Saturday, May 25, 2019

Friday, May 24, 2019

Why Do We Fight? How Do We Fight?

The military spends billions on programs and missions that have no basis in reality. This is why we fail, again and again.


Soldiers of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment conduct a breaching training operation, at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, March 20, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Charles Highland) (Photo Credit: SFC Charles Highland)

Today’s political and military leaders have no choice but to project technology and strategic conditions into the future while they develop their forces today. However, before such multi-billion dollar investments are made, critical questions should be answered.

What is the real mission set? In other words, whom do we fight? Where do we fight? How do we fight? And how do we get there? On Memorial Day, we must take a step back to properly address these questions because right now it’s not so clear. What we do have is a military spending strategy that is out of whack with reality and setting us up for failure when real threats arise.

The United States is primarily a global maritime and aerospace power, not a global land power. Washington is known for exaggerating threats, but is the notion of spending to fight a near-simultaneous war with Russia and China in 2030 a realistic goal? Wars with continental powers like Russia, China, or even Turkey or Iran, demand the persistent employment of large and powerful ground forces projected over thousands of miles. U.S. military advantages at sea and in the air are relegated to supporting roles as seen in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Long before U.S. forces entered World War II in 1942, the British Empire and the Soviet Union fought for years and sustained millions of casualties. Who are Washington’s allies today? How many field capable forces would be able to assist us in the field? How many are just military protectorates seeking to shift the burden of their defense to Washington?

Throughout the 20th century, strong majorities of Americans opposed involvement in all wars overseas. President John F. Kennedy’s statement that Americans “would pay any price, bear any burden…oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and success of liberty,” was false the moment JFK made it.

The answers to the questions above should align the structure and use of U.S. military power with strategic, technological, and fiscal realities. But in the senior ranks of the armed forces—especially in the U.S. Army and Marines—aligning military power with reality is sacrificed to the protection of “service equities,” meaning warfighting structures, equipment sets, and missions from unwanted changes in warfare wrought by technology.

As Under Secretary of the Navy, Robert Work identified the problem in the context of future amphibious operations: “The Navy-Marine team will never contemplate littoral maneuver until an enemy’s battle network, capable of firing dense salvos of guided weapons, is suppressed…Thus far we have only argued that some capability to conduct theater-entry operations and littoral maneuver must be retained. But it is fair to ask how much amphibious capacity is needed.”

In other words, the Marine Corps’ slow, soft-skinned, virtually defenseless amphibious carriers, auxiliaries, and VTOL/STOL airlift with their fragile cargoes of Marines cannot operate against the Chinese until the U.S. Air Force and Navy eliminate China’s air and naval forces from most of the Pacific. It’s not realistic, and building more amphibious carriers won’t help. The proliferation of persistent surveillance, air defense, and precision strike technologies consign amphibious operations to the ash heap of history.

How Washington approaches modernization in the Army, like the Marines, is primarily a spending strategy that senior leaders hope will restore the validity of the Army’s existing missions and structures. As a result, every Army Chief of Staff asserts that fundamental organizational change to cope with new technologies or reduced manpower to extract greater combat capability is impossible.

Mark Esper, Secretary of the Army, reiterated this argument saying, “I can’t tell you what the Army end strength will be… I know it has to be above 500,000 in the regular Army.” When the discussion is about numbers, it’s not about capabilities.

H. Liddell Hart refuted the numbers argument in the 1950s, reminding British politicians who wanted a very large army, “In 1940, a greater proportion of French manpower had undergone military training for a longer period than in any other nation. All this counted for little in the face of the shock of a comparative handful of up-to-date German forces.”

Maintaining relevant capability-based formations in the U.S. Army to deter an attack is a necessary strategic hedge. But, as the Soviets discovered, keeping large, anachronistic ground forces organized for WWII in readiness to fight is unaffordable and, given the United States’ public and private debt, dangerous.

