Category Archives: Military Affairs

Why Is H.R. McMaster Pleading For More War?

The National Interest

May 12, 2019

Retired Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster contends that support for the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan, which is now in its eighteenth year, is being undermined by a “defeatist narrative that’s inaccurate, and doesn’t reflect what’s at stake.” Instead, Americans should see the fight as an “insurance policy” against the collapse of a friendly Afghan government and its replacement by enemies of the United States.

Before becoming President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, McMaster was perhaps best known in policy circles for his 1999 book Dereliction of Duty, a sharp critique of American political and military leaders during the Vietnam War, arguing that it “lost in Washington . . . even before the first American units were deployed.”

Ironically, McMaster is resurrecting two tropes from that era which sustained an unwinnable fight and then shifted blame for our failure: the domino and stabbed-in-the-back theories.

McMaster pleads, “If you think about the importance of the mission in Afghanistan, to protect what is fundamentally a transformed society, from the enemies that we’re facing—the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies — it is a cost that is sustainable.” Moreover, he warns, “They’re trying to establish these emirates. And then stitch these emirates together into a caliphate in which they force people to live under their brutal regime and then export terror to attack their near enemies, Arab states, Israel, and the far enemies, Europe and the United States.”

The echoes of the domino theory are unmistakable in both the dire inevitability and the absurdity of the predicted cataclysm.

In January 1951, then-Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Dean Ruskdeclared, “It is generally acknowledged that if Indochina were to fall . . . Burma and Thailand would follow suit almost immediately. Thereafter, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Indonesia, India, and the others to remain outside the Soviet-dominated Asian Bloc.”

On April 7, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower formalized the theory and give it a name. Asked to comment on “the strategic importance of Indochina for the free world,” the president pointed to the  “possibility that many human beings pass under a dictatorship that is inimical to the free world” and the “broader considerations that might follow what you would call the ‘falling domino’ principle.”

He explained, “You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences.”

How profound?

“But when we come to the possible sequence of events, the loss of Indochina, of Burma, of Thailand, of the Peninsula, and Indonesia following, now you begin to talk about areas that no only multiply the disadvantages that you would suffer through the loss of materials, sources of materials, but now you are talking about millions and millions of people.”

Oh, it gets worse: “It turns the so-called island defensive chain of Japan, Formosa, of the Philippines and to the southward; it moves in to threaten Australia and New Zealand. It takes away, in its economic aspects, that region that Japan must have as a trading area or Japan, in turn, will have only one place in the world to go—that is, toward the Communist areas in order to live. So, the possible consequences of the loss are just incalculable to the free world.”

While those dire warnings seemed plausible to many in those scary early days of the Cold War, they were widely rejected by experts well before the escalation of the American war effort and seem positively absurd in hindsight. Despite a handful of revisionists who argue that America’s losing effort in Vietnam somehow staunched the spread of communism to the region, most see the individual nation-states as independent actors minimally influenced by events in Indochina.

We can’t, of course, know with certainty what will happen in the aftermath of an American withdrawal from Afghanistan. But we do know that Al Qaeda doesn’t need Afghanistan. After being routed there by the initial American invasion in 2001, they reconstituted in Yemen and elsewhere, albeit in a much less centralized, effective form. And the notion that the return of Taliban control over Kabul would engender a global caliphate is more fanciful than Australian going communist in the wake of defeat in Indochina.

Additionally, McMaster’s claim that the American public’s disillusionment with what is now easily the longest war effort in the country’s history is caused by some vague “defeatist narrative” harkens to the excuses made by American military leaders four decades ago.

In 1968, U.S. Marine Col. William R. Corson warned that “an American version of the German ‘stab in the back’ myth is being actively promoted by the hawks on Vietnam.” They were quite successful. It became received wisdom in military circles “that if only Johnson would allow his generals to prosecute the war with sufficient brutality—mining the Haiphong Harbor, destroying the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia—it could be won.”

More than that, though, was the sense that “the military mission had been compromised, even betrayed, by weak-kneed liberalism in Congress and seditious radicalism on college campuses.” Widespread but almost certainly mythological stories of troops returning home from war only to be spat upon and called baby killers “provided reassuring confirmation that had it not been for those duplicitous fifth-columnists, the Vietnamese would have never beaten us.”

Few serious scholars now believe that the war in Vietnam was winnable. The same is true—and has been for quite some time—of Afghanistan. And, indeed, despite the a majority of the American public thinking the war not worth fighting for more than a decade, we have continued muddling along.

To his credit, McMaster concedes that “Afghanistan is not going to become Switzerland. It’s just not.” Instead, he contends, “It can be Afghanistan, and it can be an Afghanistan like it was in the ’70s or like it was during this really short but brutal period of rule under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001.”

But, eighteen years in, there’s little evidence, indeed, that we are anywhere near close to achieving even that modest goal.

The historian Ronald Spector, reviewing McMaster’s book contemporaneously for the New York Times, charged that his “preoccupation with the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations and their decisions displays some of the same ethnocentrism, the same assumption of American omnipotence, for which McMaster pillories the leaders of that era. It largely leaves out of account the ideas, plans and actions of the Vietnamese.”Revisiting the book upon McMaster’s elevation to National Security Advisor, he noted that “American GIs in Vietnam, including this author, usually saw the South Vietnamese government and army as incompetent and ineffective. As an historian, I would still argue that they were corrupt and ineffective, crippled by nepotism and unable to unite.”

Despite so much scholarship since, Spector laments, “the Vietnam War, as viewed by Americans, remains primarily an American story. The culprits are still to be found in the White House and the Pentagon and, depending on your political stance, among the anti-war left of the 1960s. The victims are the American soldiers sent to fight and die in an unnecessary and futile war. Yet more than forty years after the fall of Saigon, Americans are beginning to acknowledge that the Vietnamese had something to do with it.”

Surely, the same is true of the Afghans? No matter how much the American military, its political leadership, and the public they both serve may want to turn Afghanistan into Sweden or even just 1970s Afghanistan, it’s not really up to us.

Additionally, while all we have is a single report of the speech, it appears that McMaster brought out the tired chicken hawk trope that was so popular among neoconservatives during the early days of the conflict. He told of watching a recent town hall in which “A young student stood up and said ‘all I’ve known my whole life is war.’” McMaster observed, “Now, he’s never been to war, but he’s been subjected, I think, to this narrative of war-weariness.”

It’s problematic, indeed, to suggest that citizens who haven’t served in the war shouldn’t be concerned about it. It’s doubtless true that a tiny percentage of them have deployed to combat. But one would hope that they view those being sent to fight and die in that war as fellow citizens whose lives should be risked only in service of the most worthy—and achievable—goals.

Original article

The Pentagon Is Flubbing Its Pitch to Silicon Valley

James Joyner and Matthew Bernius

Defense One

 May 1, 2019

Gen. Joseph Dunford says American tech companies that do business with China hamper “U.S. ability to maintain a competitive military advantage and all that goes with it.”

Such companies, the Joint Chiefs chairman added, “are automatically going to be required to have a cell of the Communist Party in that company. And that is going to lead to that intellectual property from that company finding its way to the Chinese military. It is a distinction without a difference between the Chinese Communist Party, the government, and the Chinese military.”

This follows Frank Hoffman’s warning about Silicon Valley “techno-moralists” whose objection to supplying the U.S. military “could appreciably harm U.S. security interests” and “puts more Americans in danger” when it “restricts the Defense Department from developing capabilities that could enhance U.S. weapons systems by making them more accurate and better at defending the country and its allies.”

These appeals, alas, are likely to fall on deaf ears. If Pentagon leaders are going to persuade tech executives to listen, they’re going to have to do some listening of their own first.

