Saturday, October 14, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The real danger to U.S. national security

Why President Trump must not apply ‘prophylactic offense’ to North Korea
By Douglas Macgregor
President Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) was usually more interested in delivering tirades than seeking advice, but in February 1968 LBJ needed answers. According to Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. Forces in Vietnam, the unanticipated Tet Offensive had transformed the Vietnam War. If LBJ wanted to win the war in Vietnam, Westmoreland and the Joint Chiefs insisted they needed 200,000 more troops.
Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson was a key adviser to the president, a thoughtful man who saw himself as a public servant, not as a public figure. After listening for years to general officers who promised success in Vietnam was just around the corner, Acheson was disgusted, but not surprised. “With all due respect, Mr. President,” Acheson advised LBJ, “The Joint Chiefs of Staff don’t know what they are talking about.”
President Trump would do well to heed Dean Acheson’s advice today. The assertions made by Mr. Trump’s generals that “time is running out” for North Korea sound a lot like a national military strategy of “prophylactic offense.” In other words, attack the opponent before the opponent has the chance to strike.
In theory prophylactic offense sounds macho and appealing, but in Northeast Asia it’s dangerous. North Korea is really a large concentration camp populated by millions of starving desperate people including its own soldiers, but its Stalinist leadership would welcome an attack by Washington.
The reason is simple: An attack out of the blue by Washington would drive Beijing into a pointless and self-defeating war (that Beijing wants to avoid) with Washington, thus rescuing North Korea from certain extinction. Russia, North Korea’s only remaining supporter would be the only power to benefit from such a conflict.
The point, Mr. President, is that North Korea is not the greatest danger to the United States. The greatest danger is that advisers in uniform who promise military success will instead blunder into a major war with an American military establishment that is poorly organized, exhausted and unready for action against the modern armed forces of regional powers in Northeast Asia, Eastern Europe or the Near East.
Worse, American military action would occur at a time when America’s economic recovery hangs by a thread and, thanks to two decades of uncontrolled immigration from the developing world, America’s national cohesion is weaker than at any time in its history since 1861. Recent events in Charlottesville are also symptomatic of the divisions that plague America.
It would behoove President Trump to follow the instincts of Candidate Trump. Recognize that for Americans the mystique of “righteous military action” in Afghanistan and Iraq, conceived in the aftermath of 911 has completely worn off. Keep in mind that despite every possible military advantage in more than a decade of desultory battles with weak Arab and Afghan insurgents — opponents without armies, air forces or air defenses — Mr. Bush’s and Mr. Obama’s generals, like LBJ’s generals, offered rosy predictions, but consistently failed to deliver success in the “global war on terror.”
Today American public support for a powerful national defense establishment is strong, but Americans will not support an open-ended war in Northeast Asia when its government has not identified attainable strategic aims worthy of sacrifice. To date, such a strategic formulation does not exist and there is little reason to expect generals whose only experience of war is against weak insurgent enemies to do so now.
Americans accept the burden of preserving the peace by maintaining the world’s most powerful military establishment. However, Americans want a military strategy that maintains the military power to win a war that Americans are compelled to fight, but otherwise constrains the use of American military power within constitutional parameters.
History teaches that political and military leaders who argue for military action are always convinced that the resulting war will be short and decisive.
Yet, the military and political leaders fail to conduct an accurate self-assessment of the nation’s strengths and weaknesses. In the end, the national capability to employ military power, rather than the valid strategic requirement to use force, tends to dominate national security decision-making.
Without leadership from you, Mr. President, the aforementioned strategy you advocated as candidate and the will to execute it will not emerge. The first step on the road to positive change is to heed Dean Acheson’s advice. LBJ waited too long to heed it. Don’t repeat his mistake.
• Douglas Macgregor, a retired U.S. Army colonel and decorated combat veteran, is the author of “Margin of Victory” (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Saturday, September 16, 2017

If Russia started World War III, here’s how it would go down

Douglas Macgregor states:

The current two U.S. Army armored brigade combat teams in Europe would race to the fight but be outgunned and likely destroyed quickly.