The budget of the U.S. Army is currently larger than Russia’s entire defense budget. Yet, the Russian State extracts “more capability for less” from its army than the American taxpayer does. The reason is that Putin removed most of the senior military officers in his first term of office. Putin then demanded and eventually received new plans for the reorganization of Russia’s army into a smaller, more lethal force structure.

Back in Washington, deferring to the Four Stars who collectively have never fought a major battle against a capable opponent, is the wrong answer. The service bureaucracies’ insatiable appetite for money and missions to justify their structures inclines them to advocate for U.S. military engagement in lesser conflicts and regions of marginal or no strategic importance to the American people.

President Donald Trump must overrule his generals and abandon the financially destructive spending strategy that Congress, industry, and the Four Stars want. If the president does not act, the dismal record of post–World War II U.S. military fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with Vietnam and Korea, will persist into the future with far more serious strategic consequences than anything seen since the first battle of Bull Run.

(Ret.) Colonel Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, PhD, and the author of 5 books. He most recently published Margin of Victory: Five Battles That Changed the Face of Modern War, (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Bolton Is Choking On Foreign Policy, Here’s Who Should Replace Him

May 16, 2019 William Craddick

It’s been a bad year on the job for John Bolton.

Whether it is blowing up the Hanoi Summit with a memo, embarrassing the US abroad by backing a Venezuelan coup which fizzled out or getting American forces into a potential war with Iran based solely on non-specific Israeli intelligence the National Security Advisor has shown himself to be unable to help President Donald Trump deliver on campaign promises but adept at creating a mess. Since assuming his position in April 2018, Bolton has dragged Trump, who ran on a platform of non-intervention and a re-haul of American foreign policy strategies, into a myriad of problems that have caused him to contradict his own agenda. This is the result of extreme incompetence if not outright sabotage.

With Trump reportedly growing frustrated with Bolton, a new candidate for the job should be suggested. The President ought to consider retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor.

Macgregor has an anti-establishment flair that causes him not to get along with the bureaucratic class who Trump popularly clashed with in the 2016 US Presidential election. He was the squadron operations officer responsible for directing US troops on the ground in the legendary Battle of 73 Easting during the Gulf War where American armored vehicles defeated a much Iraqi detachment. But his dislike for gamesmanship and blunt demeanor meant that Macgregor did not thrive in the military despite his ability to innovate on the battlefield. A perfect match for Trump, who prefers officials that are not liked by the herd.

“Make Donald Trump Great Again” is Macgregor’s mantra. It is much needed in an administration where the President often seems to be the only one who still champions foreign policy objectives like the border wall that originally caught the attention of his base. While Bolton lives eternally in the Cold War, Macgregor’s focus is on the problems afflicting a United States that is struggling without grace to find its place in the modern world. He rightly calls out Bolton’s insistence on an “all or nothing” approach to negotiations with North Korea that have prevented a peace deal and rages about constant attempts by Washington insiders to induce Trump to backtrack on policy announcements that him look weak and self-contradictory in the process.

The strategy pursued by Bolton and his contemporaries seeks to return the United States to the unipolar era of the 1990’s when America’s dominance was secured by a ruined Russia and a still-developing China. They have not learned from the lessons of the USSR, which collapsed because it was simply unable to keep up with the expenses of running a global empire that an economically dominant United States could once handle.

America’s shifting role in the world is very much on the mind of Macgregor. It is reflected in his skepticism of NATO, his calls for reform of the military and his criticism of America’s wars that drag on for years but no longer result in victories. His distaste for foreign wars that sap a nation’s global power and do not meaningfully help America achieve its foreign policy objectives is a refreshing change from the hawkish behavior of Bolton, who is currently drawing the United States dangerously close to a conflict with Iran. Macgregor compares Bolton to Don Gaspar de Guzmán, the advisor to Spain’s King Philip IV who crashed the debt-ridden Spanish empire by engaging it in sporadic and unhelpful foreign interventions. Philip IV is notorious for this failure while Guzmán is now long forgotten. If Trump does not release Bolton soon his legacy will likely suffer the same fate.

