Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Mr. President, who's really in charge of our defense?

By retired Col. Douglas Macgregor, opinion contributor
November 06, 2018 - 05:00 PM EST

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Throughout the 1930s, the nation’s senior military leaders recoiled at the thought of fighting another costly war in Europe. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policies toward Germany and Japan worried them. Senior military leaders, Army generals in particular, privately argued for hemispheric defense; the defense of America’s land borders and its coastal waters.

Today, President Trump confronts FDR’s strategic dilemma in reverse. Suppressing Arab and Afghan insurgents — opponents without armies, air forces, air defenses or navies — for 17 years has led the nation’s senior military leaders to order air strikes, patrols, raids and special action missions from the secure comfort of plush headquarters.

Virtually, no one in the senior ranks has the experience to prepare him or her for war with the Russian or Chinese armed forces, let alone defending Southern border with Mexico from the lawlessness and violence sweeping into America. Moreover, both tasks involve significant change. Change in any form is something senior military leader always dislike.

Retired Gen. Colin Powell — the former secretary of State who knew there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, but told the U.N. the WMD was there anyway — said, "I see no threat requiring this kind of deployment." And one of Powell’s successors, Retired Gen. Martin Dempsey — an architect of the Iraqi Army that melted away in front of ISIS — said the border security mission was a "wasteful deployment of over-stretched Soldiers and Marines."

Make no mistake, when retired Army four stars attack the president in the Washington Post, it’s no accident. They are speaking on behalf of their disgruntled four-star colleagues in the Pentagon.

Yet, where were these generals when the Bush administration’s deeply flawed and morally bankrupt policies produced strategic disaster in Afghanistan and Iraq? Clearly, the willingness of these and other senior military leaders to stand up to their political masters when fundamentally wrong courses of action were ordered was noticeably lacking. Whether one agreed with the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 or not, the truth is that that the blame for the subsequent cruelty, corruption and incompetence during the occupation of Iraq lies as much with the generals as it does with the policymakers in the Bush and Obama administrations.

Policies determine focus, but execution — effective implementation of policy — is what creates success or failure in action. Execution is the responsibility of senior military leaders.

In his landmark book, “A Bright Shining Lie” Neil Sheehan wrote, “20 years after the end of WW II, the dominant characteristics of the senior leadership of the American Armed Forces had become professional arrogance, lack of imagination and moral and intellectual insensitivity.” According to Sheehan, were the personality traits that more than any other single factor, led otherwise intelligent officers to behave stupidly in Vietnam.

How chief executives deal with the aforementioned traits in uniform is instructive. Many end up like big-league baseball teams trying to find the right manager. Some, like LBJ and “Dubya” just work with the generals they have. Others like Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt demanded better generals and found them.

In 1899, after Spain surrendered the Philippines, President McKinley decided Americans had a Christian duty to occupy the Philippines. By 1902, McKinley was dead and Philippine resistance to American occupation had resulted in the death of at least 200,000 Filipinos and 6,000 American Soldiers. Teddy Roosevelt, the new president, was desperate to end the war.

When secret information concerning the mistreatment of the Philippine civilian population appeared in the Washington Post and in the hands of senior Senators in the Democratic Party, Teddy Roosevelt was sure that Lt. Gen. Nelson Miles, Commander of the U.S. Army was the source. Miles was violently opposed to Teddy Roosevelt’s reform plans for the U.S. Army. When he testified on the Hill against his reform plans, Miles said he would rather resign than submit to the “despotism from the White House.”

Teddy Roosevelt also knew that Miles harbored presidential ambitions, but he was less concerned with Miles’ political aspirations than with Miles’ unprofessional conduct. In a public showdown that surprised everyone in Washington, Teddy Roosevelt told Miles, “I will have no criticism of my Administration from you, or any other officer in the Army. Your conduct is worthy of censure, sir.”

Miles retired and sought the Democratic nomination for president — he lost. Congress enacted Teddy Roosevelt’s Army reforms and in 1906, he appointed a brigadier general named James Franklin Bell as the U.S. Army’s first chief of staff. The Army changed. Bell was the first officer in 45 years to lead the Army who had not fought in the Civil War.

Mr. President, the lesson of history is clear. If the senior military leaders don’t believe in the assigned border mission, don’t force them to do it. Do what Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt did: replace them with new officers who will do the job. Like Gen. Miles, the departing senior military leaders can always run for office, or look for jobs with the next Democratic administration.

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, Ph.D., was a combat veteran and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory.

