June 7, 2016

The Stages of Grief at the Frontier

Can't help but be reminded of an old maxim usually ascribed to Mark Twain: "History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes." Grygiel has taken a look at the waning days of the old Roman Empire, specifically the lands and people on its periphery, to gain insights into how those affected adapted to their changing circumstances. I think the warnings about how peoples fail to appreciate what is necessary to sustain security and prosperity are of greater relevance to America in our time. The article isn't lengthy at all and worth the time to read but the highlights are wrapped-up in the concluding paragraph:

"Severinus’s story parallels our times (with all the necessary caveats). The stages of geopolitical grief are not as vivid today as in this story, but doubts are growing about the resilience of U.S. power and Washington’s commitment (under the current Administration or future ones) to allies. As U.S. power retrenches or is questioned, the frontier regions then experiences a series of adjustments. Insouciance about how security arises gives way to shock and panic when the security provider vanishes; then, self-delusion follows, as people convince themselves that security will sustain itself or that the threat is not real; and finally, if lucky to be fortified by a firm belief in something more than material goods or the satisfaction of one’s own transient preferences, the polity may find a reason to defend itself. The West may be going through all three stages at the same time, as many seem to put faith in the automatic harmony of international relations, do not necessarily believe in the dangerous nature of geopolitical competition with assertive rivals, and—perhaps most worrisome, and different from Severinus’s tale—do not seem to find a strong reason to devote resources to sustain the order from which they benefit."

Published on: June 1, 2016

The Stages of Grief at the Frontier

Jakub Grygiel

Or, how to survive when your empire dissolves.

What happens when the clout of imperial forces fades, and when the order they had created and sustained is doubted by those who benefited from it as well as by those who aspire to challenge it? What are the new dynamics that arise? How do those who were under the empire’s protective power respond? One way of answering this question is by looking at how the outer edges of empires coped with the fraying of the imperial order. That is where imperial sway is at its most fragile—and where usually its waning is felt first. This is the unquiet frontier.

In those frontier outposts, the locals have to make difficult decisions based on an assessment of how resilient their empire is, how persistent and dangerous the enemy appears, and how strong their own will is. And they experience different stages of geopolitical grief from denial and delusion to perhaps, in the best case, an attempt at indigenous security provision.

A telling case is the second half of the 5th century C.E., along the Danube that still separated a tenuous Roman order from the barbarian lands. The empire was in disarray, already weakened by internal mismanagement and foreign incursions. And the barbarian lands, as far as we know, were shaken by various tribal forces, unleashed after Hunnic dominance had quickly disintegrated with Attila’s death (of a nosebleed induced by heavy drinking, so rumor has it). Roman settlements along the Danube were thus in a dangerous spot between a frail empire and a gaggle of raiding barbarians. What to do?

The story of a most unusual character, Saint Severinus, supplies us with a picture of the situation and the challenges facing the frontier locals.

June 6, 2016

Elbert Guillory and What "Conservatism" Really Means

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Elbert Guillory, currently a Louisiana State Senator running for federal office. In the course of researching his background, I came across his explanation (recorded in 2013) for switching from the Democratic to Republican political party. Though his is speaking specifically about his reason for switching parties, I think his rationale is the most concise, clearly stated, compelling defense for the principles that serve as the foundation for the conservative movement that I can remember hearing. I don't much more about the man, but I loved his message!

July 9, 2015

Why We Fight -- Yesterday(!) and Today(?)

In recognition of the 239th birthday of our great country this past week, my family watched the first two installments of Capra’s classic series “Why We Fight.” My wife and I were struck yet again by the similarities between then and now, i.e. Hitler’s (and even Japan’s) approach to manipulating the national attitudes and political/societal reluctance of the Western Powers (France, Great Britain, and the U.S.) to stand-up to his blatant violation of relevant laws, treaties, and agreements and what we’re seeing from Russia, China, and Iran today and the same reluctance from the US, England, France, and Germany, among others.

The big lessons: wishful thinking doesn’t displace reality; certainty and confidence in what one believes and is willing to fight to preserve are essential; and appeasement only increases the cost one ultimately pays when finally forced to confront totalitarianism.

If you’re not family with this series commissioned by the US Government during World War II, here are some snippets from the Wikipedia entry:
Prelude to War (1942; 51min 35s) (Academy award as Documentary Feature) – this examines the difference between democratic and fascist states, and covers the Japanese conquest of Manchuria and the Italian conquest of Ethiopia. Capra describes it as "presenting a general picture of two worlds; the slave and the free, and the rise of totalitarian militarism from Japan's conquest of Manchuria to Mussolini's conquest of Ethiopia."

The Nazis Strike (1943, 40min 20s) – covers Nazi geopolitics and the conquest of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. Capra's description: "Hitler rises. Imposes Nazi dictatorship on Germany. Goose-steps into Rhineland and Austria. Threatens war unless given Czechoslovakia. Appeasers oblige. Hitler invades Poland. Curtain rises on the tragedy of the century—World War II."

Divide and Conquer (1943, 56min) – about the campaign in Benelux and the Fall of France. Capra's description: "Hitler occupies Denmark and Norway, outflanks Maginot Line, drives British Army into North Sea, forces surrender of France."

The Battle of Britain (1943, 51min 30s) – depicts Britain's victory against the Luftwaffe. Capra's synopsis: "Showing the gallant and victorious defense of Britain by Royal Air Force, at a time when shattered but unbeaten British were only people fighting Nazis."

The Battle of Russia (1943, 76min 7s) Part I and Part II – shows a history of Russian defense and Russia's battle against Germany. Capra's synopsis: "History of Russia; people, size, resources, wars. Death struggle against Nazi armies at gates of Moscow and Leningrad. At Stalingrad, Nazis are put through meat grinder."