America cannot afford the foolish council of those who are unable or unwilling to see the crisis that the country currently sits in. Take a chance on someone who goes against the grain.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Douglas Macgregor on The Ingraham Angle 5/10/2019

McMaster Blames Americans' "War-Weariness" Narrative for Hurting U.S. Strategy

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

John Bolton is the problem

Trump’s national security adviser is getting dangerous...particularly to the president’s ideals

Douglas Macgregor
May 6, 2019

John Bolton addresses reporters outside the West Wing of the White House

Thanks in large part to John Bolton, America, the global cop, is back on the beat. This time it’s the Caribbean and the Persian Gulf in a near-simultaneous demonstration of resolve.

For Bolton, President’s Trump national security adviser, Venezuela is an exceptionally appealing target. Juan Guaidó, the democratic socialist who is Washington’s choice to lead Venezuela is dutifully following Bolton’s script asking for US military intervention to install him and his followers in power.

Why not? Venezuela harbors a few hundred Russian Special Operations Soldiers and at least 2,000-3,000 Cubans. Crushing the pathetic Venezuelan Armed Forces would be another exercise in clubbing baby seals on the Iraq or Afghan model.

Venezuela might also be the last place on the planet where a carrier battle group can sit just offshore in support of a marine amphibious assault. Against any capable opponent these operations would end quickly, far out to sea, in volleys of precision guided missiles and submarine attacks, but Venezuela is naked in the face of US military power. At most, Venezuela offers the potential for a low-level civil war launched from the interior on the Afghan model.

True, Moscow could escalate horizontally meaning that Russian forces could provoke an incident in the Baltic Littoral, particularly in Estonia where large numbers of Russians legally reside. In Ukraine, Russian air and ground forces could move suddenly to seize Odessa and establish a Russian military presence on the Romanian border. Putin, after all, plays chess, not checkers. But that’s not likely, is it?

Iran’s economy is reportedly on the verge of collapse. Iran is in a deep recession and inflation is running at about 40 percent, yet Iran still presents a threat to its neighbors serious enough in Bolton’s words to warrant ‘maximum pressure’ to suppress Iran’s appetite for war — the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force.

Why not? Iran’s defensive capabilities are modest, though still robust enough to sink a few ships and damage a carrier. If provoked, Tehran may simply conclude it has nothing to lose, but it’s not Iran’s capabilities that worry US military planners.

Russia is very unlikely to tolerate an American military intervention against Iran. US forces already sit on Russia’s borders and routinely sail close to Russia in the Baltic, the Black Sea and the North Pacific.

Iran may well be Putin’s line in the sand. Moscow’s space-based assets would share intelligence with Tehran. Russian ground, air defense and aerospace forces would move rapidly into northern Iran. Russian submarines would show up in short order in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean.

Beijing is equally unlikely to sit still given its dependence on Iran’s role in developing China’s ‘One belt, One Road initiative.’ It’s already done so. The unmanned aircraft diverted to Iranian control did not find its way into Iranian hands without Chinese assistance.

How fascinating it would be to sit in the Oval Office when Bolton explains these unanticipated developments to President Trump, who ran on none of this? Senior advisers like Bolton who urge presidents to initiate military action always express confidence that the opponent, especially, a weak opponent, will back down, or, at most, put up weak resistance.

We’ve all seen this movie before in 1965, 2001 and 2003. The ability to employ military power, not the valid strategic need to do so, seduces presidents. In the history of the West, few advisers acquired fame urging their sovereigns to go to war, but one stands out — Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count Duke of Olivares ― principal adviser to Spain’s King Philip IV.

Like his King, in 1621 Olivares was an ardent Catholic determined to restore Spain’s formerly uncontested military and political hegemony at any cost. Given that 40 percent of Spain’s national income was annually diverted to service Spain’s enormous national debt cost was not a small matter.

No matter, Olivares waged sporadic war against Britain, Holland and the north German Protestant states on and off for 20 years. Seeing Spain dissipate its military and economic power in the Americas and Europe, another ambitious minister in Paris named Richelieu decided in 1631 the timing was auspicious for France to ally with Sweden, Holland and Savoy against debt-ridden Spain and its overstretched army and navy.