Although many of the foundational technologies of Silicon Valley grew out of projects funded by the Defense Department, American tech culture has long been anti-militarist and globalist. In his classic history From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Fred Turner  cites figures like Stewart Brand who, by the mid-1970s, came to see computers as tools for countercultural transformation. Meshing concepts drawn from cybernetics (itself a project rooted in Defense research) and communalism, Brand and his collaborators argued that digital technologies and information subvert and transcend existing power structures (and the governments and organizations that had constructed them), bringing all citizens of the world closer together. This belief in the revolutionary and unifying power of technology can be found in everything from Apple’s famed 1984 Superbowl ad, to any given issue of Wired magazine, to the way that Mark Zuckerberg talks about Facebook today.

Furthermore, as Greg Ferenstein argues in The Age of Optimists, the culture is inherently post-nationalist. It is “based on a rather extreme idealism about human nature, society, and the future” and “reject[s] the notion that there are inherent conflicts of interests between citizens, the government, corporations or other nations.” At the same time, “They are highly, highly, collectivist. They believe that every single person has a positive obligation to society and the government can help people or coerce people or incentive into making a unique contribution.”

This culture of techno-utopianism stands in stark contrast to the culture of American manufacturing industry. A recent episode of the New York Times podcast “The Daily” examined the way Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and various other U.S.-based tech companies are treating the current controversies, and contrasted it with Dow Chemical’s reaction to protests over their production of napalm for the American war effort in Vietnam. Despite waves of demonstrations organized by the Students for Democratic Society, the company continued to produce the controversial incendiary for years because it felt a patriotic duty.

As reporter Kevin Rose documents, this was a financial disasterfor Dow. The firm’s “reputation plummeted,” its “recruiting ability suffered,” and “its marketing department was forced to embark on a long and expensive campaign to win back the public’s trust.” In the end, “the $5 million napalm contract most likely cost Dow Chemical billions of dollars. And it was the kind of unforced error that could have been avoided if company executives had listened to early signs of opposition, done some risk analysis and changed course.”

But the company had been caught in the crossfire of change. Dow’s executives almost certainly served in uniform during World War II or Korea. And it was unusual, indeed, to question the American government’s rightness in conducting a war. But by the time Dow ceased producing napalm in 1969, the country had turned against the war. And the combination of repeated lies from the political and military leadership about America’s progress in Vietnam and the overlapping Watergate scandal turned the country much more cynical, perhaps permanently.

That attitudinal change has not been evenly spread. In Gallup’s 18 years of polling on how proud Americans are to be American, only 47 percent were “extremely proud” in 2018 compared to a peak of 70 percent in 2003. Those feelings break down in ways one might expect by political party, race, sex, and political ideology. But most significant for our discussion here is that college graduates have consistently been less patriotic by this measure than non-graduates. In 2018, only 39 percent of those with a degree felt “extremely proud” compared to 52 percent of those without.

While there’s no direct polling on this matter for those in Silicon Valley, the trend is almost certainly starker there. Surveys have shown us for decades that tech executives are quite politically liberal, albeit rather libertarian on regulatory issues. But it’s becoming clearer how much more progressive their workers are than the bosses. In the Gallup poll cited previously, a mere 23 percent of liberals were “extremely proud” to be American—compared to 46 percent of moderates and 65 percent of conservatives. Extrapolating from ideology and education, then, we can reasonably conjecture that a minuscule percentage of high-tech workers feel a strong affinity for America.

These surveys may well be masking deeper divides. As Nathaniel Rakich and Dhrumil Mehta argue at FiveThirtyEight,

It could just be that Republicans are more comfortable with the most obvious manifestations of patriotism these days. Public displays of patriotism often assume a pro-military dimension (sometimes purposefully and tactically so), which may be more likely to appeal to Republicans (other polls show they are generally more hawkish than Democrats). Singing “God Bless America” and military flyovers at sporting events also first came into fashion in the years immediately following 9/11, when rallying around the flag coincided with rallying around a Republican president. By contrast, funding AmeriCorps or paying taxes probably aren’t the first things many people think of when they think of patriotism, but lots of Democrats would argue they should be.

Rakich and Mehta cite as evidence a July 2018 YouGov pollshowing stark partisan differences of what counts as “patriotic.” Not surprisingly, Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to view as patriotic such actions as refusing to serve in a war they oppose or burning the American flag in protest.

There’s another reason why the tech sector is less likely to be flag-waving: it’s based in America but quite global. According to one survey, “40 percent of companies in the Fortune 500 were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants” and the rate is even higher for technology companies. A recent study of 87 privately held American start-ups valued at $1 billion or more which discovered that “more than half of them were founded by one or more people from outside the United States. And 71 percent of them employed immigrants in crucial executive roles.” Anecdotally, “One of Google’s founders is an immigrant from Russia, and its current chief executive is an immigrant from India. Microsoft’s chief executive is also from India. eBay and Yahoo were started by immigrants. Facebook’s largest subsidiaries, Instagram and WhatsApp, were both co-founded by immigrants. Apple was started by a child of immigrants.” Further, “at least 57 percent of workers in STEM jobs with a bachelor’s degree or higher were born outside the US.”

While Silicon Valley is an outlier in many regards, elites who don’t work in the national security ecosystem are increasingly divorced from it. One has to be over 50 to remember the days of military conscription, which ended in 1973, and of Social Security age to have been subject to it. For all but a handful of younger Americans, fighting wars is something other people do. They may well honor that service in the breach; but it’s hardly surprising that they want no part in the violence inherent in the enterprise.

Ironically, the best approach for sparking action in Silicon Valley may be to take a page from its counterculture roots and appeal to the humanitarian rather than the jingoistic front. Framing China as an enemy military will be less effective than a techno-moralist argument that the Chinese government will abuse these tools to surveil and oppress their people. The last thing the leaders or creatives want is to become tools of “the Man,” whether he sits in Washington or Beijing. 

Original article 

Does the Military Really Need More Strategists?

War on the Rocks

November 8, 2018

Former National War College dean and retired Brig. Gen. Paula Thornhill should be commended for kicking off a vigorous round of debate on professional military education institutions in July. Many of my objections to her argument have been ably expressed by others, notably my Marine Corps University colleague Tammy Schultz as well as Richard Andres of the National War College. But none have questioned Thornhill’s central premise: that professional military education needs to produce more strategists. Indeed, several, most notably Tino Perez, have amplified it.

The U.S. military doesn’t need to produce thousands of strategists a year, which is a good thing because it cannot. Further, while the professional military education system is a vital part of educating strategic thinkers, the primary obstacle to producing strategic leaders is a personnel system that bases promotions on tactical competence over the first quarter century of an officer’s career.

Thornhill cites retired Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, who lamented that “those who rise to the top of the strategic decision-making pyramid are too often poorly qualified for the task.” Further, while she acknowledges their importance, she contends that “overview courses in strategy and policy, the international system, and key domestic actors in the national security arena” — which, in full disclosure, are my remit — “only tangentially prepare officers for future responsibilities as senior commanders and strategists.” She’s right. But the radical overhaul of professional military education she suggests wouldn’t fix that problem and would create new ones.

While we tell ourselves that the staff colleges transform tactical thinkers into operational leaders, and the war colleges are there to create strategic thinkers, the reality is quite different.