Why were active-duty forces picked over Guard to defend the border? Capabilities, Pentagon says

By: Tara Copp
Soldiers from the 97th Military Police Brigade, and 41st Engineering Company, Fort Riley, Kan., work alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Nov. 2, 2018, at the Hidalgo, Texas, port of entry, applying 300 meters of concertina wire along the Mexico border in support of Operation Faithful Patriot. (Senor Airman Alexandra Minor/Air Force)

The Pentagon faced questions Monday as to why it selected thousands of active-duty forces to deploy to the border instead of sending additional National Guard.

In responses to reporters, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning said when the Department of Homeland Security made the request for military support, it specifically sought forces to assist with planning; engineering support to construct barriers; aviation support to transport Customs and Border Patrol personnel; medical teams; command and control capabilities and the ability to construct temporary housing for Customs and Border Patrol personnel.

Those are active-duty capabilities; but they are also the purview of the National Guard. Approximately 4,800 troops have been deployed with 5,200 expected to be in place by the end of the day.

Of those 4,800, 2,600 are in Texas and 1,100 each are in Arizona and California. Between 750 to 1,000 of those forces are Marines from Camp Pendleton. Several Pendleton units are being combined to form an engineering Marine Air Ground Task Force that will stay in California, a DoD official said on the condition of anonymity.

Manning initially said the administration specified the use of active-duty forces, but the press office quickly clarified that DHS had only requested the capabilities, and DoD made the decision to use Title 10 forces over the Guard.

“We determined that the units that were selected to fulfill this mission were the right units with the right capabilities that we could rapidly deploy in position in order to assist DHS,” Manning said.

If National Guard forces had been selected, state governors would have had to approve their deployment. Earlier this year when Trump requested military support at the border, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authorized that up to 4,000 personnel could fulfill the request. Governors sent only about 2,100 forces total, and several governors refused.

 A U.S. airmen of 355 Civil Engineer Squadron secure the frame of a tent at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., Nov. 4, 2018. Various military branches are deployed as support to local Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in support of Operation Faithful Patriot. (Spc. Keion Jackson/Army)

The Pentagon still could not provide any data on the costs of the deployment but said that DoD’s comptroller was working on those figures.

Manning also emphasized that U.S. forces will not be patrolling the border, will not be interacting with migrants crossing the border, and the only forces who are armed will be military police or other security forces — who are there to provide force protection for their fellow soldiers, not protect CBP as they patrol. Military police or security forces will also secure entry points of DoD facilities along the border.

“There is no plan for DOD personnel to interact with migrants or protesters,” Manning said. “We are absolutely in support of [Customs and Border Patrol].”

Despite the stand-off role, troops are deploying with body armor.

“They are in the uniform that the commander determined was appropriate for that mission,” Manning said.


Monday, November 5, 2018

President Trump's Russian conundrum

By Douglas Macgregor - - Sunday, November 4, 2018


President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), signed in 1987 by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, seems to have surprised Russia President Vladimir Putin. However, it should not have come as a shock.

Moscow began violating the INF Treaty at least 10 years ago. Much like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the INF was on life support during most of President Obama’s term in office. President Trump simply pulled the plug.

On the other hand, Mr. Putin’s response to Mr. Trump’s actions included a statement that deserves more attention than it has received: Russia would only employ its nuclear weapons in response to an incoming missile attack. In other words, like China, Mr. Putin is declaring a “No First Use” Doctrine for Russian nuclear weapons.

To the casual Western observer, Mr. Putin’s posture is confusing. In one breath, Moscow threatens Washington’s European allies with grave consequences if they host a new class of U.S. nuclear weapons designed to counter Russia’s capabilities, and in the next breath Mr. Putin denies that Moscow will ever be the first to use a nuclear weapon. What’s going on?

The answer is complex. Unfortunately, Washington’s current relations with Moscow are weighed down by the burden of history.

During the 1930s and World War II, FDR believed that he and Stalin could solve any problem on a “man-to-man” basis. “Of one thing I am sure,” said FDR, “Stalin is not an imperialist.” Stalin “played” FDR. Fortunately, when the war ended with half of Europe and Asia under Stalin’s boot, George Kennan’s long-standing warnings about the Soviet threat finally found a receptive audience in President Truman.

Mr. Truman accepted Mr. Kennan’s argument that Moscow’s power depended on a siege mentality inside Russian society that necessitated an enemy perpetually “lowering beyond the walls.” But Stalin’s ostensible support for North Korea’s attack on South Korea set destructive forces in motion that would not expire until 1989.

