There is no institution on the planet that is more adept at doing today what it did yesterday than the Pentagon.
Under Obama and President Bush before him, America’s admirals and generals have also utterly failed to prepare us to fight adversaries like Russia and China.
The worst kept secret in the Pentagon is that the U.S. military may well lose a war to China. In scenario after scenario, war game after the war game, the U.S. military keeps losing.
Why? Because for decades, America’s admirals and generals have invested trillions of American taxpayer dollars in legacy military systems that made admirals and generals feel good (manned fighter aircraft, aircraft carriers) but made us increasingly vulnerable to competitors like China and Russia.
The U.S. Navy is right now a floating and extraordinarily expensive naval disaster waiting to happen. The Pentagon tied itself in knots over the firing of Captain Crozier and his coronavirus leadership.
Imagine the outrage when the American public learns that our vaunted aircraft carriers will have to turn tail and run at any sign of a serious threat from China. Why? Because Chinese missiles are capable of sending our carriers to the bottom of the ocean, while the U.S. military has failed to keep a strategic advantage in missile or anti-missile technology.
Trump campaigned against the swamp, and he was right to do so.
Nowhere has the swamp made us weaker than when it comes to the U.S. military. The swamp of Congress, ex-Congressmen who are lobbyists, defense companies, and the ex-admirals and generals who now profit at defense companies all get rich.
America, meanwhile, loses its strategic advantage. Americans should know: the U.S. Navy might lose to the Chinese in the South China Sea. The U.S. Army could lose to Russia in Europe. America’s military advantage has been extinguished by the same class of failed military leaders who failed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Trump could have and should have been the president to end America’s misadventures and take on the swamp in Washington. Instead, he has allowed his ego and moments of self-indulgence to distract from the important mission of keeping America safe.
Donald Trump received five deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam. He never served one day in the military. He was in no position to disrespect people who served.
Nevertheless, his presidential campaign was notable for its blatant disrespect of John McCain’s time as a POW and his disrespect for a gold star family who spoke against his travel ban.
Once he became president, Trump called a group of admirals and generals who were briefing him at the Pentagon, “dopes and babies.” Early in his presidency, he was surrounded by generals who agreed to serve under him, like General John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, and James Mattis. All of those men have left the Trump administration, and not one of them retains a good relationship with the president. Mattis, Trump’s former secretary of defense, has come out to criticize the president vocally. Recently, dozens of retired admirals and generals have come out to criticize the current commander-in-chief.
The shame of all of this is that on matters of policy, war, and the swamp, Trump has been right, and the admirals and generals have been wrong. Yet Trump’s style, which seems to reduce every conflict to a conflict of personality, has shrunk the power of his presidency.
Perhaps, above all, Trump’s leadership style runs exactly to counter the U.S. military’s culture of service. In the military, leaders are taught to put their soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines first. For all his gifts and abilities, Trump is very clearly a leader who thinks of himself first and whose ego often seems to be in charge of American policy.
In this regard, as in so many others, Trump has been his own worst enemy. The American people and the American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who serve this country need a commander-in-chief who is willing to call out the failed leadership of America’s military leaders. Trump could be that champion if only he would put someone else first.