Thornhill wants intermediate level institutions like my own to “focus more on the challenges facing service chiefs and military department secretaries.” Yet, while a handful of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College’s 220-or-so graduates a year go on to a four-star or secretarial staff, the overwhelming number of them will retire without ever serving above the regimental level. Because of the vagaries of Marine Corps officer management, our students range from captains about to pin on the oak leaves of a major to senior majors who will be selected for promotion to lieutenant colonel while in attendance.  Their next assignment could be anywhere from a battalion staff to a four-star staff. By contrast, our sister school, the Army Command and Staff College, selects almost exclusively from the youngest part of that cohort and therefore primes them for battalion operations officer and executive officer posts, with some preparation for battalion command if successful in those assignments. In neither case, then, would it make sense to scrap the current curriculum for one that’s designed to prepare them for jobs they’re unlikely to fill.

Similarly, Thornhill would have senior-level schools “focus more on staffing the senior joint leaders like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense,” even though most war college graduates go on to tactical-level assignments and never move beyond that. Indeed, while almost all of America’s future generals and admirals will be graduates of the war colleges, almost all the graduates of its war colleges will retire as colonels and captains. Somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of a given cohort will advance as far as one-star. Even two-star division commanders, a lofty position few will ever achieve, are still tactical leaders.* Indeed, there are only 38 four-star officers in the entire U.S. military.

To be sure, some small portion will serve as aides or staffers for much more senior officers, including service chiefs, combatant commanders, and civilian secretaries. But Scales himself estimates that the entire joint force needs only “about 200 flag officer and senior colonels-in-waiting as strategists.”

Professional military education absolutely has a role in helping prepare those officers for those key roles. As Andres points out, we already do quite a bit to familiarize them with the structures, complexity, and vocabulary of those environments, as well as the research and writing skills necessary to function as action officers. But transforming 42-year-olds selected for their excellence as tactical leaders and low-level staffers into brilliant strategic thinkers in the course of a ten-month program is simply unrealistic. There’s a reason that Perez, Scales, Thornhill, and other soldier-scholars get PhDs. While not essential or sufficient for creating strategic thinkers, in-depth study of history, political science, or similar disciplines is hugely helpful in having the foundation to move on to the practical application that Perez wants to substitute for education.

The Army recognized that long ago with the creation of its Strategist — or Functional Area 59 (FA59) — program, which selects a handful of talented young officers, typically post-command captains, for their intellectual acumen and then invests considerable time and money educating them to be strategic thinkers. Perez himself is an exemplar of that program.

The problem, as Scales argues elsewhere, is that these officers are taken off the command track and thus are unlikely to make it past the field-grade ranks, creating the “painful dichotomy that those officers best prepared intellectually to become strategic decisionmakers are least likely to rise to positions where they can exercise their decisionmaking talents.” Conversely, ambitious officers who see stars in their future are unlikely to take the strategist career path, meaning those in strategy-making billets are unprepared for them.

Scales has argued for fixing this by selecting a larger pool of strategists early and then putting them through a Darwinian process managed at the very top, such that the finest soldier-scholars emerge as senior leaders. While this might indeed produce better strategists at the top, it would have the perverse effect of wasting the competent tactical leaders that our military produces in abundance. We need hundreds of battalion commanders and destroyer captains at a time — and scores of regimental and wing commanders. While strategic competence might be a bonus in those billets, it’s hardly a prerequisite.

I would suggest that, rather than attempt to create hundreds of strategic geniuses and then put them through their paces for 25 or 30 years of tactical assignments for which they may well be unsuited, we simply decouple the two altogether. Let outstanding tactical officers command our formations, from platoon through division, while allowing officers who show strategic promise to utilize their talents where they can best serve the nation. Indeed, we have done that with some frequency in the not-too-distant past.

Dwight Eisenhower, who wrote the U.S. war plan for both the European and Pacific theaters and served as the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, is perhaps the epitome of American strategic genius. He had essentially no command experience below the three-star level, having only briefly held company and battalion command (for five and four months, respectively). He had spent almost his entire career up to that point on the personal staffs of generals like Fox Conner, John Pershing, and Douglas MacArthur, or in very senior aide and chief of staff posts. He also excelled as a staff and war college student.

Eisenhower spent most of his career in an Army that was essentially a cadre force. In today’s Army, it would be impossible for someone who followed his career path to get promoted past lieutenant colonel, much less to the general officer ranks. That’s precisely the problem: Someone with his talents would have been squandered as a low-tactical staff officer and, indeed, he may well have grown bored. But, if the goal is to identify and nurture strategic talent, Eisenhower is precisely the sort of officer we want to retain.

Gen. George Marshall, who was Army chief of staff during the war, had a similarly non-traditional career. While he had more troop time than Eisenhower, serving as a platoon leader, company commander, and in multiple tours as a brigade and regimental commander, most of his career was nonetheless spent as a staff officer and aide to senior officers. He rose to five-star rank never having commanded a division, corps, or higher formation. Like Eisenhower, he had also excelled in school, graduating first in his class at the infantry school and staff and war colleges.

Gen. (ret.) Colin Powell, arguably the most highly regarded American military strategist since World War II, was also known as a “political general.” To be sure, he excelled in tactical command assignments from lieutenant to colonel. But his strategic acumen was formed in Washington assignments, including White House fellow, assistant to the deputy secretary of defense, assistant to the secretary of energy, senior military assistant to the secretary of defense, and national security advisor. Befitting the requirements of the modern-day personnel system, he served briefly as commander of both V Corps and Forces Command. But he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at 52, the youngest officer to hold that post to this day, at an age where his contemporaries were assuming division command. He likewise excelled in the classroom, earning an MBA at The George Washington University and graduating at the top of his National War College class.

Gen. (ret.) David Petraeus, the most famous general of the post-9/11 era, had a far more traditional career. He commanded at every level from lieutenant to four-star general. He did, however, spend far more time in school than his contemporaries. After graduating at the top of his staff college class, he went on to earn his master’s in public administration and PhD in international relations from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton and later completed a fellowship at Georgetown. Additionally, he served an unusual number of times working directly for influential generals. He served twice as a personal assistant to John Galvin, first as his aide-de-camp as 24th Infantry Division commander and later as his military assistant as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. He was an aide and assistant executive officer to Gen. Carl Vuono during his time as Army chief of staff. Later still, he served as executive assistant to the director of the Joint Staff and then to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Henry Shelton.

As those examples show, the professional military education system plays a vital part in producing military strategists. Just as important, though, is identifying officers with the intellectual and political acumen to succeed in that domain early and grooming them with assignments where they can utilize and build on their talent. Graduate education in top civilian universities, attendance at additional planning courses like the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies or the Marine Corps’ School of Advanced Warfighting, or grooming through something like the Army’s Strategist Functional Area program may also be quite useful. But this means accepting deviation from the cookie cutter personnel management system.

All of this focus on grooming strategic talent for the upper ranks of the armed services elides another important point: Strategy-making is increasingly the province of civilians. While it has been the case for generations that presidents and service secretaries make policy, the National Security Act of 1947 and the massive standing military of the Cold War, and beyond, led to the creation of massive professional staffs at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. There is a huge pipeline of talent coming from our top graduate schools through various programs like the Presidential Management Fellowship. Rather than spending their 20s and early 30s proving their mettle in tactical leadership billets, they start their careers at the strategic level, and the best enter the Senior Executive Service (equivalent to the general officer ranks) while their uniformed counterparts are still attending staff colleges.

We still want our senior generals and admirals to be able to perform at the strategic level, translating civilian-made policy and political strategy into military strategy and operational art. But proficiency at the operational and tactical level is the sine qua non of the officer’s career. Let’s not sacrifice what we’re demonstrably good at in search of a handful of unicorns.