The Battle of China (1944, 62min 16s) – shows Japanese aggression such as the Nanking Massacre and Chinese efforts such as the construction of the Burma Road and the Battle of Changsha. Capra's synopsis: "Japan's warlords commit total effort to conquest of China. Once conquered, Japan would use China's manpower for the conquest of all Asia."

War Comes to America (1945, 64min 20s) – shows how the pattern of Axis aggression turned the American people against isolationism. Capra's synopsis: "Dealt with who, what, where, why, and how we came to be the USA—the oldest major democratic republic still living under its original constitution. But the heart of the film dealt with the depth and variety of emotions with which Americans reacted to the traumatic events in Europe and Asia. How our convictions slowly changed from total non-involvement to total commitment as we realized that loss of freedom anywhere increased the danger to our own freedom. This last film of the series was, and still is, one of the most graphic visual histories of the United States ever made."
Capra was convinced that the most compelling case for U.S. involvement in Europe and the Pacific could be made by using the enemy’s own propaganda to reveal their perspectives, plans, and objectives; news reporting to show on-the-ground realities; and America’s own history to illustrate the differences between our values and interests and those of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperialist Japan. I think much the same can be said today with regard to Putin’s Russia, Khamenei’s Iran, Kim’s North Korea, or al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State.

You can purchase the DVD set online but can also access all the films on YouTube:

June 18, 2015

Policy Debates and the Reality of War

Several weeks ago I was asked by a senior staffer for a Member of Congress for some good references about what ground combat is like. Among the multitude of military affairs issues being debated in Congress is the role of women in combat. The military services have been tasked to open all occupational fields to women unless cause can be shown why a particular field should remain closed. Over the years just about all fields have been opened with the exception of the ground combat arms communities such as infantry, armor, artillery, and related elements of special operations. (The Army and Marine Corps (the Corps in particular) have been conducting a series of tests to determine what standards are relevant to making a determination and, most importantly, why. They are to report their findings and recommendations in the coming months.)

The staffer was wanting to help the Member get a better understanding of what ground combat is like. It is one thing to debate the pros and cons of the issue in the peaceful confines of the Capital and quite another to deal with the brutal realities of war on an actual battlefield. Clearly few Members and their staff have, or can easily gain, direct experience to inform their arguments so they look to materials like reports, testimony, and visits to units. There is a wealth of literature that accurately describes war but it seems no one has time (or the willingness to make the time) to read so video can have a powerful impact.

I queried a solid group of colleagues who are well versed, personally experienced, and have a balanced perspective about ground combat. Almost to a person they suggested just about the same sample of references especially for short film clips. Recommendations for books were also fairly narrowly focused but, as mentioned, most people have little time for reading several hundred pages so…back to film clips.

Hollywood routinely inflates or glamorizes war with a bias toward dramatic effect and with scant regard for accuracy. However, there are exceptions...depictions where combat veterans will nod their head and say, “Yep, that’s just about as best a telling of how it actually is as I can think of.” Among the films that garner such comments are Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers, Lone Survivor, Fury (for the tank battle scenes), and the HBO series Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

One can certainly be skeptical of historical references dating back to WWII. After all, it is easy to presume that since it’s 70 years on things have changed quite a bit especially in the technological sense. But that’s just not the case in ground combat, especially when it comes to infantry operations. Yes, modern forces have more resources to draw on to find the enemy and more weapons available with which to engage but a bullet, grenade, rocket, and knife are still in as much use today as they were back then and the reality of ground combat is the age-old reality of men locked in brutal, physical combat with each other. Not shown in the below clips (but often implied) is the always present task of many long days and miles of carrying everything with you necessary for a fight…and the heat or cold, the terrain, the weariness, the uncertainty (when will you find the enemy or be found by him?), etc., that accompanies war.

These extraordinarily accurate clips show what close combat is really like. Whether it’s a beach, town, open area, or heavily wooded location, such terrain exists today and poses nearly the exact same problems as it did a half-century or more in the past. Rubble is rubble and bullets (from pistols, rifles, and machine guns), grenades, knives, and rockets do the same damage today and are employed in the same way as back then. One need only see current news stories out of Iraq, Syria, Libya, or Ukraine to see that little has changed.

War is brutal, unforgiving, and lethal. The decision to engage in it and to commit people to it should be the gravest and most seriously considered of all that are undertaken by Congress, the White House, and the public.Those who engage in the debate should always be mindful of the reality they demand our men and women to confront. Any change recommended to or imposed upon our forces should always consider first and foremost whether it helps our military defeat the enemy's in combat.

WARNING: These scenes are quite graphic.

Saving Private Ryan – Omaha Beach (Spielberg and Hanks insisted on historical accuracy in making this movie. This scene captures the reality of what people have to contend with when trying to establish a foothold in enemy held terrain, whether it is a beach, town, or complex terrain. The noise, confusion, death, and danger permeate one’s existence.)
Saving Private Ryan – Mellish and Upham (a classic rendering of what hand-to-hand fighting is all about in the real world. None of this Jason Bourne silliness)
Hand To Hand in Fallujah (this is a reenactment of a fight that took place in Iraq just a few years ago that almost exactly replicates the scene shown in Saving Private Ryan)
Band of Brothers – Battle of Bloody Gulch  Just as he did in "Saving Private Ryan", Spielberg insisted on historical accuracy in both Band of Brothers (which follows the experiences of a real world Army unit that somehow experienced nearly all the major actions in WWII Europe) and The Pacific (a telling of Marine experiences in the WWII Pacific theater.
The Pacific – Bunker scene
The Pacific - Peleliu Airfield

June 14, 2015

Tribute to the Dog

If you are a dog lover, you'll love this item by Jonah Goldberg. It was one of the best things I'd read in quite a while especially since most of my time is spent with the mind-numbing silliness that spills out of our government these days.When I sent it around to friends, one of them replied with this short speech by George Graham Vest, a US Senator from Missouri back in the late 1800s.

