by G. Murphy Donovan
Tone is always set at the top.
The early years of the 21st Century may come to be known as the era of invective. One candidate in the 2016 presidential election maligned voters as a “basket of deplorables.” That slur may have prompted enough indignation to give Donald Trump the keys to the White House. The new Commander-in-Chief has been swaggering through a minefield of resentments ever since. Worse still, political partisanship inside the Beltway today now flies under a military guidon.
The best example, of many, is General James Clapper, USAF, erstwhile Director of National Intelligence, a relentless, if not acerbic, critic of President Trump before and after the 2016 election. (See the CPB, Charlie Rose, interview on election eve.) General Michael Hayden, USAF, who at NSA presided over the 9/11 warning disaster, runs a close second. Hayden is now a hired gun at CNN, the far left network where fact and opinion are inseparable.
We should note here that demographic demonization that surfaced on the American Left during the 2016 election slanders the same manpower pool from which the all-volunteer force is drawn. Quality volunteers are in short supply today. Political generals make for dubious recruiting posters.
Alas, the new CINC has jettisoned the rebels that won the Oval Office only to huddle with the usual suspects, a troika of flags from three previous left-of-center American administrations, regimes where political correctness, strategic drift, and operational inertia were the orders of the day. Since 1979, “don’t lose” has displaced the victory ethic in the now indefinite and murky panoply of Muslim “long wars” worldwide.
Winning is now at best a martial oxymoron for American generals and the Oval Office.
Soldiering is still a blood sport for grunts, however; not just the obvious hazards of combat and war, but also the behind-the-lines savagery of military politics in Washington. Recent dramas in Africa are probative.
Take the case of Staff Sargent La David Johnson, a green beret, captured and probably butchered by Muslim jihadists in Niger recently. Consider also the case of Logan Melgar another Special Forces casualty in Mali, a soldier killed by friendly fire. Two “friendlies,” apparently US Navy SEALs, strangled Melgar.
Ironically, the two SEAL suspects were members of “elite” Team 6, out of NAS Norfolk, heroes of the 2011 Osama Bin Laden kill. It appears the Navy was stealing from the African slush fund and the Army was about to blow the whistle.
The Johnson and Melgar cases, at first glance, seem unrelated but a hard look suggests a dynamic link between the two atrocities. The Johnson incident speaks to a “cannon fodder” ethic, a cynical attitude towards repeat deployments, and associated “disposability” of volunteer servicemen, especially so-called elite troops, in the era of an all-volunteer military. The Melgar incident might be a correlate, where similar command indifference, callousness, or expediency has allowed a dangerous lowering of the ethos bar; diminished recruiting, training, and discipline standards, scraping the bottom of the social barrel if you will.
Any honest examination of hot button issues like sex/gender/preference and related “queer” politics reveals that even Marine and Special Forces officers are anxious, if not eager, to embrace career enhancing political correctness at the expense of standards, readiness, and effectiveness.
Integrity vacuums at the top matter. Quality in the ranks matters too. The chickens of decline, slick sleeves to general officers, may be coming home to roost.
The Johnson Case
Sargent La David Johnson’s story, one of four deaths, could be the poster child for much that’s wrong with operation arts at the small unit level. Poor intelligence, unreliable local allies, no air support, and no extraction plan contributed to the patrol fiasco. Indeed, American survivors had to be retrieved by the French.
It appears that Johnson was left behind, possibly captured, mutilated, and executed; which might explain the closed coffin funeral. The Army told Johnson’s widow little or nothing about the circumstances or manner of her husband’s death.
Johnson was shot 18 times. According to unsourced, leaked reports in AP and Stars and Stripes, some of the rounds came from American weapons. Preliminary leaks about the circumstances of the Johnson case do not pass the smell test.
The Niger fiasco became farce with a vapid presidential phone call, apparently inspired or scripted by Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, USMC. The President told Johnson’s grieving widow that her dead husband “knew what he signed up for” which is a little like telling a recruit that he should expect to be left behind after a fire fight.
If you wouldn’t tell a perspective boot that death and mutilation is just the price of doing business, why on earth would you say that to a gold star widow or parent?
You might expect Donald Trump, who has little experience with the military, to step on his crank. Alas, General Kelly doesn’t get a pass for using “cannon fodder” arguments to rationalize the loss of his or anybody else’s son.
The Melgar Case
The loss of Logan Melgar speaks to a host of pathologies; training, good order, discipline, character and, ironically, hypocrisy. The party line in Washington claims unequivocally that federal employees, especially servicemen, have several forums to vet grievances like waste, fraud, abuse, theft, or corruption. Offices like command Inspectors General are the most common symbolic anti-corruption fig leafs. Alas, the local IG invariably works for the local commander.