_______________

*The precise line between the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war — or whether these even properly exist — has been a topic of endless debate going on for nearly four decades. Army doctrine assigned the operational level to the three-star corps commander with the 1982 edition of its Field Manual 100-5, Operations, which introduced the concept to American doctrine. Current joint doctrine assigns the operational level to combined task force leaders at the three-star level. See Joint Publication 3.0, Joint Operations, I-12-15.

Original article 

It’s Not the Military’s Job to Oppose Trump

The National Interest

November 3, 2018

President Donald Trump’s promise to send large numbers of troops to the southern border to stop the so-called migrant caravan making its way north through Mexico has been, to say the least, controversial. Many have called on Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to put his foot down on the matter. Some, notably Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius, have called for Joint Chiefs chairman Joe Dunford to do the same. This misapprehends the proper role of the military leadership in our society.

While I share the misgivings about using the military to stop unarmed asylum seekers for a variety of reasons beyond the scope of this essay, it is well within Trump’s remit as commander-in-chief of the armed forces to order their deployment for that purpose. Indeed, as Ignatius acknowledges, many other presidents have done so.  There are some legal questions about what active duty troops under Title 10 federal authority (as opposed to National Guard soldiers under Title 32 authority) may be asked to do. But, so far as we know, they have so far been asked to perform only unquestionably lawful support functions.

To the extent that Mattis and Dunford disagree with the policy, they owe it to the nation and their President to give their best advice against it. Despite his impulsiveness, Trump has demonstrated that he is persuadable by Mattis in particular. Presuming they have tried and failed to convince the President to reverse course, however, they have two legitimate choices: carry out the order to the best of their ability or resign their posts in protest and continue their fight from the outside.

While I agree with those who argue the deployment is an unseemly “political stunt,” that would seem an odd hill, indeed, to choose to die on.  It has been understood from at least the time of Carl von Clausewitz that the military exists to serve political aims. The Joint Staff recently reiterated this, observing in a doctrinal publication that “the strategist must recognize and accept that those policy goals are created within the chaotic and emotional realm of politics” and that therefore “The military professional who believes politics has no place in strategy does not understand the fundamentals of strategy.”

Unless they believe the order unlawful or one that seriously endangers U.S. national security—and it would be difficult to make either argument based on what we know so far of Trump’s plan—Mattis and Dunford are much more valuable inside the room where they can help steer the policy clear of legal and moral pitfalls. While one presumes that Trump’s recent bombast about troops firing their guns at migrants with rocks is mere bluster, ensuring that our policies comport with American values and the laws of armed conflict is a vital role that Mattis and Dunford can and must play.

Dunford, in particular, must appear always above the political fray since he is a uniformed officer. His duty is to render his best military advice to the President, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Council. In private. His public commentary ought to reflect the policy preferences of the elected decision-makers, not his own or those of the brass.

To the extent that the Chairman’s personal views on the matter should be made public while he remains in uniform, it’s the job of the Congress to ask him on the record. That both Houses are currently controlled by the President’s party makes it unlikely they’ll do so.

If the public is unsatisfied with this arrangement, they have another opportunity to weigh in on the matter at the ballot box next Tuesday and again two years after that. It is not the job of the military leadership to override the policy preferences of their elected bosses.

Original article .

Why ‘Different Spanks for Different Ranks’ Are Often Justified

James Joyner and Butch Bracknell

Defense One

March 6, 2018

A leading lawmaker has called out the Air Force for never trying a single general officer by court-martial in its entire history, suggesting it shows higher-ranking personnel face different standards of punishment. Indeed, courts-martial for flag and general officers in all four services are exceedingly rare, particularly in recent history.

“I think we do have a problem with different spanks for different ranks,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, said in a Feb. 7 hearing into misconduct by senior military leaders, held by the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee. “As I understand it, there have been 70,000 courts-martial in the Air Force, for instance, and not one general officer has ever been court-martialed.” Her observation is technically true, as famed air power pioneer Billy Mitchell was administratively reduced in the Army Air Corps from brigadier general to colonel before his 1925 court-martial for insubordination. Mitchell’s trial was born not of salacious personal misconduct, but of his fiery, scathing critiques of the war department for not advancing the cause of air power with sufficient vigor. How times have changed: Mitchell was tried and convicted for advocating too fervently for his service. In modern days, admirals and generals are far more likely to be punished for corruption, graft, and sex crimes.

While Speier focused her ire on the Air Force, she also cited two former Army generals ― Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis, who used his government credit card at strip clubs in Rome and Seoul, and four-star Gen. William “Kip” Ward, who misused thousands of taxpayer dollars, borrowed military aircraft for personal use, and had staff members run personal errands for him. But while both officers lost a star ― and Ward was ordered to repay $82,000 ― neither was tried by court-martial. Speier omitted the recent, infamous cases of retired Maj. Gen. James Grazioplene, who was recalled from retirement to stand trial by court-martial for sexual assault offenses alleged to have occurred from 1983 to 1989; and Brig. Gen. Jeff Sinclair, charged with forcible sodomy and other charges related to fraternization. Sinclair pled guilty and was sentenced to a fine and a reprimand, then allowed to retired as a lieutenant colonel. Interestingly, Grazioplene’s prosecution will likely end on statute-of-limitation grounds, thanks to a recent landmark opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

“A junior enlisted would get prosecuted” for doing what Lewis did, Speier said. Turning to Ward’s offenses, she said, “That’s theft, and under normal circumstances, that would be subject to a court-martial. One of the things that I would like to do…is that we take the time to make sure that everyone is being treated fairly in the military.” Speier omitted that Ward spent 24 months in limbo during the Department of Defense Inspector General’s Investigation as the “Special Assistant to the Army Vice Chief of Staff” – a do-nothing job with no official duties. Ward was paid over $200,000 annually for two years to wait on the completion of an investigation that would quietly end his career and retire him as a lieutenant general, without a public airing of the charges against him. That is certainly good work, if you can get it.

But Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris, the Air Force’s inspector general, disagreed. She said the Air Force’s data don’t show a disparity in punishments, and declared, “We hold our officers, actually, to a higher standard of accountability.”

Speier and Harris are both right. Officers are, from selection and throughout their careers, held to much higher standards than enlisted personnel, particularly those in the lowest ranks. But more senior personnel are also accorded special treatment and do, in fact, avoid punishments for acts that, if performed by a junior enlisted member, would certainly result in trial by court-martial and often confinement, if convicted.

During ordinary times — that is, when the armed services are not desperate for personnel because of a war―it is difficult to receive a commission, but it is easy to enlist. The military institution needs vastly more enlisted personnel. There are recruiting centers all across the country, with recruiters under heavy pressure to meet monthly quotas. Would-be officers, meanwhile, must compete actively for service academy appointments, ROTC slots, and the like. An appointment is no guarantee of a commission; Marine Corps Officer Candidates School boasts a typical 36 percent attrition rate, a figure that shows how seriously the Corps takes the award. Similarly, the promotion process actively tries to pare the officer ranks, with a brutal cut of 30 to 40 percent of the entire cohort at the selection point for major/lieutenant commander around the ten-year mark; enlisted soldiers can easily serve the 20 years to retirement if they’re marginally competent and refrain from major violations of the UCMJ.

Officers and senior NCOs are treated like professionals, whereas junior enlisted are treated almost like children. If a private is a few minutes late to work, all hell breaks loose. If a sergeant or captain is late, it is quite possible nobody will even notice since they typically don’t have a reporting formation. Even if a supervisor notices, they’ll much more readily accept normal “life happens” explanations―sick kid, stuck in traffic, and the like―in view of the responsibility the NCO and officer shoulder on behalf of the institution, and the fact NCOs and officers often work hours long past the time the troops have headed to the enlisted club, planning training and exercises, writing performance evaluations and awards, and studying their profession.

