Cutting beyond the bone

The Defense Secretary earlier this week announced proposed budget cuts that would take the U.S. military to its lowest levels of funding since before World War II. The proposal has gotten surprisingly little attention, and even less analysis.

Fortunately, a few people are pointing out the obvious - the cuts are going to have a dramatic effect not simply on the military but on America's role in the world, and on the world in general.

Dale Brown laid out some notes on what should be done in a recent blog entry, pointing out some of the problems with the technology and force levels envisioned by such a plan:

. . . 'Splain this to me, Secretary Hagel: Is the F-35 the solution to trans-Pacific threats that could just as easily shift back to the Middle East at a moments notice? The F-35 is a single-engine short-legged small-payload medium combat jet that has little chance against modern Russian or Chinese fighters.My recommendation: build the offense, IMMEDIATELY . . .

Read the rest of his essay and his specific ideas here.

A lot of the articles about the budget have cited the pre-World War II period and made the obvious case that the world is a lot different than it was in 1940 - and even if it weren't, we wouldn't want to go back.

But there's another case to be made from history. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the U.S. made dramatic cuts to its military budget. (If you want to get an idea of the magnitude, check out the graphic in this New York Times article. Ignore their editorial.)

Those budget cuts left the U.S. - and the world - in such a precarious position that when the extent of Soviet intentions became known shortly thereafter, the newly created Joint Chiefs of Staff realized that there were insufficient conventional forces to defend Western Europe. Not only was the Korean Conflict shadowed and to a large extent shaped by this concern, but the early Cold War - the nuclear arms race especially - was heavily influenced by the weakened posture of the U.S., both materially and psychologically. The generals and admirals as well as the civilian leaders responsible for military and foreign policy found themselves compensating for what they perceived as a great weakness. Even with Korea raging, many were convinced not only that there would be another war in Europe, but that the U.S. and its allies would lose it unless many nuclear weapons were used - which would represent an even greater loss.

History is not always a prologue; the world is a complicated place. But it does teach us that we have to do a lot more than count pennies. Our position in the world depends on many things - commerce and invention even more than the military - but we can't ignore how they are all interrelated. In the end, big cuts may mean less peace, not more.

We seem to be in a period when Americans are afraid to cast too big a shadow on the world. Worse, we seem to be afraid to dream big, to have big ambitions. We're too focused on penny-pinching - and not just when it comes to the federal budget.

This will pass, as it always does; America has always been a place for ambitious dreams. The only question is what it will take for those dreams to become a reality.

Thank you everyone . . .

We hit number 15 on the NY Times best seller list in our debut week. Thanks for reading!
Immigrants, grandparents, & Johnny

Sometimes during interviews, people ask questions and I don't answer as well as I think I could. Usually I rebound, but one of the things I've had difficulty explaining about CODE NAME JOHNNY WALKER has been why the book was so emotional to write.

Part of the reason has to do with the circumstances - it was very connected to my friend Chris Kyle, who was murdered during the time I was working on it. But the larger reason, I think, is that in many ways Johnny's experiences as an immigrant echo the experiences of all immigrants to America, including my own grandparents'. There are certainly differences and nuances - neither of my grandfathers worked with SEALs, for example - but the underlying story of struggling to provide your family, working to make your native country better, then finally deciding that you had no future but America is absolutely the same. Talking with Johnny made me understand how they must have felt when they came to the U.S.

Books are always different for readers than they are for the people who write them. I expect that most people reading CODE NAME JOHNNY WALKER will focus on the danger and excitement of the war; it's really a page-turner in that regard. And there are plenty of other issues and emotions I hope the book will evoke. But for me, working on it reminded me that "freedom" isn't just a fancy word, but a real thing, and the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is something none of us should ever take for granted.

