Gabrielle Giffords Uses the Military as an Unwitting Pawn to Promote Solar Energy

Gabrielle Giffords (D) Arizona’s 8th District, believes she is being unfairly treated for a question she posed to General Petraeus on June 16, 2010 with respect to solar energy, fuel consumption in Afghanistan and how that relates to convoys.

That question was:

“Through the last three years supply lines have increasingly threatened…umm…have been threatened by either enemy action or through international places. And in places like Kandahar, where we have a large presence, we have been plugged into a very unsustainable and really an incapable grid system. We know that a major part of the upcoming Kandahar offensive will include some serious repairs and upgrades to the energy system which will include small scale solar and hydro-power systems and also some solar powered street lights. I’m just curious whether or not there’s [sic] plans to utilize any of those same technologies at our bases around Afghanistan and wouldn’t that greatly reduce our need for fuel?”

In this question to Gen. Petraeus, Giffords asks if the military will be using alternative energy resources such as small scale solar and hydro-power systems and also some solar powered street lights on our military bases. I am not concerned so much with the hydro-power, but more with the line of questioning dealing with solar power.

It is a well known fact, and Gabrielle Giffords states it often herself, that she is infatuated with solar power. However, the capability of solar power to fulfill energy needs, especially in a combat theater where it is necessary to have reliable electric power at the disposal of our troops 24/7 is ludicrous. If I could come up with a better word than ludicrous that would accentuate how ridiculous this idea is, I would use it.

The mere fact that Gabrielle Giffords has anything to do with military matters as a member of the House Armed Services Committee is laughable. She has no military experience. Her knowledge of what goes on in theater is limited to what people tell her and reports to which she has access. She was never in the military. The likely reason she is even on a Congressional Committee that deals with the military is because she has two major military installations in her district and Nancy Pelosi appointed her so she could leverage that position to get re-elected year after year.

As a former member of the United States Army Intelligence Corps and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, let me tell you how important it was to me and the people I supported with intelligence operations to have a ready, reliable supply of electricity. Every day my colleges and I would collect intelligence to support our actions in theater. The best intelligence is fresh intelligence. Intelligence is moved electronically through computer networks. Computer networks don’t run without electricity. As it was, the power supply was occasionally unreliable. Can you imagine trying to rely on a solar system to provide even a part of the power necessary to keep information flowing in theater? I can’t.

When our power was down, it became increasingly difficult to report intelligence. If Giffords knew anything about the contemporary operating environments in which we are currently engaged, she would know that without fresh intelligence, commanders are at a disadvantage making decisions. That could ultimately cost lives.

In an attempt to save face for a glaring gaff she made in asking that question to Gen. Petreaus, Giffords released a statement to the press on September 1, 2010 in which she cites a joint statement from twenty former military service members and said in part:

“The bogus ad by Conservatives for Congress takes an issue of life and death for our troops and turns it into fodder for a cheap political attack. What a disgrace. Shame on them for disrespecting our brave men and women in uniform. As a veteran, I call upon Conservatives for Congress to take down their ad immediately and apologize to Southern Arizona’s veteran community for this garbage.”

Aside from the fact that Giffords is not quoted in this press release directly and the initiative of the twenty former service members is questionable as one of her campaign staffers probably prepared the statement and then contacted former service members and asked them to sign on to it, it is not substantive in any way with respect to reality. Her contention is, informing her constituency of her gaff in some way disrespects all the people who have served in the military. I didn’t feel disrespected in the least and in fact a number of individuals I know, who served in the military, felt her question to Gen. Petreaus was naive and irresponsible.

Giffords statement goes on to state, “Many U.S. troops have lost their lives or been injured on fuel resupply convoys; more than 170 in 2007 alone.” While it is sad that there were 170 casualties relating to convoys in 2007, it is audacious and disrespectful for Giffords to cite this in her press release and to use it for her political purposes. It is also disrespectful to all the military leaders who were in charge of the missions that resulted in those casualties, to side handedly make the assertion they didn’t do everything within their power to mitigate those casualties. Apparently, only Gabrielle Giffords and solar energy could have saved them.

It should also be noted that the language in her press release is deceptively vague. Giffords ends her statement about the convoy casualties with, “in 2007 alone.” What is this supposed to imply? What about 2001-2006 and 2008-present? Did Giffords purposefully pick out that year’s statistic because it supported her position the best? If so, that again is not only disrespectful but it is dishonest.

Giffords’ assertion is that alternate energy sources, such as solar, would reduce the dangers encountered on convoys by reducing the number of convoys needed to supply troops. While there certainly are dangers in delivering fuel and materials overland, Giffords grossly overstates this as a problem, possibly to promote her own political agenda for solar. “No room for politics,” she states in a response to the Conservatives for Congress Committee. However, isn’t it her political agenda to promote solar she’s trying to defend?

What did Gen. Petraeus say in response to her question with respect to the difficulties they were encountering with supply lines? This:

“If I could, I might note that the supply lines actually have worked well. The lines of communication through Pakistan, yes there periodically are attacks, and there was one a week ago, but that followed a period of months and months, if not a year or so since the last significant attacks; and it’s much less than one percent of all of the cargo that goes in through Pakistan that is affected by these various attacks. And we’re up now to some seventy percent of all supplies not necessarily all material, all supplies coming in through the north through this carefully constructed northern distribution network that we’ve been able to establish over the course of the last year in close partnership with U.S. Transportation command. The State Department enables us to bring items in through Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and into Afghanistan and then even through some of the other countries and there are other routes including one that comes out of Iraq through Turkey and then turns east.”

