Defense Policy, Foreign Policy

A Victory by Any other Name

War is hell, and so the only responsible goal of war is a clear and attainable victory.  This victory can take many forms. Far from being “precipitous”, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq recognizes the fact of our victories in both conflicts. In contrast, the critics of this decision seek to deny them and expand the goals of both wars to encompass goals that history shows are unattainable in our lifetimes.

The despicable attacks of September 11, 2001 should have always been the touchstone of the definition of victory in the Afghan War. Our goals then were clear and simple – the defeat of Al Qaeda and its Taliban enablers.   We accomplished both objectives. Osama bin Laden lies dead at the hands of an American SEAL team and Al Qaeda has been decimated as an operational entity, reduced to being simply a slogan.  The Taliban were driven from power in Afghanistan and a new government installed that is more tolerant and internationally responsible.  It is not a perfect peace and the centuries-old ethnic rivalries and internal wars that defeated the British and the Russians means that the current government could fall and potentially be replaced by the Taliban. In that event, we have other levers of power to prevent another attack, such as immigration and trade sanctions. In the end, the future of Afghanistan will be up to the Afghan people. Its history proves that we cannot affect that decision any more than the British and Russian Empires could.  Our only interest is to prevent further terrorism from originating in Afghanistan and, as this article points out, our victory lays a solid groundwork for achieving this result.

Our intervention in the Syrian civil war was never necessary, but now ISIS has been defeated and no longer controls any territory.  This is a victory by any definition and justifies the complete withdrawal of all forces from Iraq and Syria.  Once again, our futile attempts to solve the religious and ethnic rivalries of the Middle East with American blood must come to an end.

After the final battle was won in the Spanish–American War, the War Department wanted Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and the army to remain in Cuba as an occupying force in clear conflict with our stated goal of supporting the Cuban people’s desire for independence.  In a letter that risked a court-martial, he said the army “must be moved at once or perish” from yellow fever and malaria.  Our soldiers must now be withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq to prevent similar unnecessary casualties. We can then concentrate on the new challenges of the multi-polar world and, in particular, those of China and Russia.   

Coronavirus, Defense Policy, Foreign Policy

An Embarrassment to a Great Name

Acting secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly has just submitted his resignation as a result of the mess surrounding the dismissal of the Captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt Brett Crozier. Modly’s departure is undoubtedly his most gracious and professional act during the whole affair. 

The DefenseOne website provides a helpful and well-documented timeline of this sorry episode in recent Navy history.  I agree that Capt. Crozier’s use of unclassified channels for the letter and its wide distribution strongly suggests an intent to publicize the COVID-19 crisis on the ship beyond the chain of command and potentially to the media. TR’s great-grandson Tweed penned an op-ed supporting Capt, Crozier.  However, he notes that, while a similar protest by his great-grandfather during the Spanish-American War accomplished  Roosevelt’s goal, it cost him a Medal of Honor in his lifetime.  Both were the kind of calculated risks that either earn you a commendation or a court-martial in the military.

Nevertheless, the timeline makes it clear that it was Modly, not Crozier, who first interfered with the chain of command by encouraging the Captain to contact him directly and thus by-passing his commanding admiral.  Modly then inflamed the situation further by flying unannounced to the ship and calling Capt. Crozier “stupid” and “naïve” to the crew of the Roosevelt and accusing him of undermining the chain of command.  In fact, those words are a more accurate description of his own actions, not those of the captain.  

TR probably almost came out of the grave in anger over this fiasco associated with his name and beloved navy.  The damage is done, but hopefully will be repaired soon by a leader with his honor, bravery and intelligence. 

Defense Policy, Foreign Policy

Great Power Threats off Our Own Shores

We have certain duties in the West and East Indies. We cannot with honor shirk those duties. On the one hand we must undertake them, and on the other we must not fail to perform them in a way that will redound to the advantage of the people of the islands, no less than to our national renown.

Theodore Roosevelt, “America Part of the World’s Work”, February 1899

Neoconservatives and other globalist elites have often hyped the need for American intervention in the Middle East or elsewhere by claiming we faced grave and imminent threats to our national security. The Pentagon just released a map illustrating real threats to our security that should worry every American.  It shows that Russian and Chinese naval forces have dramatically increased their activity along our own East Coast.  As mentioned in the attached article, the scope and scale of Russian submarine activity led one senior officer to say:

“Our new reality is that when our sailors toss the lines over and set sail, they can expect to be operating in contested space once they leave Norfolk.  Our ships can no longer expect to operate in a safe haven on the East coast or merely cross the Atlantic unhindered to operate in another location.”

Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, Commander U.S Navy 2nd Fleet, February 4, 2020

Much of this activity occurs along or near undersea cables that carry internet and other communication traffic between the U.S., Europe and South America.  Russia clearly knows the critical value of these links as illustrated by their own recent experiment in isolating their own domestic internet from the rest of the world as a way of hardening it from attack. 

Meanwhile, the Chinese navy has also become active not only in east Asian waters, but also in the Arctic and off South America.  In particular, a tiny red dot on the map off of Florida represents China’s recent construction of a port in the Bahamas and reflects their increasing presence in that island nation.  China has used similar investments to create “debt-traps” that force nations to convey long term leases or other rights to China easily convertible to military use.  Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has highlighted the existence of a Chinese listening station in Cuba.  China also recruited several Caribbean nations to join their Belt and Road Initiative even though they are far removed from the stated focus of the program on the Eurasian heartland. 

TR knew the strategic importance of preserving our influence in the Western Hemisphere as well as the tactical value of a navy in projecting power across the world.  Instead of wasting money and resources in the Middle East, we should be paying attention to the increasing competition for power and influence here in our own back yard.  If we lose that competition, our national security and the American homeland itself will be threatened as never before.