This post reflects my personal views and opinions only.  I’m a former Navy SEAL but, I don’t represent the opinions of the SEAL or Special Operations community. It’s important for veterans to have a voice, after all they are citizens with a unique perspective.  Please remember that the Special Operations PACs that have sprouted up don’t represent these communities either. The active military serves and supports the elected Commander-in-Chief, period.

America Remains The Greatest Country

I believe that we live in the greatest country on the planet however, you can’t kill your way into the hearts and minds of people. Its become a habit these days, and it’s just not good diplomacy. People will start resenting you for it, and radicals will use this to stoke their own internal fires of hatred to forge tomorrow’s extremist. Sure bad people need killing (I’ve killed a few myself) but, it’s only part of the equation. More on this later.

Cultural Change Doesn’t Happen Overnight

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively to including Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Afghanistan, and Oman to name a few. Getting outside the U.S. is an amazing experience and his has taught me some very valuable lessons in my life.  An important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t affect cultural change overnight and a lot can be accomplished (relationship wise) over a shared meal or drinks.

Change takes time, sometimes decades or longer.  Look at ourselves in the mirror for a second. Slavery, segregation, woman’s rights, and religious tolerance. We’ve come a long way as a country, and we still have plenty of room for improvement.

Erosion of Constitutional Rights Under The Banner of Patriotism

Since September 11th we’ve let career politicians severely erode our civil liberties and they’ve leveraged patriotism and protection to the full extent.  We have drifted away from exemplary values that people and countries of this world once looked upon with respect and admiration. I would rather live in a free society, and accept greater personal risk, then see my rights continuing to be eroded and taken away from me.

Here’s two examples of what I’m talking about:

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The Patriot Act-designed to protect but, in short, it gives law enforcement the ability to racially profile and title II allows (with very little oversight) the government to monitor and collection information from U.S. (and foreign) citizens (phone, email, etc.).  We have to ask ourselves how much of our freedom and privacy are we willing to give up in order to feel safe. A caged rat is relatively safe but has very little freedom.

Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp-read up on it for yourself . However, creating an offshore detention facility that denies basic values we hold dear (regardless of the fact that a lot of these prisoners are very bad) in America, to me, is hypocrisy at its finest and don’t be fooled into thinking the rest of the world hasn’t noticed.

A Good Strategy is Simple And Everyone Understands It

Our current foreign policy is ambivalent and blame lies on both sides of our two-party system. If you look at any great plan the genius always lies in the simplicity of the stated objective. This ensures that everyone, and I mean that, understands the common goal. We’ve drifted in Afghanistan and our foreign policy strategy. They’re both unclear and to prove this just ask ten of your friends what our objective is in Afghanistan and the same regarding foreign policy and you’re sure to draw ten different answers.  This is a serious problem. I don’t have all the answers but I know that in my experience as a senior NCO in the military, and SEAL Teams, that having the entire team on the same page of music is critical for success. In this case the team is the American public. If the public does not understand what we’re doing abroad then how can we, as citizens, make informed decisions and make sure our concerns are being represented by our elected officials.

It’s Time For Politics “Not” As Usual

I’m going to get political for a moment without stepping on either side of the line. We need change in this country and it will come from strong leadership.  The usual suspects in Washington are good at getting re-elected and not so good at representing the American citizens interests. In my experience in the media and process, politicians make most of their decisions based on consequences to individual political survival and their re-election strategy. What they should be doing is making decisions on what’s best for their country and constituents. This isn’t happening large scale, there are good politicians out there but, they are not the majority and this needs to change. How? It’s up to us to start voicing our concerns over a government and election system that promotes career politicians and allows a two party system to largely control who gets into office and doesn’t represent the popular vote in a lot of cases.  I’m also sickened by the fact that most our representatives don’t lead by example. If this were the case politicians would themselves take pay cuts and expose themselves to the same healthcare system they dictate to the rest of us, instead they enjoy exclusive retirement and healthcare benefits and wouldn’t dare think of a pay cut.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the most intelligent articles I’ve seen on this subject and it also provides meaningful solutions that are worth serious consideration.