Tribute to the dog
Gentlemen of the Jury: The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.

George Graham Vest - c. 1855
And then I was reminded of this wonderful poem by Jimmy Stewart:
And now on to Goldberg's take...

What Having a Dog Can Teach You about Life

By Jonah Goldberg — May 18, 2015

Editor’s Note: The following article is excerpted from the new book The Dadly Virtues (Templeton).

Here is wisdom:

Have a kid? Get a dog. Want a kid? Get a dog.

Don’t want a dog? Get a cat, which is like training wheels for dog ownership.

Have a cat already? It’s probably time to get a dog. Don’t like dogs? You’re wrong.

Those of you already encumbered with a very small human in your home — and I don’t mean Robert Reich — might be asking, “Why?” After all, the humanoid is already making demands on my tolerance for poop disposal and unremunerated feedings. Why would I saddle myself with more and similar obligations — particularly when the four-legged dependent will make demands on me forever and will never carry on the family name or provide me with any kind of tax benefit, or expand the borders of my empire into the barbarian lands of the Gauls?

I can make the practical case. Dogs make good guards, particularly of young children (though this varies by breed; Dachshunds, for instance, are tubular snapping turtles). They are fun to look at and can be entertaining companions. Children raised in households with dogs are less likely to get various immune system–related ailments, such as eczema or asthma. And I suppose if you were starving to death you could consider a canine an emergency reserve supply of protein.

But such arguments fall under the category of rank utilitarianism or instrumentalism. And I want to make a broader case for the beasts, so let me start with first things.

The PC Crowd Notches Another Kill

This reminds me of the fate that befell Mozilla co-founder and CEO Brendan Eich, last year, when it came to light he had made a financial contribution to a cause the liberal-left abhorred. They quickly took to social media to disparage the man in the most insulting ways and Mozilla caved to the social pressure and fired him for a perfectly legal, personal, and civically responsible act (meaning participating in the civic processes of our land via the ballot box vice social militancy) that occurred a half-dozen years prior.

In the below case, a scientist and academic of notable standing, who has made extraordinary contributions not only to his field but to global public health, attempted a joke (something most academics aren’t very good at…that was a joke) and was summarily ‘executed’ in the professional sense by his own institution who appears to have handled it quite badly all around.

This is the sort of thing is implied in VDH’s recent essay Building the New Dark Age Mind. Though he was explicitly addressing the tactics of the Left in rejecting evidences that refute preferred positions, using “perfunctory charges of sexism and racism, and seek cover in ‘fairness” and “equality’” to discredit their opponents, the underlying theme is the inability or unwillingness of supposedly responsible adults and institutions to stand up to this sort of destructive nonsense.

Why is it that major institutions like Mozilla or University College London cannot find the confidence and summon the courage to ignore or explicitly reject character assassination-by-social media, place personal actions or statements into proper context (it was a donation, not a firebombing or a bad joke, not an assault), and not give light, fertile soil, or encouragement to a rabid minority that viciously attacks anything and anyone that doesn’t conform to its narrow-minded view of what is acceptable?

Cowardice, both moral and ethical, is the only conclusion I come to.

Related story about below here.

Tim Hunt: ‘I’ve been hung out to dry. They haven’t even bothered to ask for my side of affairs’
In an exclusive interview Tim Hunt and his wife Professor Mary Collins tell how their lives fell apart after his quip about women in science went viral on Twitter

Tim Hunt with his wife Mary Collins at their home in Hertfordshire. Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer

Robin McKie

Saturday 13 June 2015 15.03 EDT Last modified on Sunday 14 June 2015 07.05 EDT

As jokes go, Sir Tim Hunt’s brief standup routine about women in science last week must rank as one of the worst acts of academic self-harm in history. As he reveals to the Observer, reaction to his remarks about the alleged lachrymose tendencies of female researchers has virtually finished off the 72-year-old Nobel laureate’s career as a senior scientific adviser.

What he said was wrong, he acknowledges, but the price he and his wife have had to pay for his mistakes has been extreme and unfair. “I have been hung out to dry,” says Hunt.

His wife, Professor Mary Collins, one of Britain’s most senior immunologists, is similarly indignant. She believes that University College London – where both scientists had posts – has acted in “an utterly unacceptable” way in pressuring both researchers and in failing to support their causes.

Certainly the speed of the dispatch of Hunt – who won the 2001 Nobel prize in physiology for his work on cell division – from his various academic posts is startling. In many cases this was done without him even being asked for his version of events, he says. The story shows, if nothing else, that the world of science can be every bit as brutal as that of politics.

June 13, 2015

Free Speech and Courage are Inseparable...

...and they are more important now than ever. Sadly, they are almost entirely absent from our college campuses and public discourse.

Building the New Dark-Age Mind

America’s descent into the Dark Ages will not end well. It never has in the past.
By Victor Davis Hanson On June 8, 2015

History is not static and it does not progress linearly. There was more free speech and unimpeded expression in 5th-century Athens than in Western Europe between 1934-45, or in Eastern Europe during 1946-1989. An American could speak his mind more freely in 1970 than now. Many in the United States had naively believed that the Enlightenment, the U.S. Constitution, and over two centuries of American customs and traditions had guaranteed that Americans could always take for granted free speech and unfettered inquiry.

That is an ahistorical assumption. The wish to silence, censor, and impede thought is just as strong a human emotion as the desire for free expression — especially when censorship is cloaked in rhetoric about fairness, equality, justice, and all the other euphemisms for not allowing the free promulgation of ideas.