The more senior the soldier, the more they are held to high professional standards. They are expected to know their craft and set the right example for their subordinates. But they are also given much more credit for their past service and more benefit of the doubt for transgressions. Commanders, quite rightly, do not want to end the career of a good soldier, officer or enlisted, after 15 or 20 years of honorable service. Doing so would be not only demoralizing to subordinates, who will be signaled that their contributions, too, will be dismissed if they make one mistake, but the penalty is simply more harsh as time goes on―loss of retirement pay and the end of a chosen career.

For example, one of the authors of this piece was involved in a misconduct case years ago in Iraq: a violation of General Order 1 regarding the consumption of alcohol. Seven lieutenants from a single squadron slated for redeployment celebrated a couple days too early by getting drunk in their quarters on a major U.S.airbase. These seven officers had accumulated scores of Air Medals and Strike/Flight numerals, and had hundreds of hours of combat flight time between them. They were the future of Marine combat aviation in their aircraft type. If the general officer deciding their fate had applied the same standard as he would have a lance corporal in that circumstance, he would have robbed the Corps of a major fraction of a generation of combat aviation expertise. Instead, he took the seven lieutenants to nonjudicial punishment, locked them down for the rest of the deployment, and, upon returning to their home station, set aside the punishment and removed the marker from the record books―never to be mentioned again and recorded nowhere in any Marine personnel record. It was a completely legitimate outcome, because the Corps had millions of dollars and thousands of hours of experience invested in these seven officers. At last count, five of them are now majors in Marine squadrons or on instructor duty, teaching a new generation of nugget pilots how to fly in combat. “One size fits all” punishment in this instance would have been a penny-wise, pound-foolish outcome

Similarly, a general officer will have served at least 22 years before pinning on that first star; four-star officers may be close to four decades in uniform. Because they’re expected to set the highest example, they will be cashiered for offenses―say, sleeping with the wife of a subordinate―that a more junior soldier might survive. At the same time, it would be unconscionable to strip away all they have contributed over anything but a heinous offense that seriously damages their position and the faith that more junior personnel place in them. The example of Kip Ward springs to mind―helping himself to lavish luxuries at the government’s expense, in a salacious display of self-entitlement that would make Caligula blush. Ward’s breaches of integrity earned his inglorious end―yet, even so, his career was ended without a court-martial.

Finally, it is also true there’s a “protect our own” mentality within the “club” of the senior ranks. These people will have served together for decades and will have greater empathy for one another than for a junior soldier. Many of them see leadership of the armed forces as a sacred calling for which few are chosen, and they protect their prerogatives accordingly. There is also the fear that scandals among the senior ranks will damage the prestige in which the profession is held by the general public, which perversely cultures a general atmosphere of See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil. The combination of these factors leads to pressuring generals who have violated the rules to resign quietly―ending their career but keeping their pensions and the lucrative private-sector salary that comes with being a retired flag officer.

This, naturally, looks bad from the standpoint of a young private or a member of Congress. There are, indeed, different spanks for different ranks. But there are also different considerations.

Original article 

‘Bloody Nose’ Strike Illegal but Unstoppable

RealClearDefense

February 9, 2018

Eighteen Democratic Senators have reportedly signed a letter to President Trump informing him they are “deeply concerned about the potential consequences of a preemptive military strike on North Korea and the risks of miscalculation and retaliation.” Further, they assert, “without congressional authority, a preventative or preemptive U.S. military strike would lack either a constitutional basis or legal authority.”

They are certainly right. Under the provisions of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, “The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” While it has never been tested in court, there’s little question that this framing is Constitutionally sound. (The subsequent provisions giving Congress the power to force the president to cease hostilities after 60/90 days are much more contested.)

The problem, alas, is that there’s simply nothing the Senate, or the Congress as a whole, can do to stop the President from acting as he sees fit. The House could certainly impeach him after the fact for overstepping his legal authority and, subsequent to that, the Senate could punish him by removing him from office. But the strike itself would be a fait accompli—as would the almost certain international war that would follow.

The Constitution famously set forth, as Edward S. Corwin put it over fifty years ago, an “invitation to struggle” over foreign policy and military affairs. Article I gives Congress the power to declare war, control of defense appropriations, and all manner of authority to regulate the armed forces. Article II makes the President commander-in-chief. In theory, the legislature is much more powerful in peacetime and the advantage shifts to the executive when the nation is at war. The reality is not that simple.

The mere existence of a standing force gives the President enormous leverage. Teddy Roosevelt recognized this more than a century ago. In his memoirs, he described a standoff with Congress over sailing the Navy into the Pacific:

The head of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs announced that the fleet should not and could not go because Congress would refuse to appropriate the money—he being from an Eastern seaboard State. However, I announced in response that I had enough money to take the fleet around to the Pacific anyhow, that the fleet would certainly go, and that if Congress did not choose to appropriate enough money to get the fleet back, why, it would stay in the Pacific. There was no further difficulty about the money.

Roosevelt understood that, while Congress certainly had the power to withhold funds, it would have been politically impossible for them to do so. Realistically, then, a President’s action with a force-in-being is limited mostly by the political fallout that ensues, not the approval of Congress.

Historically, the size of the force was itself a powerful constraint. While the United States has maintained a sizable Navy for the last century and a half, the Army was typically a garrison force until Congress declared war and provided the authority and money to build it up. That tradition ceased with the advent of the Korean War in 1950. While the nation continued buildups for war and drawdowns after, the exigencies of the Cold War and the desired for continued global hegemony in its aftermath have kept the “peacetime” force massive by global standards. This has significantly enhanced the freedom of maneuver of the commander-in-chief.

The existence of nuclear forces complicates matters even more. The deterrence strategy of the Cold War depended on the President be able to order a massive retaliatory strike on the Soviet Union in short order. It was simply not feasible to involve Congress in the decision, given the exigencies of time. While the Cold War has been over more than a quarter-century, few questioned the notion that the commander-in-chief should retain that power until Trump assumed that post and began routinely issuing provocations via his Twitter account.

Hearings this past November before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee aimed at rethinking this policy. Senator Chris Murphy, a signatory to Monday’s letter, declared at the time, “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests.”

Alas, witnesses including the sitting and former commanders of US nuclear forces, former national security officials, and scholars were unanimous that there was little that could be done by Congress to prevent such a strike. While lawyers could advise the president against the action and civilian and uniformed professionals are duty-bound to refuse to follow orders they deem illegal or immoral, the entire system is predicated on swift obedience to the duly elected commander-in-chief. A President hell-bent on launching missiles would simply fire people until he got to ones who would carry out the order.

The bottom line is that absent radical disarmament on a scale that no serious analyst is calling for, the major restraint on a President’s war powers rests with his or her character and good judgment. The public ought to seriously weigh whether they trust a candidate to make life-and-death decisions before entrusting them with such awesome responsibilities. Failing that, the Constitution provides the extreme options of removal via the aforementioned impeachment process and the provisions of the 25th Amendment. Both of those are extreme options, however, that would undermine faith in our democracy if undertaken in other than the most exigent circumstances. Otherwise, we must wait until the next election and hope the public chooses more wisely—and that the commander-in-chief does not start World War III in the meantime.

Original article 

The New National Defense Strategy: Everything is a Priority

The National Interest

February 2, 2018

Lost to all but the most committed security wonks in the midst of the government shutdown debacle was the unveiling by Secretary Jim Mattis of a new National Defense Strategy. At first blush, it’s a bold declaration of the Trump administration’s priorities. In reality, there’s little new here—least of all a real strategy.