With this point in mind, Steven Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian Studies at Princeton University, sought to dismantle the Cold War perception of contemporary Russia by “humanizing” Russia’s president. Mr. Cohen said, “Putin is not the ever-‘aggressive Kremlin autocrat’ so often portrayed in U.S. mainstream media. A moderate by nature (in the Russian context), he governs by balancing powerful conflicting groups and interests.”

Mr. Cohen has a point. Mr. Putin is not the mass murderer Joseph Stalin was and Russia is no longer a major superpower. In 2016, the size of the Russian economy was roughly 85 percent that of the South Korean economy. Put another way, 49 million Koreans in the Republic of Korea (ROK) dramatically out-performed 140 million Russians.

Thanks to this year’s modest rise in oil and gas prices, Russia’s single commodity economy looks a bit more robust, but in terms of per capita GDP, Russia still comes in at 68th in the world — whereas the ROK is roughly 22nd. However, today’s Japanese economy is actually more than three times the size of the ROK’s economy. Given Russia’s difficult history with Japan, Japan’s economic superpower status must raise new fears in Moscow.

Following a successful October meeting between President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it was announced that China’s bilateral relationship with Japan is back on the right track and showing positive momentum. In a joint press conference held after the talks, Mr. Abe said, “We confirmed the principle of being cooperative partners and not becoming threats to each other.” This must trouble Moscow.

The shared fear of mutually assured destruction induces Moscow to refrain from the use of nuclear weapons, but this limitation does not equate to fundamental change in Moscow’s view of itself and the surrounding world.

Though Washington dislikes and genuinely fears the concentration of Russian political, economic and military power, Washington has no choice but to deal with Moscow’s bipolar tendencies; to seek acceptance one day, then, engage in risky international behavior on the next. Keep in mind, Mr. Putin says he is ready for an improvement in U.S.-Russian ties “at any moment.”

Yet, relations with Russia now are no more about Mr. Trump’s personal rapport with Mr. Putin than were FDR’s relations with Stalin. International relations are about interests. To paraphrase George Kennan, when Mr. Trump meets with Mr. Putin in Paris on Nov. 11, his approach must be that of a long-term, patient — but firm — commitment to identify and build on the interests that Washington and Moscow share, but to scrupulously avoid the trap that ensnared FDR.

• Douglas Macgregor, a retired U.S. Army colonel, is a decorated combat veteran and the author of five books. His latest is “Margin of Victory” (Naval Institute Press, 2016).


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Recon Strike Group 1792

The Little Army That Won Big

In 1792 President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox invented a new kind of army to fight Indians in the west.  They called it the Legion of the United States. 

by Brandon Quintin


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Donald Trump Meets the End of the Empire

Trump knows that the American Empire is crumbling. What is he going to do about it?

October 24, 2018
 by Douglas Macgregor

Last week, President Donald Trump directed his cabinet secretaries to cut 5 percent from their budgets for the next fiscal year, signaling a potential a 2.2 percent cut in defense spending. Trump specifically mentioned the defense budget saying, “I made deals with the devil in order to get that done because we had to improve our military. Our military was depleted. It was in bad shape.”

Translation: Get ready. “America first” in foreign and defense policy is about to begin. Defense cuts are on the way.

The cuts aren’t coming as the result of a dispassionate Eisenhower-style strategic defense review or because current defense funds are being squandered on equipment and forces we don’t need. They are coming because the international system has changed and the U.S. government is sliding deeper into debt .
The British waited until 1946 when their debt to GDP ratio reached 256 percent to admit that the Empire was a liability , not an asset; an illusion of power mortgaged to national vanity. Trump is smarter. He knows the American Empire is over.

In Asia, the two Korean States are disarming the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the Demilitarized Zone that separates North Korea from the Republic of Korea (South Korea). In fact, Seoul announced on October 23 that the two Koreas will cooperate in rolling out “practical measures” for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, cease all exercises aimed at each other, and establish a no-fly zone on both sides of the border as of November 1. Meanwhile, Seoul has declined to accede to Washington’s demand that Seoul increase its contribution of 960 billion won (USD $846 million) to the cost of stationing U.S. forces on the peninsula by 50 percent.

Last week in Singapore, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plus ASEAN’s eight Partners including Japan, Australia, India, New Zealand, Russia and the Republic of Korea held wide-ranging discussions. South Korean defense minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, agreed to set up additional hotlines between their respective air forces. Japanese defense minister Takeshi Iwaya and his Chinese counterpart also agreed to build closer relations between their countries’ defense ministries. During the talks, the Japanese defense chief reportedly urged China to refrain from changing the status quo in the South China Sea.