Johnny and I will be in the Southern California area this week for our book, CODE NAME: JOHNNY WALKER. Some of the signings we have planned:

Wednesday, Feb. 19:


BOOK SIGNING Marine Corps Exchange, Bldg 2010 New Exchange

Camp Pendleton, CA 92055

* * *

Friday, Feb 21:


BOOK SIGNING Bldg 2660-MCAS Miramar

45233 Antares Dr.

San Diego, CA 92145

* * *

Saturday, Feb 22:


BOOK SIGNING 1029 Orange Ave

Coronado, CA 92118

Look for updates on the book's Facebook page.

On the road, on the air . . .

I'm about a third of the way through a promotion blitz for CODE NAME JOHNNY WALKER; so far Johnny and I have been on everything from Mike Huckabee to MSNBC. We taped an event Monday night in New York which will be aired Saturday evening on CSPAN. Johnny was great and hopefully I don't look too foolish....

The link to the webpage is here.
A best book . . .

The Christian Science Monitor has this to say about Code Name: Johnny Walker, naming it one of the best books of February:

For those who think they’ve heard the last word on the Iraq War, Code Name: Johnny Walker is an eye-opener. “Johnny,” the memoir’s author (with Jim DeFelice), is an Iraqi who spent nearly six years as an interpreter for US Navy SEALs during the worst of the fighting there. Johnny is a man of action; he fights alongside his American brothers and uses his wits to protect them while apprehending perpetrators of unspeakable violence. The drama is riveting, as are Johnny’s insights on the war, America, and Iraq.  
Joking with Johnny

Johnny Walker and I have started doing combined interviews in preparation for the launch of our book next week. One of the things that I hope comes out in the interviews is his sense of humor. He's actually a very funny guy. Usually on purpose; sometimes not.

The book is about very serious times, so there's not all that much humor in it; hopefully some of it peeks out. And the language and culture barriers sometimes make it hard to understand his jokes. But he's a great tease.

Of course, sometimes he's just funny because he's Johnny. Add in cultural differences and the language, and it can make for some entertaining moments.

While we were working on the book, we would occasionally go for long drives in the mountains. Johnny sometimes found it easier to talk there. He's a pretty contemplative guy, and there's something about being surrounded by nature that makes it easier not just to think but to give voice to it. The drives also took us away from most distractions, both his and mine, since there was no cell coverage.

One afternoon we were driving on a deserted, winding road, when suddenly Johnny began speeding up. I looked over and realized he was playing chicken with a Hell's Angel motorcycle rider. At 80-plus. I'm not saying the road we were on was narrow or winding or high, but out my passenger side window all I could see was sky, even when I was looking down.

Racing a motorcycle across a mountain road in a sports car is one thing; doing it in a Toyota with a four-cylinder engine is quite another. Put it this way: I not only buckled my seat belt but had to grab on to something to keep from flying around the front through the turns. At several points we had less than four wheels on the pavement. (I imagine some people will point out that's the way I drive. But that's different: I'm driving.)

"You scared?" Johnny asked as we flew across a hairpin turn.

"Just seeing my life pass before my eyes," I answered.

Johnny kept racing, and eventually the Hell's Angel either ran out of gas or decided that we were crazier than he was, because he disappeared. (Now that I think about it, it's very possible he drove off the side of the road.) Johnny kept going, a little faster and a little closer to the edge, until eventually we got to where we were going.

"You weren't scared, is good," said Johnny as we got out of the car. "But if you were scared, I would slow down."

I guess that was good to know. Someday I'll explain what seeing your life pass before your eyes means to him, but in the meantime, I try to remember to phrase things in the most direct way possible.

Journalists who can't shoot straight

This is why people think the news media is stupid: A spy agency intercepts a communication between diplomats and posts it on YouTube, and the news media acts as if it's an immaculate interception.*

"Someone" - clearly Russia, clearly on behalf of the Russian government - posted an intercepted conversation between U.S. officials on the Ukraine crisis on YouTube. (You can hear it here.) The idea was clearly to embarrass the U.S., and was part of the ham-fisted campaign to keep the Ukraine from aligning itself with Western Europe.

