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Gen. H.R. McMaster, ASU President Michael Crow discuss America’s challenges and innovative strategies

October 8, 2020

The former national security adviser talks about his new book during virtual event hosted by the McCain Institute

On Wednesday, Gen. H.R. McMaster sat down with Arizona State University President Michael Crow to discuss McMaster's newest book, "Battlegrounds: The Fight to Defend the Free World.” Their conversation was organized by ASU’s McCain Institute and was the third installment in a series examining America’s challenges and innovative strategies for solving them.

“I came with 20 questions for you,” Crow told McMaster, former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, at the beginning of their conversation. “The first question: In general, over the past 120 years, how do you think things are going?”

McMaster said that despite unprecedented progress over the past 100 years, he is not an optimist, and he explained why he is deeply concerned about what he called the current crisis in American leadership in the world. He sounded the alarm about what he sees as several existential threats confronting the United States.

“We are, at a fundamental level, in a competition between free and open societies and closed, authoritarian systems,” McMaster said. “Our present challenge is ensuring that free and open societies remain free and open societies. We need to compete effectively to ensure that our free and open societies remain secure and prosperous and can extend our influence effectively. And we retreated from this competition, to a large degree, in the 1990s because of over-optimism, and in the 2010s because of pessimism and resignation.”

McMaster believes that future American leadership in the world should instead be guided by a concept he calls “strategic competence” — the ability to integrate all of the elements of national power with the efforts of like-minded partners to compete effectively on all fronts of engagement, beyond the use of American military power.

Crow pointed out the new book's four resolutions to describe effective management of national security problems and the National Security Council:

  • Deliver optionality for national security challenges.
  • Understand the natures of the problems themselves.
  • Involve all government, not just the military.
  • No linearity, assume quantum forces.

“These four resolutions make total sense to me," Crow said. "But when I apply them to the coronavirus, I realize: We didn’t do any of them. Not one of them, relative to the coronavirus. So, I have to assume that somebody decided that global pandemics are not a national security threat. When, of course, they are.”

McMaster said that the response to the coronavirus pandemic had many shortcomings, but chief among them was that American officials ignored what was already known about the threat.

“We knew this was a threat, we knew that we had to plan for it, and we had a team dedicated to responding to it, going all the way back to President George W. Bush,” McMaster said. “And all of that was dismantled and forgotten.” 

Crow noted that this is likely not the last pandemic. 

“How do we ensure that, when we learn something, it sticks?" Crow asked the general. "How do we ensure that, no matter who is president, they can’t say, ‘Never mind, I don’t believe in any of this’?"

“Well, first of all, you have to study this most recent experience, and the shortcomings of our response, and learn from them," McMaster said. "And I am working on a study right now with some students from Stanford about what we can learn from this coronavirus pandemic, and we interviewed people from across the private and public sectors who were involved in the response and asked them about what worked and what didn’t.

“And we validated three key parts of what were in the plans. One, it’s best to stop a pandemic before it starts, at its origins. We need better global surveillance and the response to contain it. Second, you have to mobilize a biomedical response. We need effective integration, coordination and sharing of data, across the entire health system and every level of government. And the third aspect is biomedical innovation. Innovation for therapies and for vaccines. So, we know what we need to do going forward.”

Crow returned to the topic of democracy and the protection of democracy at the end of the discussion.

“We have an election coming up here in this country,” Crow said. “And what happens to our democracy if a president were to say, ‘I’m not leaving’?”

“Well, the president doesn’t get to say that,” McMaster said. “That is not something I am worried about.”  

The virtual discussion was part of the McCain Institute’s Authors and Insights book talk series, which invites authors to discuss their newly released books on American politics, policy or leadership.

Top image: A screenshot shows the virtual discussion between Gen. H.R. McMaster (left) and ASU President Michael Crow on Wednesday. 

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Breakdown on the information highway

October 8, 2020

ASU Professor Dan Bliss offers some explanations for why your internet connection might seem horrible lately

Since March, millions of people have worked from home. Now that it’s fall, millions of children are learning from home.

Many of them are learning that their internet service is not what’s depicted in the ads, where smiling people stream, use Zoom, shop, and surf. Instead, their lot has been to gaze, at first in fury and now with resignation, at the spinning wheel of death.

Constant internet outages have obviously been exacerbated by a situation no one saw coming, namely millions migrating to working at home due to the pandemic. 

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. In February 1983, the finale of the hit TV show "M*A*S*H" aired. (This is back when there were four TV networks, not 4,000.) Three minutes after it was over, about a million New Yorkers went to the bathroom at once. Officials said the flow rate in two water tunnels serving the nation's largest city leaped by 150 million gallons each at 11:03 p.m.

Luckily, that system handled the strain. But what about internet bandwidth?

ASU Now talked to Dan Bliss, a professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering and director of the Center for Wireless Information Systems and Computational Architectures, about what we can expect.

His research includes statistical signal processing, wireless communications, radar, radios, and a host of related topics. He has been the principal investigator on numerous programs with applications to radio, radar and medical monitoring.

“I strongly suspect it was always going on and we just weren’t as sensitive to it,” Bliss said. “Occasionally there would be some sort of outage, which means at home I didn’t get to watch the show I wanted to watch and there was a bad connection for 15 minutes. It was a mild annoyance but I walked away and came back in 15 minutes and it was fine. But when you’re working it’s an entirely different level of expectation of need. I think part of it is we expect a lot more of it now. I’m in a meeting with lots of other people and all of a sudden I’m glitching. It’s not just an annoyance. It can cause real problems in my programs.”

Bliss suspects providers were blindsided by the professional domestic migration. In fairness, no one was ready for 2020. But the bottom line probably played a part. It’s home internet, not a NASA mission with millions of dollars of designer tech invested.

“Let’s face it — they’re a business, and they’re going to operate as cheaply as possible,” Bliss said. “They were always operating right at the edge. And we were willing to put up with the fact you occasionally had bad service. That was OK. It all averaged out, right?”

Unfortunately, the system can only be changed so fast. Any given router in the system is only designed to take so much data. Suddenly there’s more data going through, and it’s a problem.

“And they can only upgrade service so fast,” Bliss said. “They have so many employees and they have to go to so many sites. … They can only respond so quickly.”

Cable and internet providers built a network for a different problem. They were doing broadcast of signals across cables. Now they’re trying to repurpose that infrastructure to send data across.

“It’s just a very different problem,” he said. “Having said that, by now I suspect that’s mostly been converted and I’m being too generous with them.”

At the Bliss home, data comes across a coaxial cable. “That’s kind of strange technology to be using for that, and yet we’re still using it.”

Internet connectivity is not like water or electricity, however. It’s not heavily regulated.

“It’s not like internet providers have a government regulation about performance,” Bliss said. “If there’s lot of problems, the regulators do start hearing about it and they’ll put pressure on the cable companies.”

But as we get more digitally connected, the connection becomes more important.

It used to be true that if the internet went out, no one died. That’s becoming less true. Things like home and health monitoring are starting to lean on the internet more.

“It’s quickly become critical and no one was ready for that,” Bliss said.

There are three steps however, that you can take to improve your internet service, according to BIiss:

  1. Buy a new modem. They get outdated pretty quickly. Even a five year-old modem should be replaced.
  2. Reboot your modem often, at least once a week. If you’re leery of interruptions, do it before you go to bed at night.
  3. Reposition your router. If it’s in a back bedroom, move it closer to where you spend most of your time, like the living room or family room.

Top photo courtesy

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News