“A good example is the upgunned Stryker,” said retired Army Col. Doug Macgregor, referring to the new Strykers that are outfitted with a 30mm cannon. “That would be fine on the Mexican border. That formation will be gone in 10 minutes against the Russians.”

If Russia started World War III, here’s how it would go down

By: Todd South

A joint special exercise of logistic supply units of Belarus and Russia in August 2017. (Russian Ministry of Defense) 

If drawn into a war against Russia, U.S. and NATO forces would first begin combating Russian cyberattacks, misinformation and third-party surrogate forces, said retired Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, former head of Air Combat Command.

Carlisle said fighting likely will follow a period of steadily rising tensions and warnings. That would give the U.S. enough notice to start moving more airplanes, preparing logistics, and increasing combat capability in Europe, he said.

Nevertheless, the Russians could seize the initiative and move quickly, putting the U.S. at a big disadvantage.

Neutralizing Russia’s air defenses would be one of the most crucial — and dangerous — missions for the Air Force.

In the early hours of hostilities, as Russian tanks, fighters and bombers roll into the Baltics, Air Force jets from England, Italy and Germany would arrive to tease out Russia’s advanced surface-to-air defenses and then try to destroy them.

The Air Force’s fighter squadrons in the region would see the most ferocious air-to-air dogfighting in decades.

Simultaneously, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Italy and the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Germany would join NATO forces to head to the fight.

They, alongside NATO forces, would face as many as 22 maneuver warfare battalions that Russia has in its Western Military District along NATO’s border.

Reports cite a window of 36 to 60 hours for Russian forces to reach and begin siege operations on Tallinn and Riga, the capitals of Estonia and Latvia.

“Quality light forces, like the U.S. airborne infantry that the NATO players typically deploy into Riga and Tallinn, can put up stout resistance when dug into urban terrain. But the cost of mounting such a defense to the city and its residents is typically very high,” said a 2016 RAND study on deterring Russia.

The Army’s 173rd recognized its own weaknesses if thrust into combat with Russia, according to internal review documents, as reported by Politico.

The report states GPS communications would be disabled easily and quickly, forcing troops to rely on rusty high frequency radio communication skills. The brigade also has limited air defense or electronic warfare units.

NATO forces, especially armor brigades in Poland, would have to cross the Kaliningrad corridor, wedged between where Poland’s border meets Lithuania and hedged on each side by Russian territory and Belarus.

Meanwhile, the Russians could carry out previous promises to attack Polish missile defense systems.

Incremental invasions of small areas of Baltic territory may or may not provoke a NATO response. But, experts agree, an attack on Poland would.

The current two U.S. Army armored brigade combat teams in Europe would race to the fight but be outgunned and likely destroyed quickly.

“A good example is the upgunned Stryker,” said retired Army Col. Doug Macgregor, referring to the new Strykers that are outfitted with a 30mm cannon. “That would be fine on the Mexican border. That formation will be gone in 10 minutes against the Russians.”

A Russian strike through Belarus into the Baltics would be so “quick and overwhelming” that, “like with Crimea,” NATO would have to accept that those states are now in the Russian orbit, said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales.

“I think it’s very easy to consider a scenario where small units of NATO forces, to include American forces, could in fact be overwhelmed in the event of an attack,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, a former commander in Bosnia.

During recent war games, NATO tried to use indigenous forces to assist — “the outcome was, bluntly, a disaster for NATO,” according the RAND study.

NATO infantry was unable to retreat and was destroyed in place.

U.S. land forces, accustomed to air and sea dominance, would face Russian interference with their support and could be on their own for hours, days, and even weeks at a time.

“What cannot get there in time are the kinds of armored forces required to engage their Russian counterparts on equal terms, delay their advance, expose them to more frequent and more effective attacks from air and land-based fires, and subject them to spoiling counterattacks,” according to the RAND study.