The conversation isn't anything you wouldn't expect, though the fact that one of the diplomats uses an un-diplomatic four-letter verb has given a few headline writers something to focus on. But the people writing about it seem utterly clueless about what governments and spy agencies do.

Here's AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee trying to make sense of it:

The practice of eavesdropping on the phone calls of other governments — even between allies — was the first diplomatic fallout from the publication of documents taken by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden. The documents he took and that were published in such newspapers as The Washington Post, the New York Times and The Guardian showed that the United States listened in to the phone calls of allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel was outraged, and part of the U.S. response was that such practice is common on both sides around the world.

Read more here:


"Fallout"? A result of Snowden???? What??? There was never any spying before Snowden defected to Russia????

The BBC can't decide if the conversation was hacked . . .

An apparently hacked phone conversation during which a senior US diplomat disparages the EU over the Ukraine crisis has been posted online.


or bugged . . .

An apparently bugged phone conversation in which a senior US diplomat disparages the EU over the Ukraine crisis has been posted online

(BBC report.)

. . . though at least they do hint that hey, maybe it was the Russians who were behind it. You can't really expect too much, since when listening to the conversation they can't correctly report what they heard.

The NY Times at least calls the conversation "intercepted," but the slant of its story toward Russia makes it seem like the reporter started with a Russian press release in hand.

In the end, it's just another reminder of how limited the sources of our information are, and how easily they are manipulated.

As for the "leaked" conversation itself - it will have zero effect on anything happening in the Ukraine. Although I am impressed anytime anyone uses the F word correctly.

* I like the idea of using YouTube as an instrument of government policy, but that's not exactly new.

On Johnny:

Big story in today's DAILY MAIL:

Death-defying Iraqi adopted by the SEALs: Elite interpreter who formed a bond with elite soldiers and started new life in the US with help of comrades including Chris Kyle
  • An Iraqi interpreter, who calls himself Johnny Walker, has told how he helped nail so many terrorists for American troops that Al Qaeda made him a target 
  • The terrorist organization put a $50,000 bounty on his head he reveals in a new book 'Code Name: Johnny Walker' 
  • He survived two assassination attempts and threats to his family because he believed America was doing the right thing in the 2003 Iraq War

Read more:
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Writer at work . . .

It's a snow day . . . 12 o'clock beer rule is suspended...

NYC reading February 10

My co-author "Johnny Walker" and I will be discussing CODE NAME JOHNNY WALKER next Monday, February 10 beginning at 7 p.m. at our favorite New York City bar/literary hangout, the Half King, 505 West 23rd Street.

We hope you can make it. More details here:

(The Half King is a great place and a real friend of writers, owned by Scott Anderson, Nanette Burstein, and Sebastian Junger. More info on it here.)

In memory

A year ago this Sunday, I woke up around four a.m. as I often do, and went into my office to get some work done before my official day of rest. My phone was blinking with calls. I picked it up and saw that there were not only a number of missed calls but many texts as well. I started scrolling through, and didn't believe what I was reading.

My friend Chris Kyle had been murdered.

I still don't believe it, really. A part of me wants to think it's just a very, very sick joke. But the larger part of me knows it's true. The best among us are the first to leave.

People have asked me what the best way is to remember Chris. I say you can honor him by following his advice: Make a difference with little things. See a veteran, thank a veteran. Lend a hand to a serviceman's wife or kid - cut the grass, babysit. Spend a little time with a wounded warrior, or an older neighbor. Be yourself, generously.

Chris will forever be known as the greatest American sniper up through the Iraq war and probably beyond, but that doesn't capture a tenth of who he was. And that's a message for all of us: You don't have to be a high achiever or the absolute best at what you do to make a difference in people's lives.

It was my great honor and privilege to know Chris Kyle, and by God's grace I will do my bit to keep his memory alive.