In fact and in practice, if you raise problems or blow the whistle, you often become the problem. Melgar is such a case in extremis.
This is not to say that every conscience that breaks ranks gets fragged, but the consequences of exposing peers or superiors is, at a minimum, lethal to careers from top to bottom in DOD. Nobody makes master sergeant or colonel by rocking the boat.
Rare is the flag that treasures that rare maverick. Both are rare steeds indeed. If you buck the system in the national security matrix, you become the enemy. Ask Edward Snowden.
Bad news from the field should be seen through prisms of larger issues: an Army where the knee-jerk reaction to any Islamic atrocity is to cover Muslim reputation first; a Navy whose captains can’t navigate the Pacific on glassy seas; a Marine Corps too willing to hazard lives to accommodate feminist nonsense; and an Air Force that continues to sponsor the most expensive fighter plane boondoggle in aviation history.
The business of national defense today seems to be mostly business, little defense, and even less common sense.
Like adding smoke to a fire, political nitwits and media allies, right and left, concurrently sponsor an anti-Russia propaganda campaign designed to obscure real threats like DOD/ corporate incest at home and those many Islamist jihads abroad, all the while growing Defense budgets and national deficits.
The swamp abides, Mister President.
Throughout, like the fabled king with no clothes, we are assured that America has the best military money can buy. Pentagon boosters seem to have confused profligate with proficient. The best trained and equipped army, poorly led, is just a very expensive joke, a tragic strategic accident waiting to happen.
Intangibles like character, reputation, motivation, and morale matter.
Beyond leadership, reliable engineering and technology matters too. The Kalashnikov/M-16 comparison is instructive. The Russian Kalashnikov is cheap, dependable, and easy to maintain in the worst combat conditions. By comparison, the American designed M-16/M-4 was/is everything the Kalashnikov is not.
Good gear matters in combat.
If American military technology were decisive; Vietnam and Islamism would be in the win column, warning failures like the Arab jihadi sneak attack on New York couldn’t happen, and American astronauts wouldn’t need superior Russian rockets and labs for space travel. *
When it comes to appeasing the jihad, provoking the Kremlin, or baiting the Russian Army; naïve hawks inside the Washington Beltway need to be careful about what they wish for.
Withal, declining numbers on the volunteer front may be the canary in the troll mine. Who wants to play for a team of losers?
The National Football League “take a knee” controversy on Sundays is probative. Tax dollars pay the “non-profit” NFL to allow active duty servicemen, in uniform, to wave the flag, yes literally, at football games in the interest of recruitment. Indeed, servicemen and women, in short supply, are frog-marched by the Pentagon to professional football stadiums every Sunday to stand at attention next to pampered, pierced, tattooed millionaire NFL morons who now make a Sunday ritual of trashing country, flag, and anthem.
Juvenile football thugs, most of who wouldn’t be caught dead at a recruiting station, now posture as “defenders” of the First Amendment.
Consider, in contrast, Native Americans. Per capita, no minority provides more recruits to the Armed Forces. And no group has suffered more abuse at the hands the majority. Still, no ethnicity honors their military veterans with more fervor. Besides celebrating vets and the national anthem, many Indian tribes compose and sing “flag” songs at Pow Wows.
A culture of patriots matters.
Using the NFL as a recruiting tool is about as useful as foot fungus or the clap. More than a few professional athletes couldn’t pass IQ, blood, drug, or a rap sheet tests. Yet, somehow our military brass thinks that American professional sport is a recruiting venue. Dare we mention NFL or NBA wife beaters?
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
And the new President believes that the separate Services and a bloated Department of Defense will get better if they’re bigger. Before that happens, the grunt and cannon fodder components for the national defense apparatus may have to be flushed from overpopulated prisons.
God bless America if the Pentagon ever has to fight a first rate world power in any real war anytime soon.
*National Aeronautical and Space Administration cooperation with Russia puts the lie to “trumped” up conspiracy theories about Russian political meddling. If you believe Russians tinker with American elections with media or technology, then you must also believe NASA scientists and astronauts are compromised too, indeed a gold mine of collaborators just as Hollywood and Los Alamos hosted espionage or propaganda cells back in the worst days of the Cold War.
If presidential campaign associates are “useful idiots,” what does that make the scientific and astronaut community at NASA, those who collaborate, collude and share daily with Russian technocrats of every stripe?
G. Murphy Donovan writes about the politics of national security.
During the campaign, Trump certainly was liberal with his insults, and still is, but he always had the good sense not to hurl invectives at the voting public at large. Hillary has zero judgment.
GMD, that is a heck of an indictment. Sad and bad and true.Is anyone in Congress listening and responding? Armed Services Committee members interested?
I don't know that you are fluent in any other language but your North American GI is perfect.