Our military has descended into this kind of morass of failure before – maybe not this deeply, but deeply enough that the last time we also allowed a pack of medieval throwbacks to giggle at us in front of the world. That was at Desert One, the smoldering Iranian debris field where Jimmy Carter’s post-‘Nam military announced to the world that the U.S. armed forces were no longer ready for primetime. Yet, just over a decade later, that same military dismantled an entire national army not far away in southern Iraq in 100 hours, taking casualties that barely amounted to a rounding error.
We can come back from this. We did it before, in the wake of Vietnam and the follow-on humiliations of the Mayaguez incident, the Iranian hostage crisis, and Beirut. Senior officers who returned to the basics of conventional warfare, supported by a non-commissioned officer corps given the green light to do its job and enforce standards, built the most powerful, deadly military in human history. And we can do that again. But we need a president committed to doing it, and clear-eyed about the failures of the brass.
Let’s understand that the woke joke military we see today is not the one that vets like me served in. Planning and executing was what we did; what we see going on in Kabul looks less like the result of the military decision-making process than bad improv, as if there’s any other kind.
You look at this clusterfark and you scratch your head – what the hell? Senior tactical leadership is about organizing, supporting, and synchronizing an array of battlefield systems that, working together, exponentially increase combat power. You see our guys with rifles, but those hardcore light infantrymen are only one small instrument section of the symphony a modern military leader must conduct. A bunch of American riflemen against a bunch of Taliban riflemen is nearly a fair fight; the American edge is that you almost never fight just American riflemen. You are fighting an array of systems – fires (artillery drones, helicopter gunships, close air support), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, mobility, logistics (beans and bullets), electronics (commo and listening into enemy commo) and more, much more. A commander, even at the battalion level, has to be a conductor, ensuring all these systems play together on the same sheet of music. And when they do, we annihilate anyone in our way. We know what the enemy can and will do, we’re there first, and we hit them harder – preferably in ways they can’t respond to.
You look at the Kabul airport and you got the riflemen – great ones – but is there artillery (that’s a key killing system)? How are they doing air support since some genius gave away the local airfield that we could fly fighters out of? How are we doing intelligence with our intel guys gone? My guess – I don’t know – is that some guy from a three-letter agency rode outside with a duffel of cash, found whatever Taliban warlord controlled the area around the airport, and bought some time. Fair enough – cash can be a weapon system – but it would be nice to have a 155 mm howitzer and A-10-based Plan B in case he or a rival decides to renegotiate the deal.
What we saw on TV were 3K troops coming in, then 5K, then 6K. That’s a lot of troops, and a big logistics footprint for an airport. There seemed to be no plan, just reaction. One wonders if here’s any plan for getting them out – there should have been a plan before they got in; we can only hope that there’s a planning cell scribbling away on one right now. But I am not confident, not in the civilian leadership or that of the military.
And why would one be confident? Who is the general or admiral fired for incompetence in not winning these wars? None. Like every other American institution, the military has forgone accountability as a means to incentivize success. That’s because victory is not the measure of success; sustaining the grift is. Why do you think the undistinguished General Lloyd Austin went to work for some big contractor – and then became SecDef? Was it his competence? What war has he, or any of them, won? And has any of their failures to do so cost them?
General Milley – with his stupid WW2-era uniform designed to evoke a time when America actually won wars – is a disaster of epic proportions, but it’s not all him. He’s a creature of a system that stopped prioritizing victory and started prioritizing pleasing the swells in DC over delivering victory. His shameful injection of the military into politics under President Trump – awkwardly cast as his attempt to stay out of politics – flushed away 250 years of civil/military relations. Then his catering to the limo lib fetishes of gentry Democrats with his absurd embrace of the poisonous ideology of CRT pleased his masters and got him a pat on the noggin, while demoralizing the force. The pawns he moves around the chessboard are largely traditional, non-urban and patriotic – exactly the folks the race hustlers whose ridiculous tomes Milley peruses instead of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu teaches are the enemy. Train your army to loath itself – that’s a plan, I guess. It’s just a terrible one.
And then compound the talent exodus you have initiated via embracing bigotry by forcing a healthy, non-at-risk population to receive a vaccine that has already failed to perform as promised – it’s a sign when you tell your troops “Hey, this is good and you should take it” and they don’t believe you. Putin and Xi have got to be roaring with laughter. Who, exactly, does Milley expect to sign up for his faculty lounge military? Kaden from Santa Monica? Ashleigh from Wellesley? That weird non-binary Benny Drama person wearing a dress in that horrifying White House video? It better be, because normal people like us aren’t sending our sons and daughters – those are the only two options in the real world – to enlist under this ridiculous leadership anymore.
Our military today is essentially unserious. The Air Force Academy is making cadets watch pro-BLM propaganda. Our war colleges produce leaders who, with a straight face, will tell you our greatest threat is the weather a century from now – if they don’t tell you the greatest danger is Americans who didn’t vote for President Asterisk. Fighting China? That’s too hard.
But we can come back.
You civilians wonder how our military deteriorated into Task Force Smith II so fast, and that’s understandable. A couple years ago, the military was the one remaining institution conservatives had faith in. Then General White Rage and his pack of incompetents changed that, but it need not be for good. The military is a hierarchical organization. It responded to the commander. Obama and Biden wanted wokeness; they got wokeness. Trump, sadly, was too impressed by generals to understand they must be controlled with a whip and a chair – general after general screwed him over, and he never seemed to learn from it.
The next guy must. President DeSantis can take advantage of the fact that the military is a hierarchy by establishing early and decisively that warfighting prowess is the sole measure of success. He can do that by, 10 minutes after he concludes his inaugural speech and fires Chris Wray, relieving every member of the joint chiefs and every head of each service academy and war college. Then he can direct that every single diversity, equity, and other similar sham sinecure in the DoD is eliminated – gone, kaput, adios. And then he can have the new joint chiefs come brief him on their compliance with his order. And when they fail to comply, he can relieve them too. The message will get out.
But he must devote time to this job. A president’s most precious resource is his time. And to fix the military, he must spend time on it to the exclusion of other, lesser priorities. But it can be done. We did it before a generation ago. And we can do it again.