George Orwell devoted his later years to warning us that while the fascist method of destroying free expression was easily identified (albeit only with difficulty combatted), the leftwing totalitarian impulse to squelch unpopular speech was far harder to resist — couched as it was in sloganeering about the “people” and “social justice.” It is easy to object to the speech codes of a self-interested, corrupt dictator in sunglasses and epaulettes, but difficult to fight censorship that allegedly helps the poor, minorities, and the helpless.

We can all but write off today’s university as a place of free expression. In the age of Obama, zealots in the university have clamped down on any thought deemed reactionary. “Trigger warning” is a euphemism for trying either to censure literature or to denigrate it. “Safe space” is another term for the segregation of campus areas by race, class, or ideology. “Hate speech” has become a pejorative for uncomfortable truth.

Past, Present, and Future of War Funding

This is a pretty neat four-minute video from CSIS Senior Adviser Mark Cancian. My quibble with it is that it comes across (to me) as favoring the political left/Democrats vs the political right/Republicans. It pits Republicans against the President without ever mentioning Democrats who are obviously part of the Congressional debate on defense vs domestic spending or discretionary vs non-discretionary spending. And it favors Obama over Bush-43 in the way things are phrased. The politics aside, a nifty way to present defense spending issues.

Military Readiness

I was recently asked to pen a short piece for GIS on ‘readiness’ so here’s my simplified take on the matter...and enjoy the European spelling imposed by the publisher!

June 9, 2015
Cutting US defence spending raises stakes in world’s hotspots

Some argue America is spending too much on defence. Others say it is not enough. But US defence spending cuts mean its state of ‘readiness’ is compromised. This has meant US allies feel their security is threatened as the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Europe become geopolitical hotspots as America could be perceived to be over-stretched in its ability to control aggressor nations, writes GIS guest expert Dakota Wood.

America’s military is only marginally ready to serve the country’s national interests (photo: dpa)
AMERICA is spending nearly US$500 billion to sustain normal daily running costs for its defence department and the military services during 2015.

This includes salaries, weapons procurement, training and exercises, and healthcare, and a further US$80 billion or so on Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) to fund ongoing military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.

The US will spend roughly the same amount during 2016. This is an enormous amount of money which should reasonably cause people to wonder what they get for it in real-world capability and whether what it buys is relevant to US national security needs.

Critics of this level of spending come from opposite directions - too much or too little. Those who say it is too much view nearly US$600 billion as sustaining a militarised foreign policy which prefers intervention
Spending levels

The too little crowd cites the high demand for military forces to respond to proliferating destabilisation, while US forces are ageing and shrinking in size due to sustained use since 2001, and spending limits placed on defence by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Those defending the current spending level - mostly advocates within, and supportive of, the current presidential administration - emphasise that although the force funded at this level is arguably smaller than is desirable, it is nevertheless more capable.

This is due to investments in readiness, focussed on those units preparing to deploy, and selected modernisation of the most critical systems.

Whether it is too much, too little, or just right, the current level of US spending on defence has resulted in the military services trading capacity for capability in the bet that a more technologically advanced force will offset its reduced size.

Congressional Failure on Defense

This is a dressed-up version of material I presented to House staffers a few weeks ago during a panel presentation on defense matters.

An Epic Congressional Failure on Defense

Dakota L. Wood

May 13, 2015

With versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016 being completed by their respective Armed Services committees (HASC last week and SASC likely at the end of this week), the House and Senate will now work to gain passage by their full chambers and reconcile differences over the next couple of weeks. Although not a spending document itself, the NDAA sets the legal framework within which the defense budget will be debated this summer and, with luck, enacted in the fall. It also tells the Department of Defense what it must or cannot do in various areas. For example, it can deny the Pentagon the ability to retire specific airplanes, require it to spend money in very specific ways on specific programs, or direct it to report to Congress on identified issues. Congress has the responsibility and obligation to exercise oversight of the funding it provides to DOD. But the current debate swirling around the FY16 NDAA is both fascinating and horrifying: like watching Rome burn. It lays bare the inability of Congress to deal with the central issues plaguing the condition of America’s military posture, most notably the Budget Control Act of 2011 (the source of sequestration) and entitlement spending (the primary driver of national debt), both of which form a heavy millstone around our nation’s neck.

Just five years ago the Army was building toward 48 brigade combat teams (BCTs). Today it has 32, a number that will likely drop to 24 or so by 2020 if sequestration spending levels remain in place. The Navy is at 272 ships. It plans to build to 308, but the total fleet will likely fall below 270 given the cost of ships and the limited funding being made available to build them. The Marine Corps had 27 infantry battalions just a few years ago but is now doing everything it can to maintain 24 on the way to 21 should BCA-levels of funding remain. The Air Force is sacrificing nearly everything to acquire the F-35. It cites profound budget shortfalls as the primary reason for trying to eliminate the A-10, KC-10, U-2, and other portions of its air fleet.

But don’t take my word for it. Recent service chief testimonies to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees illustrate the current condition of our military, the deleterious effect the Budget Control Act is having, and the very real-world problems the military services are facing. Borrowing from their testimony, let’s take each service in turn.


In providing their annual report on the posture of the U.S. Army, Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno stated that the Army needs at least 450,000 soldiers in the active component to execute the current defense strategy. In reality, the current end-strength of 490,000 allows it to maintain only 32 BCTs. At the 450,000 level, BCTs can be expected to drop into the high 20s. At 420,000 active duty troops — the level expected should sequestration continue — that number will drop to the mid-20s. According to Odierno, under full sequestration, “the Army cannot fully implement its role in the defense strategy.” The Army has testified that the FY16 spending cap is insufficient for operating in the current, and worsening, global security environment.