While the United States is actually a Republic, with the attendant constitutional constraints on the powers of the majority, its political system is also based on a fundamental underlying democratic principle: that the people themselves will choose their leaders and thus indirectly determine the policies of their government. Because the federal government’s most important powers – to declare war, to establish tax policies, to create programs, to decide how much to spend on them, to approve treaties, to make the final decisions about who will head federal agencies or sit on the Supreme Court — are all Congressional powers, it is only by being able to select members of the Senate and the House of Representatives that the people are able to manage the levers of government.

Yet despite the repeated and urgent warnings of the Republic’s founders, we have created a system that seriously undermines that democratic principle and gives us instead a government that is unable to deal with even the most urgent problems because the people have been shoved aside in the pursuit of partisan advantage. In some ways our system has come to resemble those multi-party parliamentary systems in which the tail (relatively small groups of hard-liners) is able to wag the dog. What Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison all agreed on was the danger of creating political parties like the ones we have today, permanent factions that are engaged in a constant battle for advantage even if that means skewing election results, keeping candidates off the ballot, denying voters the right to true representation and “fixing” the outcome of legislative deliberations.

Let’s begin with the election process itself. In most states, party leaders have conspired to create “sore loser” laws that deny any place on the November ballot to a candidate who loses in a party primary or convention, no matter how few people participated. The two most egregious recent examples were former governor Mike Castle’s losing a spot on the Senate ballot in Delaware in 2010 because 30,000 people, in a state of nearly one million, voted for his primary opponent, and Utah, with a population of nearly three million, where Senator Robert Bennett was denied a place on the general election ballot that same year because a convention of 3,500 party activists denied him their endorsement.

This year, the same thing happened to Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who lost a primary to a man who vowed never to compromise. Utah Senator Orrin Hatch survived this year only by disavowing his own bipartisan credentials. Two incumbent Democratic House members, Jason Altmire and Tim Holden, both moderates, were tossed out of office by liberal activists in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primaries earlier this year, just as Senator Joe Lieberman, after having been his party’s vice-presidential nominee, was defeated in a Connecticut Democratic primary in 2006. (Because Connecticut is one of the states that doesn’t have a “sore loser” law, Lieberman was able to run as an Independent in the general election where his re-election demonstrated that the primary results did not reflect the preferences of Connecticut voters.)

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Because activists can use closed primaries to deny ballot access to people they deem insufficiently pure, the majority of voters — many of whom would prefer the candidates who have been eliminated — simply lose the ability to make that choice. Why we would allow parties in a democracy to limit voter choice is simply beyond me. The primary system was introduced by Progressives in the late 1800s and early 1900s as a reform to expand democracy and give voters a greater voice in the selection of public officials, not to squeeze voters out of the picture. If the goal is to send to Washington the preferred choice of the state’s voters (or a congressional district’s voters), all credible candidates should be allowed to appear on the ballot and all the voters, regardless of party, should be allowed to determine who will represent them.

Washington State (in 2006) and California (in 2010) woke up to this dramatically undemocratic system and enacted changes in their laws to create open primaries – every candidate on one ballot, all voters eligible to choose whomever they want. Every state should do the same thing. It is beyond comprehension that we who demand choice in everything we do willingly accept restrictions in the selection of the people who will decide whether we go to war, what taxes we will pay and what services government will provide.

It was the intention of the founders to ensure that our representatives were, in fact, representative. The Constitution specifically mandates that all Senators and Representatives be actual inhabitants of the states from which they are elected, with the idea being that they would be familiar with the interests and concerns of the voters and the voters would be familiar with the reputations of the candidates. But because political parties control the drawing of congressional districts, “representation” is very much an afterthought; what matters is creating an advantage for one’s party. Thus district lines are crazily shaped and urban Congressmen who have never spent a day on a farm become the “voice” of farmers whose interests they cannot effectively articulate.

Read the rest here.

Knowledge is power. The Internet has given the citizens of this country their voice back. This is a good thing and gives us huge leverage to take ensure that one of the best systems of government the world has ever known continues to evolve in the right direction.  However, you can’t just complain, you have to vote and make yourself heard.