This is the first National Defense Strategy in nearly a decade. The last was published under the signature of Bob Gates in June 2008, during the latter days of the Bush administration. There was, however, a document published in January 2012 known in national-security circles, if not its cover page, as the Defense Strategic Guidance, which had a similar remit.

The most remarked-upon aspect of the new NDS is its declaration that “the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers.” But this isn’t really that remarkable. While it’s true that the 2008 NDS declares, “For the foreseeable future, this environment will be defined by a global struggle against a violent extremist ideology that seeks to overturn the international state system,” that’s hardly shocking given that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were in full swing. But even that document conceded, in the very next sentence, “Beyond this transnational struggle, we face other threats, including a variety of irregular challenges, the quest by rogue states for nuclear weapons, and the rising military power of other states.” Literally all of those remain, if in different sequence, in the 2018 version.

Similarly, the 2012 DSG mentions all the same threats. Most significantly, it takes increased notice of China’s rise, announcing the so-called “Asia Pivot.” It does, however, highlight the chief strategic blind spot of the Obama administration in its declaration “our engagement with Russia remains important, and we will continue to build a closer relationship in areas of mutual interest and encourage it to be a contributor across a broad range of issues.” That’s the only mention of Russia in the document, outshone in its wrongheadedness only by the president’s snide quip to Mitt Romney that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”

Regardless, while the Defense Department has devoted enormous resources to fighting violent extremism in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, planning for war with near-peer adversaries has always been front and center—especially at the level of the service departments (Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines), which are responsible for organizing, training, and equipping our armed forces. F-35 fighters and Ford-class carriers weren’t bought with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State in mind.

Earlier this week, Tom Spoehr rightly observes, “To have real-world value, a defense strategy must establish priorities. That requires making tough choices.” But I couldn’t disagree more with his assessment that “in this document those choices are made.” Yes, as Spoehr notes, there’s the aforementioned declaration that China and Russia pose the “central challenge.” But there’s nothing in either the document or the actions in the first year of the Trump administration to indicate that lesser challenges will receive any less attention than they have in the recent past.

While China—and especially Russia—are called out much more vociferously than in the previous two defense strategies and termed “principal priorities for the Department,” they’re also termed “long-term strategic competitions,” language very similar to those of the 2008 and 2012 documents. As to the lesser threats, “Concurrently, the Department will sustain its efforts to deter and counter rogue regimes such as North Korea and Iran, defeat terrorist threats to the United States, and consolidate our gains in Iraq and Afghanistan while moving to a more resource-sustainable approach.” Granting that one wouldn’t expect an unclassified, public-facing document to tell adversaries that they’re not a priority, it’s hard to read “sustain,” “defeat,” and “consolidate” as some sort of cutback.

Indeed, as Christopher Preble details elsewhere, aside from the standard lip service about bureaucratic efficiency (and yet another call for a Base Realignment and Closure process that Congress has signaled time and again it has no stomach for) there’s no concession anywhere in the document that there will be any prioritization at all. Indeed, it’s a veritable Christmas wish list. It declares that a “backlog of deferred readiness, procurement, and modernization requirements has grown in the last decade and a half and can no longer be ignored.” Accordingly, Mattis envisions that the 2019–2023 budget requests will call for “accelerating our modernization programs and devoting additional resources in a sustained effort to solidify our competitive advantage” across the entire spectrum of conflict. Among the highlights of the envisioned spending spree: “modernize the nuclear triad,” “investments in resilience, reconstitution, and operations to assure our space capabilities,” “invest in cyber defense, resilience, and the continued integration of cyber capabilities into the full spectrum of military operations,” “developing resilient, survivable, federated networks and information ecosystems from the tactical level up to strategic planning,” “layered missile defenses and disruptive capabilities for both theater missile threats and North Korean ballistic missile threats,” and “invest broadly in military application of autonomy, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, including rapid application of commercial breakthroughs, to gain competitive military advantages.” That’s just a sampling from one section of the wish list.

While the above assessment sounds harsh, it’s not really a criticism of Mattis or the NDS. In point of fact, everything being asked for here is perfectly in line with not only President Trump’s recent National Security Strategy (which I wrote about last month) but the last several strategy documents, including those of the Obama administration (of which I was also quite critical).

If the United States wishes to have global hegemony, then it needs to do precisely what Mattis is asking for. Being able to deter and, if it comes to it, defeat major powers like China and Russia while at the same time constraining rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea, as well as non-state actors like the Islamic State and Boko Haram, and while maintaining access to the global commons of sea, space and cyberspace, is going to require that the United States spend a whole lot more money than it’s already spending. There is little evidence, however, that there is the political will to implement massive tax hikes or cut funding elsewhere in the budget in order to achieve that goal.

Original article

Who Suffers the Most from Government Shutdowns?

The National Interest

January 23, 2018

he federal government shutdown of 2018—or, at least, the first one—ended with only one workday missed. To the extent ordinary citizens noticed at all, they likely think it was no big deal. This is especially true with regards to the impact on the U.S. military, who they’ve been steadily assured went right on working, without so much as having to endure the hardship of missing the weekend’s NFL playoff games. In fact, however, millions of man-hours of productivity have been lost from this continuing crisis, with a real impact on readiness.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis issued a memorandum at the onset of the shutdown declaring, “We will continue to execute daily operations around the world—ships and submarines will remain at sea, our aircraft will continue to fly and our warfighters will continue to pursue terrorists throughout the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.” While that absolutely happened—and would have continued for quite some time even in an extended shutdown—that’s not all his department does on a daily basis.

While current operations continue, many training and support activities cease—especially those that require travel. Military students at resident courses, including the one where I teach, are allowed to remain in place to continue their studies, but their civilian faculty are sent home. Ongoing field exercises are typically suspended, with personnel required to return to home station. And, depending on which pots of money they’re paid from, students at nonresident schools are often sent home mid-course, only to have to come back at a later date.

At my own institution, which has a roughly even mix of military and civilian faculty, we were able to weather the 2013 shutdown with only modest inconvenience. While we were in the middle of a block of instruction taught by civilian PhDs, we were able to slide lessons taught by lieutenant colonels and commanders to the left.

This go-around, we happen to be in an elective period, and because we have several outside faculty teaching, adjusting the schedule was impractical. Had the shutdown continued another day, the classes designed and normally taught by the furloughed PhDs would have been picked up mid-term by colonels and lieutenant colonels with twenty-four hours to prepare. It was likely the best out of a set of really bad options, but it would have not only been a suboptimal outcome for the students—themselves majors and lieutenant commanders deserving of the best education we can provide—and put the new instructors in an incredibly awkward position, but it would have taken up valuable preparation time for upcoming classes and exercises led by those same officers.

Additionally, while the military students would have remained in the course, their interagency civilian colleagues were furloughed for the duration. During the 2013 shutdown, which lasted sixteen days, this meant that not only were students from the CIA, State Department, and other agencies missing a significant chunk of the curriculum, but the military students were missing the invaluable perspective that they’re in the room to provide. And, because they’re staffed almost exclusively by civilians, the library and similar critical support facilities were closed, as were all manner of base programs and services for the troops and their families.

As I noted in this space after the October 2013 shutdown, the best estimates are that it costs between $2 billion and $4 billion to prepare for a government shutdown and the same amount to get back up and running. And, while this was the first actual shutdown since then, there have been more than a dozen near-shutdowns in the interim, as we continue to fund the government by continuing resolutions, often mere weeks at a time, and play a constant game of chicken with the debt ceiling.