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division parachute from a C-17 Globemaster during a Joint Operational Access Exercise mission, Camp Mackall, N.C., June 26, 2013. (Airman 1st Class Cory D. Payne/Air Force)


While Atlantic-based Navy assets would be ready to engage, naval experts say Russian maritime maneuvering, along with their allies, will be able to delay and tie up the Navy elsewhere.

“We can hardly pull the entire Navy out of the Pacific to do battle in Europe, lest we sacrifice our Asian alliances along with stakes of immense value,” said James Holmes, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College.

China and Iran’s navies could keep major parts of the U.S. Navy bogged down away from Western Europe.

Russian submarines would slow down seaborne reinforcements to the Baltics, Holmes said. The port of Sevastopol, Crimea, gives Russia a staging area for “anti-access” weapons in the Black Sea, Holmes said.

“In short, it could make the Black Sea into a Russian lake — safeguarding that maritime flank,” he said.

A man watches Russian military jets performing on Aug. 12, 2017, in Alabino, outside Moscow, Russia. The Russian military says major war games, the Zapad (West) 2017 maneuvers, set for next month will not threaten anyone. (Pavel Golovkin/AP)


The Norwegian government has approved six-month rotations of roughly 300 Marines in Norway through 2018.

In the event of a war with Russia, pre-positioned stockpiles would supply a force of 15,000 for 30 days of fighting and would likely provide the footprint for a larger force of Marines, said Keir Giles, a Russia expert with the Chatham House policy institute in London.

“We shouldn’t see this small contingent ... in Norway as a deterrent: It is simply providing a capability for rapid expansion, should it be necessary,” Giles said.

While soldiers, Marines and some pre-positioned equipment could be flown in within days or weeks to reinforce fighting in the Baltics, armor and other heavy items must come aboard ship.

The conflict could stall there, depending on the reaction of NATO forces and its strategic willingness.

Or, fighting could expand. A delay gives Russia time to consolidate its gains, making NATO go on the offensive in one of the more difficult kinds of fighting — regaining lost territory.

“God knows whether you could manage the conflict to bring about a ceasefire and a withdrawal or whether it would go larger,” Nash said.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