Spain was suddenly in a two-front war that it could neither easily win nor afford. More important, at home, Olivares’s appetite for war increased taxes, and fomented rebellions against the Spanish crown in Catalonia and Portugal. Spain’s overseas military commitments meant that King Philip could not prevent Portugal’s independence. Spain faced an existential crisis.

King Philip removed Olivares from office, but the proverbial die was cast. Within a decade, it was clear that Spain must surrender its military and economic dominance to France or face total collapse. Today, Olivares is forgotten, but King Philip IV is infamous in European history for leaving Spain in a state of financial, political and military exhaustion from which Spain never recovered.

If any of John Bolton’s current military ventures trigger a confrontation with an alliance of Russian, Iranian, Chinese or even Turkish military power, on the Richelieu model President Donald Trump, not John Bolton, will be thrown under the bus. John Bolton will just shrug his shoulders as he did after the Iraq debacle and say, ‘Intervention was still the right call.’ He’ll simply return to his old job at the American Enterprise Institute, Foundation for the Defense of Democracy or another of the many neocon-friendly think tanks.

Donald Trump can’t do that. He needs to stop and think. Does he want to be remembered like President Eisenhower as having cultivated peace, prosperity and strength? Or, would he prefer to be mentioned in the same breath with President George W. Bush? Dubya was the president who ‘exported death and violence to the four corners of the earth’ with disastrous consequences for the United States and its economy.

The choice is clear.

Douglas Macgregor, PhD, is a retired US Army colonel and the author of five books, including the most recent, Margin of Victory (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Saturday, May 4, 2019

OF INTEREST: Should America Go to War in Venezuela? Let's Study that Time America Invaded Cuba

The Bay of Pigs fiasco should teach us some important lessons.

by Daniel L. Davis

As events continue unfolding in chaotic Venezuela, the big question on everyone’s mind is whether the United States will use its military to force Maduro out. As Trump continues to grapple with the decision, it might be instructive to consider the last time an American president faced such a decision. John F. Kennedy’s failure at the Bay of Pigs forever tarnished his presidency—and the negative consequences still plague our country.

Sixty years ago, Fidel Castro led a revolution in Cuba that ousted the U.S.-supported dictator, Fulgencio Batista. While Batista brutally repressed the population of Cuba, he had been very accommodating to U.S. tourism and business interests. Many powerful figures in the United States, therefore, were none too happy when Castro took over. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of them.

As Castro drifted closer and closer to the communist regime in the USSR, Eisenhower became warier. In July 1960, two U.S.-owned oil refineries in Cuba refused to refine crude oil for Soviet tankers, so Castro nationalized (stole) the refineries, infuriating Eisenhower, who retaliated by almost eliminating U.S. purchases of Cuban sugar (their main money crop). Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev offered to buy all the sugar Eisenhower had rejected.

When it became clear that Castro could not be controlled or bought—and especially with Castro’s increasing embrace of the Soviets—Eisenhower, with the concurrence of Vice President Richard Nixon, decided he had had enough, and instructed CIA director Allen Dulles to begin working up plans to overthrow Castro. When Nixon lost the presidential election later that year, the plan fell to the new commander-in-chief, John F. Kennedy, to carry out.

Initially, Kennedy’s priorities lay elsewhere, and though he received a few briefings, he gave it little attention. The Pentagon and CIA, however, continued planning and preparation, sending a group of fighters—recruited mainly from disaffected Cubans living in Miami—to a secret training camp in Guatemala to begin intensive combat training for fighting in the mountains and jungles of Cuba. At a meeting on 15 March, Kennedy gave his initial go-ahead for an invasion at the Bay of Pigs in southwest Cuba.

The plan initially called for a group of Cuban exiles—about 1,400 men who called themselves the 2506 Brigade—to land on a beach in Cuba, fight their way to the mountains, and begin a guerilla war against Castro. The CIA’s belief was that Castro was widely hated in Cuba and once the exiles began fighting on the island, there would be a popular uprising and Castro would be defeated or deposed.