Beyond the financial cost, of course, there is the impact on morale. DoD civilians constantly worry about being furloughed and whether the next paycheck is coming—including right before Christmas this past year. Then-SecretaryChuck Hagel declared “we can’t continue to do this to our people, having them live under this cloud of uncertainty.” If anything, it’s gotten worse, given the frequency of the brinkmanship.

Perhaps worse than the uncertainty is the constant reminder that we’re less valued. While we’ve finally gotten rid of the insulting “essential” vs. “nonessential” label, opting for the more sterile “exempt” and “nonexempt,” the fact remains that the vast majority of the civilian workforce is considered expendable while every single uniformed member of our armed forces is considered mission-critical—even though they’re frequently doing the identical job.

The flip side of that is that, as Mattis declared in his memo, “active forces will stay at their posts adapting their training to achieve the least negative impact on our readiness to fight.” For the duration of the shutdown—and, again, this one was thankfully short—our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen pull double duty, doing their own jobs while trying to cover for the furloughed civilians.

This is a great cost to the nation and its armed forces for no obvious gain. Historically, Congress has always authorized and the president always signed off on back pay for employees furloughed during a shutdown, so we’re actually paying people not to work. Like the debt ceiling, wherein Congress periodically has to authorize borrowing the money it has already voted to spend or else put the nation in peril, it’s an absurdity that needs to end.

In the meantime, we’re scheduled to go through this farce again on February 8.

Original article

Generals and Political Interventions in American History

War on The Rocks

August 4, 2016

In a curt letter to The Washington Post, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, reacting to speeches by two recently retired generals — Michael Flynn and John Allen — before the Republican and Democratic conventions, declared that, “The military is not a political prize.” Dempsey explained:

The American people should not wonder where their military leaders draw the line between military advice and political preference. And our nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines should not wonder about the political leanings and motivations of their leaders.

Certainly, this is not a new controversy.  Way back in 1992, one of Dempsey’s predecessors Admiral William Crowe gave a speech endorsing Bill Clinton for the White House as the future president was facing criticism over his dodging of the draft during Vietnam.  He was soon joined by another 20 retired generals and admirals, many of whom, like Crowe, had seen their military advice overruled by Clinton’s opponent, sitting President George H.W. Bush.

Moreover, the United States has a long history, literally going back to the founding, of retired generals entering politics.  George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, Franklin Pierce, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, and Dwight Eisenhower all rose to the presidency at least partially on the strength of their military records.  In recent times, Wesley Clark ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination and there was a serious effort to recruit Colin Powell to run as well.  Indeed, there was an effort this cycle to draft Jim Mattis, who showed no interest in the pursuit.

Retired generals have involved themselves into political debates in myriad other ways. Ten years ago, in what came to be called the “revolt of the generals,” when several just-retired generals, most of whom had been “in the inner circle of policy formation or execution of the Administration,” openly lambasted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, with whom they’d had disagreements while in uniform, over the Iraq War.  And, of course, the nickname of the controversy was a play on the “revolt of the admirals” of 1949, in which active and retired flag officers squared off against President Harry Truman over a decision to cut an aircraft carrier to fund a new strategic bomber.

The ethical norms around each of these political interventions differs and none of them are particularly well-settled. There is no serious question whether they have a legal right to do any of these things; they clearly do. Yet there is reason to be concerned about the impact on civil-military relations when the most senior officers join the political fray.

Clearly, there’s a distinction between declaring oneself a candidate for office and endorsing a candidate.   As Duke political scientist Peter Feaver notes, “When you stand for office you officially cross over and become a politician — you are viewed as a partisan politician and thenceforth can only speak as a partisan.”

But what about endorsing? Obviously, it makes no sense to declare a moratorium on any veteran or former soldier ever speaking about politics. That would disenfranchise a huge number of people and deprive the public debate of an important perspective.  And, indeed, it would be an odd argument for me to make, since I’m a former Army officer.

While there is no clear standard, the rank at which one separated from the service and the proximity of said separation are part of the equation.  Nobody seriously thinks someone who left active duty as a first lieutenant, as I did, represents the service.  And, even for very senior officers, that presumption fades with time.

Dempsey took a stab out laying out the distinction while he was still chairman. In a May 2014 session at the Atlantic Council, he observed:

If you want to get out of the military and run for office, I’m all for it. But don’t get out of the military – and this is a bit controversial, I got it – don’t get out of the military and become a political figure by throwing your support behind a particular candidate.

His rationale is spot on

[I]f somebody asks me, when I retire, to support them in a political campaign, do you think they’re asking Marty Dempsey, or are they asking General Dempsey? I am a general for life, and I should remain true to our professional ethos, which is to be apolitical for life unless I run.

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Doug Crowder, writing in Proceedings last November, expanded that argument, contendingthat those who wear stars on their shoulder boards “are not merely private citizens after retirement” but rather part of a unique vanguard:  a general or “admiral for life.”

Crowder explains that his view on the issue was informed by his experience serving on the Joint Staff early in the Clinton administration when a civilian staffer, annoyed at being told that an issue being proposed would be opposed by the chairman, responded, “Well, maybe it’s time we got some Clinton generals in here.”

He was aghast at the notion that the civilian leadership would think senior officers would fail to support the elected commander-in-chief for partisan reasons, until he remembered that Crowe had in fact joined the fray in endorsing Clinton during the campaign. Crowder writes, “I have never met a finer officer and gentleman, but I could see how the public could misunderstand why an admiral was making a public political endorsement of a presidential candidate.”

As Crowder notes, “the Crowe endorsement opened the floodgates for future retired flag and general officer political endorsements.” They are now routinely trotted out by both parties. During the 2012 cycle a full page newspaper ad ran “listing the well over 300 retired flag and general officers who ‘Proudly support Governor Mitt Romney as our nation’s next President and Commander-in-Chief.’”

Certainly the Republic has not crumbled as a result. And the military continues to be near the top of all institutions in terms of the confidence of the American public. Still, the next president will surely have cause to wonder about the loyalty of the senior officers upon whose “best military advice” they are counting.

There are few general officers, active or retired, whose judgment on national security matters I respect more than John Allen’s. While there are things in his convention speech with which I disagree, I share his assessment that Hillary Clinton is more fit to serve as commander-in-chief than Donald Trump (granted, a low bar).

But Allen didn’t simply present himself as a seasoned policy hand.  His very first words in his convention speech were,

My fellow Americans, I stand with you tonight as a retired four-star general of the United States Marine Corps, and I am joined bymy fellow generals and admirals, and with these magnificent young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan” [emphasis mine].

He thus wrapped himself not only in his own substantial personal credibility but in that of his profession.

That continued after the speech. Trump, as is his wont, counterpunched, calling Allen “a failed general.” In response, Allen invoked the prestige of his profession, retorting, “He has no credibility to criticize me or my record or anything I have done.” He continued, “If he’d spent a minute in the deserts of Afghanistan or in the deserts of Iraq, I might listen to what he has to say.”  Worse yet, he termed Trump’s comments “a direct insult to every single man and woman who’s wearing the uniform today.”

Now, Trump’s assertion that Allen is a “failed general” because we haven’t defeated the Islamic State is at best simplistic and arguably absurd. But, having joined the political fray in such a full-throated way, Allen is fair game. Hiding behind the armor of the uniform he proudly wore and the troops who now serve is highly problematic for the institution, which holds such high prestige and has such tremendous value in our system of government precisely because it is viewed as a loyal servant of the nation rather than a partisan tool.