What Donald Trump Can Learn from Dunkirk

For anything to change for the better inside the army, Trump must do what the British did not do: decide what’s most important.
President Trump understands that American society is above all the idea it forms of itself. Trump’s grasp of this truth explains his determination to nurture America’s competitive national spirit, and expunge the self-loathing of the last decade. However, restoring American military power will take more than expressions of confidence in America’s military. President Trump must make important strategic choices and make them soon.
Christopher Nolan’s stunning new movie, Dunkirk, is a cautionary tale. The movie’s theme is one of hope and courage, but the more important meaning of Britain’s strategic defeat in 1940 is lost: The British waited too long to make the hard strategic choices.
In the months leading up to Britain’s disastrous defeat in May 1940, the British public was deluged with reports from their leaders and the press of the invincible power of the British Armed Forces. In the words of B. H. Liddell Hart, “Never did so many boast about so little.”
Two weeks and two days after the German offensive began more than 350,000 British and French troops (not all fighting men) had abandoned their equipment and waited for evacuation to England. In London, the myth that the British Expeditionary Force’s (BEF) defeat on the continent was due to Germany’s superiority of numbers spread quickly. It was a lie.
Germany’s victory was achieved by the rapid and deep penetration of at most 8 percent of the German Army: ten armored divisions, or roughly 150,000 troops. In addition, in all but a few isolated actions, the German soldier routinely out-fought his British, French, Belgian and Dutch opponents.
How and why did this debacle occur?
From 1920 until 1938, the British government and its senior military leaders could not agree on the British Army’s strategic purpose. A future British victory against an existential military threat from Germany or the Soviet Union was always hostage to the defense of Britain’s Empire in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Until 1938 no one in London was prepared to make that choice. Worse, none of the army’s civilian ministers (secretaries of the army) had the stomach for a confrontation with the army’s conservative leadership, the generals that in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s words clung tenaciously to “obsolete methods.”
When informed in January 1940 that the Germans had ten armored divisions poised for attack in the west, General Gort, the British Expeditionary Force’s commander-in-chief, said, “In that case, we haven’t an earthly chance.” Gort was right.
The Fifth Division BEF was an infantry-centric force with one armored division that, in 1939, “was still more of an aspiration than a reality.” When the Germans attacked, the most that the BEF’s infantry divisions could do was to fall back or be crushed by an aggressive, daring and mobile armored German enemy.
A coherent national military strategy that included preparations for British Army ground forces to fight against existential threats to Britain in Europe could have make all the difference, but it did not emerge until the German and Soviet Armies conquered and occupied Poland. When London finally acknowledged what was strategically vital—victory on the European continent—from what was marginally important—defending the Empire against weak, insurgent enemies without armies, air forces or naval power—it was too late.
Like the British Army during most of the interwar period, U.S. Army modernization is now constrained by the deployment of two hundred thousand soldiers to forty countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The force is overstretched and worn out.
The army leadership’s answer is a modernization program that simply re-equips the Cold War Army’s World War II formations with upgraded versions of old tanks, artillery and infantry fighting vehicles inside the old brigade organizations. It’s tantamount to expecting that a refurbished Ford from 1975 with a GPS attached to the rear view mirror will perform like a Tesla.
Twenty years ago, when the railgun was only ten years away from fielding, the army’s leadership insisted that army tactics, doctrine and organization could not change until railguns arrived. The generals’ ploy worked. Nothing changed. Today, the army’s senior leadership is employing the same tactic.
It’s wrong. What works now (mature technology) should triumph over “unobtainium.”
For anything to change for the better inside the army, President Trump must do what the British did not do. He must decide what’s most important: the piece-meal commitment of tens of thousands of soldiers around the world or the reform and modernization of the U.S. Army.
No amount of British air or naval power could have rescued the British Army in France from defeat. The same holds true for today’s U.S. Army, a force that has not fought a capable nation-state opponent for more than two decades.
The U.S. Army cannot do everything, but it must modernize and prepare for a different future. President Trump, it’s time for strategic choices.
Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His most recent book is Margin of Victory.
Image: U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division engage their targets during a Live Fire Exercise for United Accord 2017 at Bundase Training Camp, Bundase, Ghana, May 26, 2017. ​Flickr / U.S. Department of Defense

America 1st: Tucker Carlson & Col. Macgregor

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Toward an ‘America First’ foreign policy

A national strategy is emerging that avoids conflicts impervious to American military solutions
By Douglas Macgregor