On the economic front, President Moon Jae-in’s spokesman says Seoul doesn’t require the United States’ approval before lifting its sanctions on North Korea. In Tokyo, concerns about Beijing’s maritime assertiveness persist, but China is Japan’s biggest trading partner. It’s no surprise that Japan is working to create a China-Japan-South Korea free-trade pact .

In Asia, the more deeply the constellation of Asian economic and security interests is studied, the more dated and superfluous the U.S. regional military presence turns out to be. Beijing wants to secure its position as a global power, but Beijing is scrupulously avoiding conflict with its Asian neighbors in favor of doing business with them instead.

The argument for a large and intrusive American military presence in Asia does not hold up to closer scrutiny. The pursuit of security and dollar savings in national defense dictates the withdrawal of U.S. Forces from the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Frankly, President Trump knew this to be true from his first meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Of course, the pursuit of savings and security will not end with the inevitable withdrawals from Asia. Afghanistan and other commitments are on the list for liquidation.

The lines that separate the allegedly “legitimate” Afghan political leaders, the Taliban they claim to be fighting, and the drug lords are hopelessly blurred. Removing U.S. forces and the contractors that support them will not only save the United States roughly $60 billion a year , the regional powers—Iran, Russia, Pakistan and India—that surround Afghanistan will be compelled to take ownership of a region they’ve helped to destabilize. That, too, is in Washington’s interest.

In the Near East, Erdogan’s clandestine assistance to the Islamic State in the early stages of development combined with the massive arrests and imprisonment of any real or potential political rivals—Kemalist secularists, pro-Western Turks, Kurdish nationalists, or Christian missionaries—should have already precipitated the evacuation of all U.S. forces from Turkish soil. However, Erdogan’s readiness to work with Iran to counter Saudi Arabia and Israel, with Russia to obstruct the United States, and with Muslim criminal cartels in the Balkans to undermine European stability now makes the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Turkey imperative.

America’s senior military leaders will fight these developments and any decision that President Trump makes to eliminate gratuitous overseas military garrisons. When it comes to sharp turns in strategy or decisions about how to organize the American Military for a new warfighting paradigm, let alone a new world, senior military leaders always prefer to “wait and see.”

Still, President Trump’s instincts on national military strategy are correct. Whether the generals and admirals like it or not, the U.S. Armed Forces will be compelled to reorganize and “right-size” for the United States’ real security needs without the inefficiencies and massive overhead in the current force structure. Future withdrawals from overseas garrisons will facilitate this process.

Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD, and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory , Naval Institute Press, 2016.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Hard Question with BQ

IS THIS THE OCTOBER SURPRISE? | Colonel Douglas Macgregor, John Gizzi, and David Pietrusza


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Only Way Donald Trump can Truly Put America First