Why is that? It’s simple — it’s too small and it cannot even pay for what it does have. Per the Army’s posture statement, “it takes approximately 30 months [2 ½ years] to generate a fully manned and trained Regular Army BCT” and “senior headquarters … take even longer.” A capability can be eliminated in short order, but takes years to reconstitute … perhaps a reality lost on Congress. Additionally, the Army’s current aviation structure is simply unaffordable at current levels of funding. Consequently, the Army has concluded it must eliminate over 700 aircraft. At sequestration-restricted funding caps, the Army can maintain only one-third of its force at acceptable levels of readiness.

Air Force

Gen. Mark A. Welsh recently stated, “The Air Force is the smallest and oldest it has ever been,” a condition unlikely to be corrected in the near future. The replacement aircraft it is buying, and which Congress supports, are among the most expensive in its history, increasingly challenging its ability to maintain sufficient numbers within a fixed budget. At current levels of funding, there simply isn’t enough money to keep the Air Force from shrinking and aging further.

Drawing directly from Welsh’s testimony, consider that the average age of aircraft in its inventory is 27 years (planned service life for aircraft is generally 20 years or so); the newest B-52 bomber is 53 years old. Since Desert Storm, the Air Force has reduced its inventory over 3,000 aircraft, from 8,600 to 5,452. Since FY12, it has lost $64 billion in funding. If the Air Force shut off all utilities at all major installations for 12 years, or quit all flying for nearly two years, it would save only $12 billion — enough to buy back just one year of sequestered funds.

Denied the ability to shed more aircraft, close bases, or adjust compensation, the Air Force has only three options for living within its means: shed people, reduce spending on readiness, or delay modernization. The other services face those same options, too.


To meet operational requirements, the Navy keeps about one-third of its fleet underway in a deployed status. At 270 or so ships, that means approximately 95 are available for daily use. But these 95 are spread globally, meaning only 50-60 or so are available in the Western Pacific. Meanwhile, China fields a navy of 270 or more ships and can leverage shore-based weapons to influence operations far out to sea.

The cumulative effect of budget shortfalls due to the Budget Control Act has resulted in the Navy’s accepting significant risk to meet defense strategy requirements, as stated by Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, who further clarified this to mean that, “ships will arrive late to a combat zone, and engage in conflict without the benefit of markedly superior combat systems, sensors and networks, or desired levels of munitions inventories. In real terms, this means longer timelines to achieve victory, more military and civilian lives lost, and potentially less credibility to deter adversaries and assure allies in the future.”

The Navy’s problems will only compound in future years given that it faces a bow-wave of very high modernization costs. It must replace the Ohio-class submarine, continue producing the Ford-class aircraft carrier, create a new class of small surface combatant, and continue to replace various combat logistics vessels (without which the Navy’s fleet cannot fight), all items highlighted by Greenert in his testimony. The Navy can now surge only one-third of the force required by Combatant Commanders to meet contingency requirements. Current maintenance backlogs resulting from sequestration to date will take approximately five years to clear.

Marine Corps

The Marine Corps is on a permanent deployment-to-dwell cycle of 1:2, meaning a Marine deploys for 6-7 months, returns home for 12-14 months, then starts the cycle again, a matter of substantial concern to Gen. Joseph Dunford, Commandant of the Marine Corps, who views this as a pacing issue of sorts in that it reflects the stresses being placed on the Marines that make up the Corps and the overall readiness of the Corps as a combat force. The more often people and equipment are deployed for extended use, the more rapidly the force is worn-down and the more it costs to return it to fighting shape. The problem is that the Marine Corps only has three-quarters to two-thirds of the number of battalions it has historically needed to meet operational requirements. Like the Army and Air Force, it has been forced to adopt “tiered” readiness, defer maintenance, and delay some modernization efforts due to lack of adequate funding.

A Dangerous Path

The Heritage Foundation’s “2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength,” attempts to provide a needs-based assessment of the status of U.S. military power. To establish a reasonable benchmark for how much military force the United States should have, the Index examined a series of blue-ribbon studies — including every Quadrennial Defense Review and National Defense Panel report from the past 30 years as well as the history of U.S. commitments to major conventional wars since World War II. That exhaustive review indicated that the United States needs an active Army of 50 BCTs, a Marine Corps of 36 battalions, a Navy of at least 346 ships (including 15 aircraft carriers and 45-50 amphibious ships), and an Air Force of at least 1,200 fighter/attack aircraft, not counting those needed to protect U.S. airspace.

Clearly, current funding levels are profoundly short of the spending historically necessary, and made available, to ensure the United States is able to protect its most vital national interests. By 2020, the United States will spend more on paying interest on its national debt than it does on the defense budget and will start shouldering the additional fiscal burden of Baby Boomers moving into their retirement years and placing ever increasing demands on nondiscretionary spending like Social Security and Medicare.

The dramatically expanded Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account is a gimmick or “work-around” to compensate for Congress’s inability to solve the Budget Control Act dilemma it created in 2011. No one in Congress likes it but even deficit-hawks like Senator McCain acknowledge that at present it is the only way to stem the decline of defense. Though it may enable the services to stave off further declines in readiness and preserve some modernization, it will not allow the services to maintain necessary capacity, nor will it enable them to fix the more fundamental problems leading to the shrinking, aging, and less-ready posture of the U.S. military in the first place.
  • Critics of defense spending typically note several areas they think should be cut. They include:
  • Growth of staffs, especially among civilians at the Pentagon,
  • Increased bureaucratic layering,
  • Compensation costs, including health care, retirement, and related benefits associated with service,
  • Excess infrastructure,
  • And lack of competition among defense suppliers that would presumably drive down the cost of platforms, weapons, and supporting systems.
Yet Congress has prevented the Department of Defense from directly addressing these areas. It has prohibited the Pentagon from adjusting pay and benefits and has barred it from even considering or planning for another round of base realignment and closure. Further, Congress supports service efforts to reduce the variety of platforms that constitute a capability under the guise of achieving greater efficiencies and lower cost of ownership yet levies additional demands for reports, plans, and accountability mechanisms all of which require additional people and resources to produce. As but one example, the Department must submit an annual aviation plan that covers the Future Years Defense Program, showing Congress how the services are making best use of funding for aviation … presumably a good thing. But, the latest report cost $1,112,901 to produce, and it has to be submitted every year.