Andrew Jackson observed, “One man with courage makes a majority.” President Donald Trump is demonstrating the truth of Jackson’s adage.
In the space of just six months, Mr. Trump shattered the power of the entrenched liberal media and reduced illegal immigration to a mere trickle. In Europe, Mr. Trump not only reaffirmed the United States’ Western identity, he also warned Americans and Europeans that if we and our European allies lack the courage to defend our nations, our institutions, our language and our culture, then our civilization’s end is near.
Now, for first time since he took office, Mr. Trump is signaling a new focus in American foreign and defense policy. His decision to suspend aid to the Sunni Islamist fighters attacking the Syrian government and its allies suggests that he is ready to discard the bankrupt ideology of the last 25 years — the idea that defending the American people is not enough, that whenever possible the U.S. Armed Forces should be employed in open-ended missions around the world to punish evildoers.
Mr. Trump is beginning to translate “America First” into a coherent national military strategy for the use of American military power that avoids investing American blood and treasure in debilitating conflicts that are impervious to American military and political solutions. Halting the ongoing, inconclusive military operations in Afghanistan is likely to be the first test case for his new approach.
For the moment, Mr. Trump’s National Security team in the Pentagon and the White House is recommending policies that treat Afghanistan as if it has a cold. They are recommending a haircut and a shave when the patient needs a heart transplant. Something Washington cannot provide.
Even worse, his advisers are nurturing schemes designed to intimidate the Pakistani government into acting against Pakistan’s own strategic interest. Sending four, five or fifty thousand Soldiers and Marines to train the Afghan army and police, let alone drive back the Taliban will make no impression on Afghanistan or the millions of Muslims who live there. Afghanistan’s hopelessly corrupt government, military and police cannot be transformed into replicas of Western armies.
In the absence of an American and allied military presence, the regional struggle for dominance in Central and Southwest Asia involving India, Pakistan, Russia and Iran will resume with the resurgence of the Russian and Iranian-backed Northern Alliance composed of anti-Taliban forces in Western Afghanistan. These things will happen for reasons that have nothing to do with the United States. The Russian armed forces are already engaged in a sporadic war with Islamist Turks in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The assertion that, “If we don’t fight them in Afghanistan, the Taliban will come here,” must be dismissed. None of the terrorist acts in the West have ever had any tangible connection to the Afghan Tribesmen fighting under the umbrella name “Afghan Taliban.” That’s why American support for continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan is razor thin. The lack of support is not a function of a declining national “will to fight.” Instead, Americans reasonably question what we’re doing there.
The truth is that no amount of American military power or capital investment will “fix” Afghanistan. Washington’s only rational course of action is to withdraw American forces with the publicly stated understanding that how the people of Afghanistan choose to govern themselves is their business. In the meantime, Washington must accept the fact that the states with vital strategic interests at stake in Afghanistan — Iran, Russia, India, Pakistan and, more distantly, China — will reengage.
History is littered with politicians that lacked the courage to face unpleasant facts; men who stuck with policies and strategies long past the point when it made no sense to do so. President Harry Truman was not one of them. Truman had the courage to back Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s plan to envelop the North Koreans at Inchon when the Joint Chiefs universally opposed it. And President Truman had the courage to remove MacArthur when MacArthur insisted on widening the Korean War to China.
Truman’s example points the way for President Trump. The sooner Mr. Trump acts to remove American forces from Afghanistan, the sooner he can focus on the issues that shape the “America First” agenda; the restoration of economic prosperity and homeland defense — the security of U.S. land borders and coastal waters to cope with the criminality and terrorism emanating from the Caribbean Basin and Mexico.
• Douglas Macgregor, a retired U.S. Army colonel and decorated combat veteran, is the author of “Margin of Victory” (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why America's Army Is Falling Apart

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that qualified, fresh blood is desperately needed in the Army’s general officer ranks.

Douglas Macgregor
Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told President Trump's nominee for Army Undersecretary, Ryan McCarthy, a Lockheed Martin Executive and former aid to Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, that “the U.S. Army is facing a crisis.” 

Senators drew attention to the Army's ever-growing multibillion-dollar acquisition graveyard including the titanic $20 Billion Future Combat System and the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, a six-billion dollar failed communications program.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that qualified, fresh blood is desperately needed in the Army’s general officer ranks, as well as, in the office of the Army Secretariat. The Army does not need an unqualified hedge-fund manager, a flamboyant social engineer, or another “revolving door” defense industry executive committed to “business as usual.”

The Army is on track to lose more than money unless President Trump appoints a forceful and informed Secretary of the Army—one who is prepared to impose accountability on his generals and demand sweeping change. It’s going to lose the first battle of the next war. And, in the twenty-first century, Americans may not get a chance to fight a second battle.

The Army’s problems are not financial. Thanks to the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act, the U.S. Army will receive an annual sum of $137 to $149 billion—a sum that is vastly larger than the Russian National Defense Budget. The failures in Army modernization and readiness are due to the Army generals’ fanatical resistance to fundamental organizational reform, prudent modernization and change in the way the Army must fight in the future.