To effect this invasion, Cuban pilots would be given old American B26 bombers repainted to hide American markings and give the impression of Cuban pilots who had defected from Castro. These bombers would attack and destroy Castro’s small air force on the ground before the beach landings to ensure the defenders couldn’t prevent the assault.

Kennedy wanted to ensure that no overt U.S. military personnel were involved so as to give plausible deniability that America was behind the attacks. He was concerned about the growing Soviet cooperation with Cuba and feared that in a worst-case scenario, if Khrushchev thought the United States were invading Cuba, they might join the fight and retaliate directly against the United States. The plan went awry even before the operation got started.

In a shocking development, on 7 April, fully ten days before the planned start of the operation, the New York Times revealed the plan in stunning detail. “For nearly nine months,” the story began, “Cuban exile military forces dedicated to the overthrow of Premier Fidel Castro have been training in the United States as well as in Central America… Its purpose is the liberation of Cuba from what it describes as the Communist rule of the Castro regime.”

This should have ended the operation, as all surprise was now lost and implications of U.S. government involvement were strong. Kennedy’s instincts told him it would fail and he should scuttle the mission. But too many in the president’s inner circle of advisors convinced Kennedy that the development would not fatally undermine the plan. He was not strong enough to withstand the influence of experienced advisors, and so decided not to cancel the mission. He would come to regret the decision.

Next, the planners compounded the strategic blunder of the leaked plan with a tactical error. On 15 April, the makeshift air force of B26 bombers attacked three airfields near the landing zone in the Bay of Pigs. Because Castro was on alert as a result of the New York Times piece, his forces were on high alert and the damage from the airstrikes was limited.

Moreover, now fully convinced an invasion was coming, he fully mobilized his population, readied his fighter planes, and had military and militia personnel on standby. When the attack began on 17 April, Castro and his troops were ready. It was a bloodbath.

Many of the landing craft were attacked and sunk before hitting the beach. The rest of the invasion force was pinned down on the beach. The antiquated air force Castro had was still enough to defeat unprotected men on the beach. The members of the 2506 Brigade begged the United States for air support.

If they could get American fighters and bombers to destroy Castro’s defenders on the beach, they believed they could move inland and execute the plan. Kennedy would not permit such open use of the U.S. Armed Forces and denied the request. All the exiles were either killed, wounded, or captured.

At an emergency meeting at the United Nations, the Cuban ambassador directly accused the United States of bombing his country. American Ambassador Adlai Stevenson—who had been kept in the dark about the operation—denied the accusation with passion, saying the charges “are totally false and I deny them categorically. The United States has committed no aggression against Cuba and no offensive has been launched from Florida or from any other part of the United States.”

That was, of course, wrong. The operation had been planned at the highest levels of government, including the White House, the Pentagon, and the CIA—which was now blatantly obvious to all. While Kennedy didn’t come clean about everything that had happened, he did honestly address publicly why he didn’t employ the U.S. military assets.

At a speech on 20 April, just three days after the operation had begun, Kennedy addressed the American Society of Newspaper Editors and plainly explained that the news about the operation “has grown worse instead of better.” But amidst the mistakes he had made, the president did clearly articulate his rationale for not worsening the situation by inserting the Armed Forces of the United States.

“Any unilateral American intervention, in the absence of an external attack upon ourselves or an ally,” he explained, “would have been contrary to our traditions and to our international obligations… But let the record show that our restraint is not inexhaustible.” If the communists should ever mistake his restraint for indecision and take action antithetical to U.S. interests, “then I want it clearly understood that this Government will not hesitate in meeting its primary obligations which are to the security of our Nation!”

In the aftermath of the disaster, Kennedy vowed he would never again be cowed by overbearing advisors. He fired senior leaders and advisors, including even the Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles. Though the cost of the Bay of Pigs disaster was high, Kennedy’s strengthened resolve proved decisive in resisting calls for a nuclear attack by the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year, and the security of the nation was preserved.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after 21 years, including four combat deployments. Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

Image: Wikipedia.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019