What are the consequences? Unfortunately, the services are left with few options other than to reduce the number of people they pay, reduce what they spend to keep the force ready and competent, or defer replacing current equipment that has been prematurely aged due to over a decade of constant use. The services are forced to continue spending what money they do receive on things they don’t need, don’t want, or can’t afford. Businesses are forced out of the defense industry, a natural result when a single manufacturer wins the contract for the single platform that will constitute the totality of a given capability. And to do the work demanded by Congress, the services must either hire more civilians or contractors (since fewer uniformed personnel are available) or divert more of their shrinking funds to producing reports that, in all likelihood, very few people will ever read anyway.

Simply put: Congress created the problem that has resulted in a steadily shrinking, aging, and less-ready force; it cannot agree on any way to undo it; it continues to levy more demands on the military while restricting the military’s ability to adjust to its environment; and it is now looking for quick fixes to mitigate the damage without getting to the actual problem itself.

In reality, this problem has no easy answers, no simple solutions. As long as funding is fixed by law at BCA levels, the defense posture of the United States will continue to decay. And as long as Congress avoids the more important national spending crisis — the non-discretionary accounts over which DOD has no authority — the United States will have no option other than to sacrifice its security.

A glance at news headlines on any given day is quite disheartening. We see Russia dismantling Europe; a paranoid and delusional nuclear-armed regime in North Korea; an increasingly aggressive China bent on regional hegemony, and a Middle East and Africa bedeviled by problems in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, much of North Africa, Nigeria and more. Given the widespread deterioration of the global security environment, now seems to be a poor time to sap the military strength of America — especially in deference to policies that will only worsen the problem.

Dakota L. Wood is a senior research fellow specializing in defense programs for The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy.

Muddled Thinking in Military Affairs

This was the original title for the article below. You may have already known this but I didn't: publishers select their own titles for articles based on their interpretation of what the article is about or, more times than not, what title will grab a reader's attention. There is some room for negotiation between author and publisher but oftentimes you don't know what the title will be until you see it in print. 

That aside, this was more an exercise in venting than anything else. It seems to me that much of what is written, debated, and pursued in Washington DC, the Pentagon, and arguably throughout much of the military is not only 'distracted thinking' but contributes to such across the defense and national security communities. I think the further away one gets from actual experience in war (in time, personal experience, physical proximity, or hard academic study), the easier it becomes to fantasize about all manner of easy solutions to very complex problems or to expect that an outcome is possible just because you presume it will be so. I typically reject arguments that include the words/phrases 'revolutionary,' 'leap ahead,' 'game changing,' 'transformational,' or 'seamless' among others. I also reject the notion that a large group of well-intended youngsters can presume to invade another country and gained a detailed understanding of the nuances, interests, beliefs, values, customs, fears, and aspirations of a culture that likely stretches back centuries, if not millennia, in weeks, months, or even years. Yet this belief invests every bit of our planning and policies pertaining to working 'by, with, and through' indigenous peoples to defeat whatever troublesome group has drawn our attention sufficiently to cause us to engage in military actions in the first place. Little wonder we spend time, treasure, and lives trying to accomplish things in foreign lands with little real success -- our entering arguments are often flawed because our understanding is flawed, thus the objectives we set, the approach we take, and the actions we implement lead to strategic frustration.

Hard realism is essential to success when attempting to change things for the better...which is the noblest of aspirations.

The Real Problem with America's Military

by Dakota Wood

Over the last several years, there has been a noticeable uptick in terribly confused thinking about military matters that extends to understanding the nature of conflict, the role of military forces, and general thinking about military affairs.

Sometimes the confusion emerges in the form of an identity crisis. The U.S. Army seems to have experienced this (and here and here) as it unhitched from protracted operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the Navy and Air Force embarked on Air-Sea Battle (later modified) and the Marines doubled-down on their role as the nation’s “crisis-response force,” the U.S. Army has struggled to explain its continued value.

More regularly, this confusion permeates policy discussions and military employment concepts among leaders pondering how to transform distant peoples and their ancient cultures into something approximating delegations to EU regulatory meetings. Adding to the fun is the military community’s decidedly unhelpful fascination with each new fad that promises to reveal some hidden truth about the use of force in the modern age or desire to incorporate a tech-sector savant’s insight into a “leading change.”

It is all very odd, not least because the military services have been in the business of undertaking military operations for centuries. Practitioners of war have presumably been students of war, or at least the use of force, and the history of such fields of study stretches back some five thousand years.

The history of conflict is about people trying to impose their will on each other or intimidating competitors into adopting a desired behavior or course of action by the threat (explicit or implicit) of force. Has the invention of the iPhone so fundamentally changed the nature of Man that millennia of human history have been relegated to its ash-heap?

Many “defense experts”—including those with operational experience, academic pedigree or both—seem to think so. And that fanciful thinking permeates much of the current debate over the use of the military as well as thinking about the role of each service and what they contribute to national security.

It is true that conditions change from one era of warfare to the next. As new technologies are introduced, the utility of one service may rise relative to another, just as offense and defense have traded advantages over time. But when one element rises to prominence, it does not mean that the others are permanently eclipsed or no longer of any value. Military organizations, just like people, tend to adapt to changed circumstances, albeit oftentimes in the wake of a dramatic failure. They should never willingly accept that some arrangement of factors is final. Consequently, each service finds ways to adjust to changes in its primary domain of operations, countering new weapons or tactics that rise to frustrate a current way of operating. Why then does doubt creep into a service’s confidence about its purpose or value?