Gen. George Washington told his officers, “If we are wise, let us prepare for the worst.” Washington’s wise words are being systematically ignored by the Army.

On July 18 the 173rd Airborne Brigade, along with allied NATO airborne units, will conduct a Joint Forcible Entry exercise near Bezmer Air Base, BulgariaThe goal is to demonstrate an airfield seizure operation that will then allow for the “all wheeled” Second Cavalry Regiment to “build up combat power” and prepare for follow-on operations.

This exercise equates to practicing for suicide. Our East European partners know it and the Russians know it. Any joint theater-entry operation requires U.S. aerospace and maritime supremacy, as well as, overall battle-network superiority in the objective area. Try this “forced entry” against a defended Russian, Chinese or North Korean Airfield and the “exercise” would end in minutes with the total annihilation of the paratroopers and the brigade of light, armored trucks. The Army four-star generals are stuck in a World War II fantasy.

Civilians frequently assume that general officers are ruthless and unsentimental when it comes to discarding obsolescent tactics, organizations and technologies. They are not. How else did the U.S. Army enter World War II with regiments of horse cavalry long after the German army had overrun most of Europe with armored forces?

However, the Army four-star generals are ruthless when it comes to crushing innovation inside the regular army that threatens the status quo. They are more comfortable sinking billions into unproven technologies that promise war-winning capabilities in the distant, uncertain future, as well as spending money on the upgrade of old platforms and systems designed in the 1970s. Clearly, few in Congress object to these actions.

To the aforementioned disasters must be added the relentless commitment of nearly two hundred thousand of the regular Army’s 475,000 soldiers to overseas “train and advise,” “presence,” and special operations support missions in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It’s no secret that counterinsurgency operations seriously eroded the U.S. Army’s capability for high-end conventional warfare, but the dispersion of two hundred thousand soldiers around the world is even more dangerous.

In 1932, General Douglas MacArthur, who was the Army Chief of Staff at that time, told members of the Senate and the House that “the dispersion of the Regular Army in small detachments throughout the continental United States makes it impracticable to have immediately available, an adequate balanced and efficient force of regular troops to meet the first phases of an emergency.” Congress punted, MacArthur retired and ten years later in 1942, Americans played catch-up in a war the U.S. Army was not prepared to fight.

Bad news is never welcome in Washington, DC but it’s necessary. The fighting power of an army lies in its combat formations, not in gross numbers of soldiers. Today’s Army is spread too thinly around the world and its fighting formations are Cold War relics. If today’s Brigade Combat Teams faced an air-defense threat, rocket artillery and loitering munitions (drones that loiter over the battlefield for hours and attack targets by flying into them), let alone a capable, opposing Army, then it would face certain defeat.

None of this means the nation needs a warmed-over version of the World War II/Cold War Army. Another transformation scam like the Future Combat System—a “Potemkin Village” system designed to attract money yet changes nothing of substance—is the last thing Americans need. Instead, the nation needs new combat formations designed for joint, integrated, “all arms” warfare in a battlefield environment more lethal than anything we’ve seen since World War II.

The world Americans have known for fifty years is crumbling. The potential for a 1950 Korean-style emergency grows with each passing month. History may well judge the Trump presidency by the selection of the next Secretary of the Army.

Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His most recent book isMargin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War.

Image: A U.S. Army Soldier, assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, fires an M4 carbine rifle during partnered live fire range training at Tactical Base Gamberi, Afghanistan, May 29, 2015. Flickr / The U.S. Army

Monday, July 3, 2017

What Happened to 'America First'?

If you hire the same architects behind past foreign-policy misadventures, you are are going to get the same results.
Millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump because he promised a new national military strategy that would diverge sharply from the ideologically driven interventionism of the past twenty years. “We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya,” Trump told voters. “It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy.”