Further, it makes Allen’s warnings that electing Trump could result in “a civil military crisis, the like of which we’ve not seen in this country,” especially ominous.  He was, rightly, pointing out the moral dilemma that would face the uniformed leadership were Trump to assume office and actually try and enact some of the off-the-cuff musings on international relations as policy. Were Trump to assume the mantle of commander-in-chief and issue an order the brass believed unlawful, they would have a duty to advise him accordingly and to abide by the laws of this nation and the laws of war. There are appropriate venues for airing that discussion, such as a Congressional hearing. A national political convention is not one of them. But, in context of a retired general who has just spoken as a party convention, it comes across as a warning that the military would be disloyal if a president of the wrong party were elected. This could lead to a calamitous state of affairs.

Meanwhile, Flynn not only spoke at the Republican convention but was purportedly on the short list to be Trump’s running mate. Even though he was not selected for the ticket, he has taken on an attack dog role, even carrying the fight to Twitter where, in what one hopes was a newbie’s incompetence, he enthusiastically retweeted an anti-Semitic attack on Clinton. That is, to say the least, not a good look.

Flynn, who retired as the three-star head of the Defense Intelligence Agency just shy of two years ago, has been an active opponent of the Obama White House almost from the moment he hung up his uniform. He declared last year that, “The people in the United States have lost respect and confidence in their government to be able to solve the problems that we face now and in the future.” Feaver warned at the time that Flynn’s aggressive criticism could undermine policymakers’ confidence in the brass: “If they suspect ‘this guy’s going to retire and then go on MSNBC and bash me,’ [they might decide] ‘let’s not have that person in the room when we’re really discussing the issues.’” That would be both understandable and catastrophic.

It is technically true, as Richard Swain argues, that “retired officers remain members of the armed forces by law and regulation” and it is therefore reasonable to assume that “they remain at least ethically obliged to observe the limitations imposed by commissioned service.” But there has been little precedent for holding them to that standard. Nor is it reasonable to expect, for example, a retired lieutenant colonel, who already rendered at least two decades of service, to continue to abstain from the full rights and privileges of citizenship for the remainder of his life.

Still, we can nonetheless formalize professional norms for retired generals and admirals. Don Snider, a retired Army colonel and longtime scholar of the profession, argues:

While retirement from active duty does make each one a newly nonpracticing professional, in the world of public perceptions they still act and speak, and are seen and heard, as an esteemed member of the military profession.

As such, they continue to have an obligation to ensure that officership is perceived as “a real profession as opposed to just another governmental bureaucracy.” Otherwise, they undermine the confidence of the civilian leadership, the American public, and rank-and-file soldiers.

We can begin with the distinction that holds for active duty officers and, to a lesser extent, civilian employees of the Defense Department between partisan politicking and issue advocacy. It’s perfectly reasonable and likely valuable for retired officers to weigh in on public debates on controversial issues, like gender integration or proposed military action, where it would be inappropriate or difficult for serving generals to weigh in where their civilian masters have spoken.  (Although, here, the rule may well be the opposite as that for partisan endorsements: the longer the officer has been out of uniform, the less valuable his expertise.)

At the same time, it’s clearly inappropriate for retired generals and admirals to endorse or oppose the re-election of officials they’ve recently served or worked alongside. It simply smacks of disloyalty and brings into retrospective question the advice they rendered while in uniform. Further, it gives the impression, true or otherwise, that their views are shared by their successors — especially those who were protégées. Relatedly, if the endorser is later appointed to a plum post in the administration, as Crowe was, then it looks very much like the imprimatur of the military profession has been auctioned off for advancement.

We already impose a statutory moratorium on certain senior officers from lobbying or accepting a contract from their former agency for two years after retirement. Adding a ban on using their title in partisan political activity for, say, five years would serve the same purpose — removing the appearance of impropriety — without permanently taking them out of the arena. This wouldn’t solve the problem entirely but would put some space between an individual’s time in uniform and partially mitigate the impression that they are speaking for those with whom they recently served.

In an ideal world, retired generals and admirals would simply refuse, as non-practicing members of the profession of arms, to refrain from endorsing political candidates or otherwise engaging in partisan activity.  A Flynn or Allen could still speak out on national security issues that concern them, including those that are part of an ongoing campaign, without explicitly endorsing candidates or appearing at a party convention.  Few would criticize them if they had instead appeared at a think tank or before Congress arguing for a more aggressive approach to fighting ISIL, warning of the dangers to embracing torture, or abandoning protections for non-combatants.

It is essential that our generals and admirals are perceived as loyal to the Constitution, not a political party. A commander-in-chief should have every confidence that they are receiving the best military advice from the chairman, the service chiefs, combatant commanders, and other senior military leaders. Otherwise, it would absolutely be appropriate for the next president to look for “Clinton generals” or “Trump admirals” to fill the top billets. And we clearly do not want that to happen.

Original article

Professional Military Education and the Rigor Problem

War on The Rocks
March 15, 2016

In “Rigor in Joint Professional Military Education,” Nick Murray argues that Congress and the Pentagon have done a poor job defining what it is they want the staff and war colleges to do and, especially, in holding their feet to the fire. This has led, he claims, to “the problems of poor strategic decision-making that have plagued us for the last fifty or more years.”

While there is undoubtedly substantial room for reform in America’s professional military education (PME) system, measuring “rigor” is much more complex than counting buzzwords in school mission statements. Murray’s essay elides the diversity of the PME experience and substantial distinctions between the intermediate- and top-level schools. Further, much of the problems of measurement he points to are just as apparent, if not more so, in graduate education everywhere. Indeed, it’s arguable that PME is more rigorous by Murray’s standards than most civilian master’s programs.

Murray tells us that the staff colleges fail the test of academic rigor because theOfficer Professional Military Education Policy (OPMEP) guidelines that govern them don’t require our graduates to understand strategic thinking at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. While remembering, understanding, and applying are indeed lower levels of mental processing than analyzing, evaluating, and creating, as Murray himself acknowledges, the appropriate expectation varies based on a student’s place on the hierarchy. At the staff colleges, we introduce our students to the policy and strategic levels but we’re decidedly not expecting to produce graduates who are ready to “create” at those levels; that’s what the war colleges, which teach more senior officers, are for. Our graduates need familiarity with the higher levels for context, but they’re only expected to graduate with proficiency in “creating” at the high tactical and operational staff levels. We succeed at that.

Further, the OPMEP makes it very clear that the joint PME requirements “will not be delivered as a stand-alone course; they must be integrated across a diverse array of academic topics” by the service and joint schools that conduct it. These schools have vigorous debates among the faculty and administration about what to include and omit from the curriculum.

Despite sharing some broadly defined common mandates via the OPMEP, schools at the same JPME level vary widely in culture, size, mission, and style. Regardless, their curricula are vetted through an internal review process and subject to outside accreditation by both the same regional body that reviews other colleges and universities in the state as well as by the Joint Staff. At my institution, the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, students in all 16 conference groups are assigned the same set of readings and graded on the same set of written assignments assessed using a standardized rubric. While there’s variation across the board in teaching style, emphasis, grading standards and the like, it’s nothing like what exists in civilian colleges. I’ve taught at several of them and was in every instance the sole arbiter of what readings to assign, what content to teach, what types of graded assignments to offer, and how I would grade them. This was even true of the courses I taught as a graduate student.

Indeed, professional pride on the part of the professoriate is the main guarantee of “rigor” in civilian universities. There’s next to zero emphasis on teaching in most graduate programs, where tenure and promotion are almost entirely based on scholarly production, ability to attract grant money, and the like. Professors would revolt against deans or provosts who even presumed to question the rigor of their courses.

PME, by contrast, is more regimented, for both good and ill. But our faculty, both military and civilian, have very powerful professional incentives to hold our students to high standards. After all, they will plan and lead our country’s future wars.

Original article