Consider the Army.

It seems confused about its role, value, and purpose. Its messaging to Congress is downright incomprehensible, which is troubling because it should be able to explain the complex realities of war in simple terms to an audience that has very little understanding of the subject. It should have no difficulty explaining why land power is vitally important and will remain so as long as people walk the earth. Consider:
Air power is unconstrained by terrain. It is able to deliver anything deliverable by air—be it ordnance, people, equipment, or supplies—without much concern for the ground it flies over. It is able to cross distances at high speed. It is able to deny an enemy use of the air. It can attrit enemy capabilities and frustrate enemy movements on the ground. But air power has no permanence and cannot control terrain or people.
Sea power does much the same thing via water. While it moves slower than air, it can deliver massive loads, shift large forces from one place to another, deny the enemy use of the ocean, strike targets ashore from the maritime domain, and, most importantly, choke the lifeblood of a nation by interdicting the movement of goods and resources to include energy and information. But sea power can do little to fundamentally affect the outcome of land operations (especially in the short term), nor can it control terrain or people.
Land power, though slow and ponderous by comparison, is the only force that can control terrain and people and deny the same to the enemy. It is the only force that can achieve decisive outcomes, short of nuclear weapons delivered by air-power or sea-power. It is the only force that can directly engage with people and establish enduring relationships. It has permanence.

In any given year, the United States typically does not need to deploy a large-scale land force. Yet throughout its history, it has consistently needed to do so every 15-20 years. There is no indication that this pattern is likely to change. This should be at the core of the U.S. Army’s thinking, and the foundational theme in its engagement with Congress and the American people.

Another example of muddled thinking is the matter of technological churn and the disruptive fixation it obtains in nearly every sector of the national security community. In military affairs, most discussions about technology prove to be little more than wasteful distractions, enthralling people, capturing their attention and consuming resources, without serving a practical purpose.

Yes, technology in the broadest sense does shape warfare, enabling forces to change battlefield conditions. But technology does not apply evenly to all aspects of military affairs, certainly not temporally.

Yes, we see high rates of technological change in the civilian world, but the areas of change (computers, cellphones, data processing, etc.) are largely consumable and comparatively inexpensive. Yet a ship lasts for thirty-five years or more, as can a plane. Tanks, artillery pieces, cargo vehicles, heavy engineer equipment, and such easily last twenty years or more. The bulk of defense spending goes toward large, principle-end items that do not turnover quickly at all. Consequently, the extraordinary amount of time and attention spent debating the need to embrace innovation and advanced technology is disproportionate to the physical and fiscal realities of fielding effective combat power.

The Defense Department and those who analyze and comment on defense matters tend to lose sight of this. There is an unrealistic expectation that metrics and conditions found in the commercial world are directly applicable to the world of military affairs and combat operations. This leads to a constant drumbeat of commentary warning that the military services are innovatively moribund. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the services should more aggressively push back against such nonsensical criticism.

Policy by platitude.

Increasingly, defense rhetoric is trending more and more toward bumper sticker sloganeering and catchphrases. But glib sayings largely ignore the realities of combat, replacing historically-proven truths with “best business practices” idealisms that permeate the tech guru babble of the 21st Century.

Yes, the military must be tech-savvy and must always look for competitive advantages. The history of warfare is replete with examples of technological advances driven by military necessity, finding solutions to the most difficult real-world problems. But it does not naturally follow that the civilian world in which advanced technologies are pursued can be neatly overlaid onto the world in which men and machines do battle with enemy forces on distant shores. In combat environments, the enemy is constantly seeking creative ways to destroy supply points and transportation assets, interdict the flow of resources, compromise critical communications networks, and systematically kill personnel at an industrial scale—conditions not found in the commercial sector.

Interestingly, one finds a similar phenomenon occurring in reverse where battlefield heroes share their hard-earned lessons in leadership, organizational management, and operational success with the world of business. On one hand there is merit in sharing leadership methods, management techniques, and the value of sound principles like taking care of your people, maintaining focus on your mission, exercising discipline in your decisions and prioritization of resource allocation. But how those are applied is profoundly influenced by the context of one’s “battlespace,” which differs dramatically between the worlds of military, business, government, and social/civic affairs. Conflating the worlds of business and military affairs ignores the realities of both and sets-up unrealistic expectations about what one can do for the other.

Mastering narratives and human terrain.

It is one thing to develop a policy that aims to bring an eighth century culture into the twenty-first century. It’s quite another thing to actually do it. The cottage industry of counterinsurgency, human terrain, and nation-building experts that emerged during our long sojourn in Iraq and Afghanistan is another example of wishful thinking trumping reality. Walter Russell Mead has an excellent article on this in the latest issue of The American Interest, and it merits serious reading and reflection.

General purpose, conventional military forces are a blunt instrument populated largely by young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four years. Their time assigned to a particular military task in a theater of operations is measured in months, and any hand-over to a replacing unit cannot help but disrupt ongoing efforts as the new guys come up to speed with the local context.

On top of that, senior leaders are rotated quite often, further disrupting policy implementation. Then there is the change-over in national leadership and corresponding changes in policy, objectives, and prioritization of resources. Theorists, academics, and idealists can opine all they want about mastering narratives, cultural awareness, and human terrain. But the realities of cultures that stretch back centuries and value systems that have been shaped and solidified by wholly different contexts create current realities that confound theories every time.

We may want military forces to be able to reshape other peoples into pseudo-Americans. But that is something for which military power is generally ill-suited. Moreover, our nation is disinclined to devote the requisite time, resources, and necessary methods. Military forces can create security conditions within which other efforts can be made, but the “space” created is temporary unless the condition being replaced has been comprehensively overturned, as happened at the close of World War II.