Barely six months into the president’s first term, Trump supporters are seeing familiar trends—a threatening Turkish military buildup on the border with Syria, the American shoot down of a Syrian Jet and rising tensions with Russia, Iran and North Korea. They sense that a true “America First” strategy is not going to happen with the president’s current national security team. They want to know why.

Part of the answer is that changing the Washington status quo is never easy, especially for a president whose life has revolved around business, not politics. The rest is easier to understand: personnel is policy.

Imagine for a moment that you are a highly successful businessman with a global reputation. Fate makes you the director of surgery at a major metropolitan hospital. You know little about medicine and nothing about surgery, but you are a prudent person. You consult with the surgeons on the staff and with the hospital’s board of trustees. You select those surgeons that you are told are “the best and the brightest.” Problem solved, right? Wrong.

What if it turns out that the doctors you appointed to run the Department of Surgery have never performed complex surgeries? What if their experience is limited to treating cuts, bruises and performing the occasional appendectomy? What if the few truly major surgeries they performed resulted in fatalities and even led to malpractice lawsuits?

In that case you’d be mistaken to rely on the error-prone experts. And the same is true when it comes to assembling a foreign policy team. Rather than risk repeating mistakes, you’d reach down past the retreads and choose a new leadership team that is divorced from previous foreign policy misadventures. After all, that’s what President Trump promised.

Yet when it came to selecting people to advise the president on national defense and military strategy, the Trump team picked men for jobs in the Department of Defense and the White House on the basis of high-media profiles, medals and uniforms—as well as advice from former secretaries of defense and four-star generals who were leading figures in the three trillion dollar debacles of Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s why no one should be surprised that the “best military advice” President Trump’s senior national security leaders can offer is to reinforce the strategic disaster in Afghanistan and expand the slow, ponderous fight against ISIS in Raqqa into a broader American military intervention into the regional snake pit called the Syrian Civil War. People do what they know.
Like their predecessors in the last two administrations, the current national security team is not pursuing a coherent national military strategy tied to concrete strategic interests. On the contrary, they are committed to open-ended military operations without any expectation of conflict termination.

Meanwhile, Washington’s fanatical urge to spend lavishly on America’s Cold War Industrial Age military structure defeats any attempt to build a new twenty-first century armed force, let alone question the American military establishment’s ability to fight a modern opponent that is not deaf, dumb and blind. An accurate and sobering self-assessment of the U.S. military’s strengths and weaknesses—its ability to perform major surgery—is missing.

The problem confronting the president is serious. Today’s international system is radically different from the world of 2001. The United States no longer has an overwhelming monopoly on key military capabilities. Great-power war is no longer a remote possibility.

In his book Currency Wars, James Rickards offers the example of a forest fire that is analogous to the outbreak of a major war. Whether a fire destroys a single tree or a million acres, the destruction begins with a single bolt of lightning. The same bolt of lightning can strike a thousand times with little or no effect, or it can cause a catastrophic fire. Wars between great powers or alliances of regional powers are similar. Major wars are the massive forest fires no one expects, but given enough sparks, they inevitably occur.

Mr. President, you said, “It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy. It’s time to invite new voices and new visions into the fold.” You were right. If the Trump Presidency is to succeed, we’ll need a new national security team with an “America First” mind-set.

The country needs a team with an acute sensitivity to the vulnerability of U.S. military power far from American shores and an appreciation for the importance of conflict avoidance. Events in the Middle East, Asia and eastern Europe suggest there is no time to lose.

Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His most recent book is Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Image: President Barack Obama greets President-elect Donald Trump at inauguration ceremonies swearing in Trump as president on the west front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Can President Trump Cut a Deal for Peace on the Korean Peninsula?

President Trump needs a strategy that rejects the notion that an American military presence on Korean soil is essential.

Douglas Macgregor

Is there a diplomatic solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula? Yes, there is.

