to 18 months they typically have between deployments in a dead sprint to cover the basics with their new soldiers. This is barely enough time for soldiers to establish basic standards of discipline; develop familiarity with a bewildering array of new vehicles and equipment; and establish proficiency in basic tactical maneuvers, to say nothing of taking the time to reconnect with their families. Intensive training in a complex and realistic counterinsurgency environment is typically limited to a few weeks at one of our training centers in the United States. This training offers superb replicas of the challenges we face in Afghanistan, but is by necessity generic and can only accomplish so much in the time that units spend in preparation for their departure.

The hard realities of the war in Afghanistan have lead to an increasing recognition in the military that it needs to embrace a partnership model of counterinsurgency. Company commanders responsible for towns and villages outside of Kabul need partners from the State Department to help them understand and cultivate local politicians. They also need embedded representatives from agencies like USAID to assist with efforts to initiate sustainable development. Similarly, Human Terrain Teams can illuminate the complexity of Afghan life, helping military leaders to understand a culture that is largely opaque to western eyes. All of these civilian partners would facilitate a cumulative understanding of local politics and culture. They would also assist in building local capacity for self-governance and economic development. 

There are efforts to increase civilian and military partnership at the local level underway, most notably through the District Support Team (DST) concept initiated in 2009.  The DST program has already led to a significant influx of civilian advisors and partners to a few select districts across Afghanistan, but that's only a start. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have to find a way to continue her successful ramp-up of civilian presence in Afghanistan. But the important thing is that the military is already acknowledging its need for help in navigating this multifaceted counterinsurgency struggle.

It won't be easy to recruit the needed number of civilian political advisors and development experts -- it will require a sustained, government-wide effort -- but we owe our forces all the tools needed to implement our current strategy. This shouldn't be interpreted as a slight against the military. Pundits and observers are correct to laud the Army's embrace of counterinsurgency doctrine, but the public must acknowledge that there are limits to what the military can do on its own. Longing for the conventional wars of the past does us no good in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we also shouldn't celebrate the unattainable ideal of a military that can single-handedly carry the counterinsurgency fight.

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