The military services—and the Army in particular—need to return to the enduring lessons of warfare and about warfare ably captured by a long line of authors from Thucydides, Clausewitz, and Fehrenbach to Churchill, Keegan, West, and Hanson. Each service plays a critical role in securing U.S. national interests and not at the expense of each other. They should find confidence and justification in this but it does require understanding and accepting the reality of the world in which they operate. It also requires self-discipline—to keep from getting lost in the fog of fuzzy thinking.

The Army and its sister services should focus their efforts on competency in combat and solving real-world problems they have encountered or expect to encounter (urban operations, leveraging/countering the proliferation of unmanned systems, and accounting for the disruptions likely to be caused by cyber warfare are good places to start). In assessing the relevance of business models and academic theories to military affairs and idealistic notions on conflict resolution, they should retain a healthy skepticism.

And when it comes to telling their stories, especially to obtain key resources like funding, each service should focus its efforts on the relatively few people that matter: the Service Secretaries, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, and key members of Congress (those serving on the Armed Services, Appropriations, Foreign Affairs, and Intelligence committees).

War—a violent conflict among and between peoples—has a tenacious consistency stretching back to the origins of Man. The character of warfare evolves continuously on the edges, but its fundamental nature remains true to its immutable core. This should lead modern-day warriors to be circumspect—especially when they are considering tossing centuries of experience out the window in favor of the alluring promise of transformative, leap-ahead, game-changing, and revolutionary technological solutions.

Dakota L. Wood is the Senior Research Fellow for Defense Programs in The Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy Studies.

Magna Carta: Eight Centuries of Liberty

Hannan does an exemplary job at explaining the importance of Magna Carta. I love his summation:
Yet the majesty of the document resides in the fact that it is, so to speak, a shield against Saurons. Most other countries have fallen for, or at least fallen to, dictators. Many, during the 20th century, had popular communist parties or fascist parties or both. The Anglosphere, unusually, retained a consensus behind liberal capitalism.
This is not because of any special property in our geography or our genes but because of our constitutional arrangements. Those constitutional arrangements can take root anywhere. They explain why Bermuda is not Haiti, why Hong Kong is not China, why Israel is not Syria.
They work because, starting with Magna Carta, they have made the defense of freedom everyone’s responsibility. Americans, like Britons, have inherited their freedoms from past generations and should not look to any external agent for their perpetuation. The defense of liberty is your job and mine. It is up to us to keep intact the freedoms we inherited from our parents and to pass them on securely to our children.
For additional information, see the British Library's website dedicated to Magna Carta.
As published by the Wall Street Journal
May 29, 2015

Magna Carta: Eight Centuries of Liberty

June marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, the ‘Great Charter’ that established the rule of law for the English-speaking world. Its revolutionary impact still resounds today, writes Daniel Hannan

King John, pressured by English barons, reluctantly signs Magna Carta, the ‘Great Charter,’ on the Thames riverbank, Runnymede, June 15, 1215, as rendered in James Doyle’s ‘A Chronicle of England.’
Photo: Mary Evans Picture Library/Everett Collection

By Daniel Hannan

Eight hundred years ago next month, on a reedy stretch of riverbank in southern England, the most important bargain in the history of the human race was struck. I realize that’s a big claim, but in this case, only superlatives will do. As Lord Denning, the most celebrated modern British jurist put it, Magna Carta was “the greatest constitutional document of all time, the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”

It was at Runnymede, on June 15, 1215, that the idea of the law standing above the government first took contractual form. King John accepted that he would no longer get to make the rules up as he went along. From that acceptance flowed, ultimately, all the rights and freedoms that we now take for granted: uncensored newspapers, security of property, equality before the law, habeas corpus, regular elections, sanctity of contract, jury trials.

Magna Carta is Latin for “Great Charter.” It was so named not because the men who drafted it foresaw its epochal power but because it was long. Yet, almost immediately, the document began to take on a political significance that justified the adjective in every sense.

June 12, 2015

The Fallen of World War II - Implications for Today

This is a wonderfully crafted video depicting in simple, animated graphics the deaths of WWII, parsing them by country, theater, time, context, percentage of population, and in comparison to other conflicts. The video runs 15 minutes but it is well worth the time to watch. The Soviet figures are staggering especially when seen in comparison to others.

One takeaway should be the horrible cost of war. But a follow-on thought should be about the importance of taking steps to ensure such wars do not happen in the first place and this is where great debate ensues. Many people, with all the best of intentions, argue that when dealing with militant, expansionist powers the best approach is to offer concessions or to adopt a "less threatening" tone so as to allay whatever concerns or fears the more belligerent power cites as cause for their aggressive posture. Others argue that bullies will be bullies and will only respond to a stronger force.

I believe history offers sufficient evidence that dispels the notion that a more conciliatory approach works. Likely the most often-cited example is that of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who, in September 1938, reached an accord with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler over affairs in Europe, leading Chamberlain to wave a signed document accompanied by the statement, "Peace for our time." A year later Germany invaded Poland.

This is the sort of situation that has bedeviled presidents before and since...when to draw a line and stick to it against the greatest pressures or pull-back out of fear that a strong posture might lead to calamity. As was the case with Germany in the '30s or the Soviet Union during the "Cold War" (Berlin, Czechoslovakia, and Cuba, among others) or in more current instances including Russia's invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, China's belligerence in the South and East China Seas, North Korea's provocations against South Korea, or Iran's repeated support of terrorism and pursuit of a nuclear weapon capability.

In short, I believe history shows that Roosevelt's "speak softly and carry a big stick" or Reagan's "peace through strength" are firmly rooted in experience and the nature of power relationships.

The video is available here and at its dedicated website here where an interactive version is posted.

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.