President Donald Trump should tell Chinese president Xi Jinping that the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the Korean Peninsula and the subsequent neutrality of a reunified Korean State are contingent on Beijing's support for a reunified Korean Peninsula under Seoul's control and leadership. Washington’s readiness to underwrite a reunified, but neutral, nonaligned Korean State reassures Beijing that the Korean Peninsula will not be used again as an invasion route into China.

Washington’s offer can succeed because it will incentivize the Chinese leadership to cooperate with Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. Rightly or wrongly, Beijing fears the American military presence on the Eurasian landmass and would welcome its departure. However, Beijing also knows that unless Seoul takes control of North Korea and its oppressed and starving masses, North Korea’s government will remain an economic burden and a permanent catalyst for unnecessary conflict with China’s neighbors and the United States.

President Trump discovered in his talks with President Xi that Beijing has no desire for war with the United States. China wants to do business with America, but if Washington strikes North Korea, Beijing’s readiness to cooperate in the resolution of the crisis will vanish. Worse, Beijing will conclude that its own security demands a much closer military relationship with Moscow—an arrangement that is, from China’s viewpoint, unnatural and undesirable. Clearly, Washington must avoid this outcome lest it obstruct future cooperation between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies.

Now why has this idea not surfaced inside the Trump White House? Why would President Trump who currently demands that Seoul pay for the deployment of additional U.S. Forces to Korea not seek a way to secure Korean unity and freedom by disengaging U.S. Forces from the peninsula? After all, the Republic of Korea's economy is fifty times the size of North Korea’s. In economic terms, North Korea ranks behind Ethiopia, a sub-Saharan African State. Despite North Korea’s grossly exaggerated claims of military capability, North Korea is a dying state.

One of the reasons may be that President Trump’s advisors, like most people inside the Washington Beltway, oppose any change in the postwar status quo. Perhaps, they are privately committed to America’s unofficial, but very real overseas “empire” of military-economic dependencies? If so, they confuse a temporary military presence resulting from a stalemate brokered by President Eisenhower in 1953 with long-term American strategic interest.

During his 1952 election campaign, Eisenhower promised to go to Korea for a firsthand look at the situation on the ground. However, he made no promises regarding how he would end a deeply unpopular war that had killed more than thirty thousand Americans by 1953. When he came to the presidency, Eisenhower was determined to halt the growth of the federal government, balance the national budget and lower the rate of inflation, but the Korean Conflict put those priorities on hold.

Soon after arriving in Korea, President Eisenhower discovered that Gen. Mark Clark, the four-star commander of U.S. and allied forces in Korea wanted a large-scale frontal assault against the Chinese and Korean armies. He also wanted to conduct simultaneous air and sea operations against the Chinese mainland. Clark was convinced these operations would produce a stunning victory.

Eisenhower was not so sure. Eisenhower may have known that Moscow, not Beijing, approved the North Korean invasion of the South. But Eisenhower definitely knew how wasteful and self-defeating Japan’s 1937 invasion of China had been and how China’s determined resistance during World War II fatally weakened Japanese military strength.

Instead of widening the war as General Clark recommended, Eisenhower ended the conflict on the best terms he could get, insisting that Korean reunification would eventually be achieved with political—not military—means. In May 1953, 69 percent of Americans polled approved of Eisenhower’s actions, though, 55 percent still thought the war had not been worth fighting.

The world has changed since the Korean War. China and the United States are trading partners on a scale few imagined. Unlike Germany, Japan is ready to assert itself as an independent world power and play a key role in securing stability in Asia. Vietnam is no longer incurably hostile to the United States. But Americans are no less disinclined today to wage war in Asia than they were in 1953.

The point is simple. It’s time for President Trump to craft a new strategy, one that rejects the notion that an American military presence on Korean soil is essential to Washington’s global leadership. It’s not. Things have changed.

Col. (ret) Douglas Macgregor is a decorated Army combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His newest is Margin of Victory: Five Battles that Changed the Face of Modern War, available from Naval Institute Press.

Image: EA-18 Growler at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. Flickr/U.S. Department of Defense