Leading By Example Is Critical In Any Organization

For starters, a simple plan and mission statement that everyone can understand and get behind is key. We also need to start leading by example or we will continue to be seen as failed nation builders who don’t practice what we preach. An example of what not to do,  is how we trained and supported an organization called MEK in Iran. At the time this group was listed on the State Departments list as a known terrorist organization (they’ve since been conveniently removed this year), the last time we did this with UBL in Afghanistan against the Soviets it didn’t work out so well for us.

This represents a double standard, and the hypocrisy I spoke of earlier. How can we declare war on terror and at the same time promote terrorism against Iran’s regime? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support a nuclear Iran or any extremist regime. You also can’t negotiate with extremists and it’s laughable to me that the current administration proposes negotiating with a group of extremists.  Churchill defined the extremist best, “someone that will never change their mind and can’t change the subject”.

A Big Stick with Prevention Is Key

Nobody in the press or politics is focusing on prevention. It’s mentioned briefly in the National Security Plan but there’s no substance. It talks of military and capability plus up but not what we can do to thwart the future Usama bin Laden’s of tomorrow.

I’m practical, and we live in a world that has evil, and until that changes we will always need people to stand up for what’s fundamentally right for all human beings.  Sometimes bloodying the school yard bully’s nose is the only way to get his attention.  However, globally, we should be focusing on creating cultural environments that discourages terrorism and one that focuses on tolerance. Currently, in countries like Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia (to name a few), terrorists are being indoctrinated to hate doctrine, and intolerance at a very early age.

Until we focus on prevention US SOCOM will be very busy treating the symptoms of terrorism and killing a lot of up and coming bad people.  And the White House kill list will keep growing…

Leadership and A Strong Coalition

America needs to start leading by example and take a leadership position in creating a unified coalition devoted to protecting the innocent, promoting democracy, and affecting gradual cultural change that respects current cultures and beliefs. Sometimes this will include leaving well enough alone.

Winning a few hearts and minds goes a long way towards prevention. We can’t continue to isolate ourselves and be everywhere and do everything in the world. It becomes messy, and confusing to everyone, including fellow citizens and Warfighters.  It’s also a losing strategy, continue it, and we end up stretching ourselves too thin and incidents like Benghazi will become a common occurrence.  Not to mention our economy can’t continue to shoulder this burden.  We need strong like-minded partners.

Also Time For A New Narrative

When I was the Navy SEAL sniper course manager the cadre and I focused a lot of time on mental management, we pounded, “you are what you think you are…” into the heads of our students. If you think something is possible and hold this conversation with yourself and others then it becomes possible. This is goal setting and mental management 101. If you have the opposite of this conversation then you are doomed for failure. People that are in conversations of failure fail and those that are in positive conversations succeed.I’ve since this proven out in sports and in hundreds of SEAL sniper students.

This is why I cringe when I hear politicians in conversations with themselves and their constituents about foreign policy, and a never ending war of religious ideology. This is a losing narrative; it’s like a coach telling his little league baseball team that they can never win.

I choose to have a different conversation. We live in an incredible and diverse world, this diversity should be celebrated, and embraced.  The planet would be a boring place if we all spoke the same language, had the same beliefs, dressed the same, and drove the same car. I believe that we are moving forward, albeit slowly, in the right direction with regards to making the world a better place. Globally we enjoy far more freedom than we did a hundred years ago. We just have to remember that it takes time for change to happen, and not every country is ready to embrace this in a hurry. Afghanistan anyone?

I agree with Mickey Edwards, the author of the excerpt I posted previously in this article. Here are some of his closing remarks.

Voters must remember that the ultimate power rests in their hands. This is not a spectator sport; our system of constrained and mediated democracy requires an engaged citizenry, willing to confront elected officials and demand the changes that are required. To keep their offices, legislators must return home to face their constituents and those same voters can demand changes in the procedures that have bogged government down in recrimination, vitriol and stalemate.

It’s time to get engaged and speak up. Use the Internet, it’s a wonderful thing. And remember, the conversations we have with ourselves and others matter. I for one am choosing a new, and positive narrative.