Gen. Petreaus straightforwardly told her that it is practically not an issue in the south and the majority of resupply is coming through the north. Giffords’ overstatement of the supply line problem to promote her own solar political agenda is troubling. We should expect a higher degree of honesty from our elected representatives, however, I will give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she was just uninformed.

Giffords, in her initial September 1st press release recounts the opinion of Gen. Petreaus from his 2006 Counterinsurgency Manual that, “the development of a stable electric supply is part of a successful counterinsurgency strategy,” and again in her response to the Conservatives for Congress Committee, recounts the opinion of Gen. Petreaus and Gen. McChrystal that, “our battlefield energy supply, totaling more than 60 million gallons of fuel a month, is a critical vulnerability to our deployed forces” and, “the military’s use of scarce electricity resources undermines our standing and that of the Afghan government in an area called the birthplace of the Taliban.” She utilizes these statements out of context in an effort to back up her assertion that solar energy would alleviate the need for so many convoys.

In the first instance, Gen. Petreaus is most likely referring to an infrastructure problem in Iraq. Anyone who spent any time in Iraq knows there have been problems supplying power to large sectors of the populous due to a lack of power infrastructure. That resulted in extended periods of power outage for various sectors of major cities, such as Baghdad. This most certainly contributes to a situation of unrest amongst the population and would indeed affect the level of insurgent activity. It’s not the kind of problem solar will, in the immediate future, ever be able to effectively solve in any reasonably cost effective manner. In any event, Giffords uses this out of context in an attempt to shore up her argument about supply lines.

In the second instance, Giffords merely restates the obvious, another statement about populous support and insurgency used out of context. Again not the kind of problem solar will, in the immediate future, ever be able to effectively solve in any reasonably cost effective manner, but Giffords still attempts to use these statements to shore up her position about the supply lines and the need for solar to alleviate that problem.

To be fair to Giffords, there are some limited applications where solar probably is appropriate. For example, she mentioned solar lighting. I was able to find an example of an instance where 1200 solar powered lights have been installed near Fallujah, Iraq along a 22 mile stretch of roadway. These lights probably do make that stretch of roadway safer, because they don’t rely on the power infrastructure to stay lit at night. However, the third phase of the project cost the taxpayers 2.9 million dollars. I was not able to find the cost of phase I and II.

Even Gen. Petreaus acknowledged to Giffords that, “We do use solar power in some cases, again, where that provides a benefit to us, we did that in Iraq as well, by the way, I might point out quite considerable use of that, and again that’s the case in Afghanistan as well.” Nevertheless, that does not negate the fact that solar is not a realistic solution to most energy issues in a theater of combat.

Here is a short list of reason why I believe trying to implement most instances of small scale solar energy collection as a means to offset energy use in a theater of combat would be imprudent.

1) Solar arrays, even small scale ones like the kind you would find on a personal residence, typically have a large footprint; in effect, they take up a lot of space. Therefore, they would make an easy target for the enemy.
2) While it is true that we have some permanent style bases in Afghanistan, as we do in Iraq, there is no guarantee that will always be the case. How will you pick up your solar array and realistically move it 20 KM down the road? You can do that with fuel and generators quite easily.
3) Who will install the solar technology? Our own Army Engineers (I’m sure they could figure it out, but are they currently trained to do it?) or Civilian contractors and how much would it cost to even purchase the equipment? Solar is not inexpensive even with the massive government subsidies propping up the industry.
4) How will you get the solar equipment to the bases? Supply lines perhaps? The cost of security for fuel supply lines drives up the cost of each gallon we use, why wouldn’t it also drive up the cost of the solar equipment? Will the Taliban see the convoy of solar equipment and say, “Oh no boys, that’s green energy. Don’t attack. The Americans truly are our friends. They are trying to reduce their carbon footprint to save Afghanistan!”

After careful consideration and what I would characterize as an extremely fair account of the proceedings that took place in that June 16th questioning session and after carefully reading what Gabrielle Giffords wrote in both her September 1st press release and in the response she made to the Conservatives for Congress Committee, I have to conclude Giffords is trying to cover up a legitimate complaint her constituents have for something she did.

Again, it is no secret that Giffords has an affinity for solar energy and uses any and every opportunity to support her solar energy agenda. I think her assertion that she was doing this to benefit the troops in Afghanistan was secondary to her motivation to promote her solar energy agenda. It was convenient for her to use this situation politically after the fact to promote herself as a big supporter of the troops while calling the Conservatives for Congress Committee names and falsely accusing them of dishonoring the troops. I think Giffords manipulated information in both her press release and her response to the Conservatives for Congress Committee to support her own gaffs and to divert attention away from her.

It is unfortunate that the military ends up being the pawn used by Giffords in her attempt to smear a legitimate organization’s members for exercising their right to question their government representative on something that was very questionable. Instead of responding in a civil manner, she rounded up former military men and woman to sign on to a political statement which, in quite offensive language, besmirched the people who opposed her. I find it highly suspect that twenty former military members just marched down to her campaign office after seeing the ad and demanded to make some sort of joint statement. It just defies logic.

I work around both former and current military members every day. Some of them talk about Giffords and her so called credibility on military issues. They see her as lacking credibility on military issues, because she was never in the military. On this issue, Giffords really made it clear how little she does know about the military and how unqualified she is to represent military men and women in the 8th District. Please Gabrielle, call me a disgrace and tell me I am disrespecting our brave men and women for suggesting that they deserve to have someone sitting on the House Armed Services Committee who has actually served in the military.

Giffords’ September 1, 2010 press release

Conservatives for Congress Committee response to Giffords’ Sept. 1 press release and copy of Giffords’ response back.

Conservatives for Congress Ad

Raw Footage of the Committee hearing


Cross posted at Protopolitics.com