If the last two decades have taught the American people anything, conflict anywhere in the world is by no means a threat to peace everywhere. We must reorder our priorities if America’s national interests are going to be advanced.
by Douglas Macgregor
Intentionally or not, President Donald Trump filled many of his top national security and foreign-policy positions with Neo-Wilsonian, Bush-Obama era Liberal Interventionists; an action that became a source of endless frustration for the president. On issues ranging from preventing transgender people from serving in the armed forces to disengaging U.S. forces from Afghanistan and Syria, Trump’s own national-security team has actively obstructed the president’s defense- and foreign-policy agenda.
President Trump always wanted to disengage U.S. forces from overseas commitments that in his view had no direct relation to American national security. Trump also rejected the alleged permanence of the postwar liberal order; an order that was dissolving when Clinton was in office. Instead, Trump sought to enhance American influence with economic strength by focusing on trade, job creation; enforcing the rule of law, immigration and border security.
On the economic front, President Trump broke through the opposition, reinvigorated America’s stagnant economy and began changing the Cold War trade arrangements that favored foreign competitors and harmed American workers and businesses for decades. In Northeast Asia, he has defused the Korean Conflict and at this point it appears that the Korean Peninsula will no longer figure prominently in the U.S. national military strategy.
However, President Trump’s attempt to secure American borders, especially America’s southern border has met with failure. The failure is tragic because violence inside Mexico has reached horrific dimensions.
The rule of law has collapsed. Mexicans of all ages are being killed so frequently that the number of homicides in 2018 will likely exceed last year’s total of 29,168. According to Mexican authorities, drug-trafficking gangs pay around 1.27 billion pesos (some $100 million) a month in bribes to municipal police officers nationwide.
To this depressing picture must be added the growing connections between Mexican drug cartels like Los Zetas and Islamist terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda making Mexico’s use of the United States as a relief valve for its poor and discontented masses extremely dangerous.
Criminal elements in Mexico are equipped with the latest surveillance and communications technology. They can easily maneuver to locations along the border where the U.S. police presence is minimal or non-existent. Adding more police to the thousands already on the border won’t help. Worst of all, in any future war the metastasizing nexus of criminality and terrorism south of the Rio Grande will create a second front for U.S. forces.
Given the sophisticated threat, the only way to effectively secure America’s border with Mexico is to commit the regular army to patrol and defend all but the legal crossing points with a mix of air and ground forces, at least until an effective barrier system is in place. In addition, Washington and Mexico City should consider combined military action inside Mexico against transnational criminal organizations for the benefit of both nations.
So why have neither the Secretary of Defense nor the Joint Chiefs urged such action? One reason may be the American military’s oppressive atmosphere of political correctness; a climate in which strategic discourse is constrained by fear of being called a bigot or racist for suggesting action to secure America’s borders.
There are other reasons. Defending America’s borders, a mission the regular Army performed for over one hundred years between 1846 and 1948, isn’t likely to justify more manpower or force structure. As a result, the border mission does not appeal to serving officers the way it appealed to Patton, Eisenhower, Truscott, Harmon and practically every Army general officer who fought in World War II.
Clinging to the Cold War past is far more attractive. In fact, active and retired Army four-star generals have registered their indignation at the president’s actions to alter the U.S. military’s overseas presence, an expensive legacy of the Cold War security system.
Gen. Robert Abrams, the Army four-star nominated to be the next U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) commander, recently criticized President Trump’s decision to suspend joint military exercises between the United States and the Republic of Korea. He has argued that President Trump’s decision is undermining combat readiness by creating an ostensibly unwanted atmosphere of d├ętente. In 2017, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey went even further by insisting that President Trump was a “serious threat to U.S. national security.”
Coming from the leader of the failed war on drugs McCaffrey’s statement is rich, but his comments and those of Abrams speak volumes. Thinking and behavior of this kind is harmful because it skews the way senior officers in the armed forces think about warfare. In the international system war is always possible, but managing the risk of war involves much more than reacting to events with escalating threats.
For instance, sailing a large surface fleet into the South China Sea with the goal of “warning China” is hardly good risk management. It’s particularly ill-advised in an area where the Navy’s warships are vulnerable to a broad range of Chinese surface-to-surface missiles, loitering munitions, and submarine-launched weapons linked to an array of space and terrestrial-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.
Accidents happen. An unwanted incident that results in American losses in the South China Sea would signal weakness, not strength, which is the true purpose of naval power. Sooner or later, U.S. naval losses in the South China Sea would invite military aggression against the United States in other regions. Put more bluntly, dragging the United States into a war with China involving territorial disputes on behalf of the Philippines, Communist Vietnam, or Taiwan is stupid.
Why is the Department of Defense on this path? Part of the reason is because the thirty-eight four-star generals on active duty in the armed forces tend to view contemporary conflict through the wrong lens, the distorting lens of World War II and the Cold War. After all, nuclear weapons may have eliminated total war, but war below the nuclear threshold persists.
Armed conflict for regional power and influence are inevitable in many parts of the world, not just in the South China Sea. Such conflicts inevitably overlap with the competition for energy, water, food, and mineral resources. But these conflicts do not necessarily demand American participation.
If the last twenty-seven years have taught the American people anything, conflict anywhere in the world is by no means a threat to peace everywhere, least of all to the United States. Peace is divisible; conflicts regardless of their causes are overwhelmingly local or regional, not global in significance. This is why it so important for American political and military leaders to first, formulate strategic aims that truly justify military action, before American blood and treasure are put at risk.
These points explain why the military inertia in strategic thinking that tries to intimidate China on China’s doorstep is worse than foolish. It’s downright dangerous when senior military leaders erroneously conclude that U.S. military control of the South China Sea, roughly eight thousand miles from U.S. shores, is a vital strategic interest of the United States, but securing America’s southern border is not.
The good news is the president can fix this problem because it’s a cultural and intellectual problem—not a fiscal one. Fixing it means reaching down and appointing new senior civilian and military leaders to the Defense Department who are not hostage to the policies of the past.
Retired Col. Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a has a doctorate and he is the author of five books. His latest, Margin of Victory, is available from Naval Institute Press.
Image: Reuters