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The Bunker: Military Leaders Jumping Ship

“I have never seen the Pentagon so chaotic”

The Bunker, delivered to our subscribers Wednesdays at 7 a.m., is a newsletter from the desk of National Security Analyst Mark Thompson. Sign up here to receive it first thing, or check back Wednesday afternoon for the online version.


SEVENTEEN DAYS IN JUNE

President Trump chills at West Point

Whether it’s using active-duty troops to clear American cities, proposals to rename Army posts, or second thoughts by Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army General Mark Milley, as nominees for best supporting actor for tagging along with Trump across Lafayette Park, the brass is increasingly, and publicly, dissing the commander-in-chief.

The president senses this in his gut. That’s why his graduation speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on Saturday was so tepid. He forced the 1,100 cadets back to their New York school for a two-week quarantine so they could listen to his lacquered platitudes, wrapped in misleading claims. It was a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, in pastels. There were no family and friends in attendance; Esper, Class of 1986, and Milley were also conspicuously MIA.

It’d be quicker and less messy if the military brass simply all jumped ship at once. But they have sworn an oath—to either obey President Trump’s lawful commands or resign their commissions—and no one has opted for the latter. Instead, they’re acting more like insurgents, quietly planting IEDs to blow up in the president’s face when all he wanted to do was stroll through the park. Think of it as the civ-mil equivalent of water torture, or of a 21st Century twist on Seven Days in May.

Ever since June 1, when he took that walk in the park, critics—including many who served—believe Trump’s abuses as commander-in-chief have reached a tipping point. It’s in keeping with his love-hate relationship with the military: he hated it when he was eligible to join, but loves it now for the reflected pomp its circumstances cast on him. He has denigrated American heroes like the late senator John McCain and Army Capt. Humayun Khan, killed in Iraq. He has besmirched public servants like ex-SECDEF Jim Mattis, and sided with a tarnished Navy SEAL facing military justice. More than 1,000 members of the Long Gray Line—West Point graduates—signed an open letter to the Class of 2020 warning them of their duty to the Constitution. While Trump’s name goes unmentioned, it’s clear who it’s all about.

A souring spat between the president and his military brass has real-world consequences. Ace Pentagon scribe Jeff Schogol noted the danger after returning to the building for the first time in three months because of the pandemic. “The word this reporter has heard most often to describe the current climate in the Pentagon has been 'crazy,'” he writes at the Task & Purpose website. “In the 15 years that it has been my honor to cover the military and service members, I have never seen the Pentagon so chaotic.”

Sleep soundly, Bunker-mates.

ATHWARTING HISTORY

Only President Trump stands in the way

The Bunker has been agitating for years that the time has come to rename the 10 Army posts honoring Confederate military officers. The rest of the country—the Army chief of staff, the defense secretary, both houses of Congress—finally seem to be catching up. The only notable exception is the president of the United States. “My Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations,” he tweeted June 10.

The commander-in-chief reminds The Bunker of the late William F. Buckley, founder of the conservative National Review magazine. In his 1955 “mission statement” for the new journal, he declared that the magazine “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

Sounds an awful lot like Trump on the military-base renaming issue. But two days after Trump said he would “not even consider”—would not even consider?—new names for the Army posts, National Review weighed in on the topic.

“There is no reason why this renaming should not take place,” writes Cameron Hilditch, a William F. Buckley fellow at the magazine. “American history is replete with men and women who gave their last full measure of devotion for the values that the Union flag has proclaimed at home and abroad for nearly a quarter-millennium. Those who led a bloody rebellion against that flag to preserve an economy of human subjugation were traitors to the nation our military serves; they don’t deserve to be honored.”

The Bunker believes Bill Buckley would agree.

BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE A MISSILE?

Trying to keep the nuclear triad alive

The Bunker’s latest Military-Industrial Circus column is about the recent Air Force decision to speed up development of its Long-Range Standoff missile. The Pentagon argues that it needs the new $20 billion missile program to keep its Eisenhower-era B-52 bombers relevant as one of the legs in the nation’s nuclear triad (consisting of bombers, land-based Intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs, to their friends] and submarine-launched ballistic missiles).

Actually, truth be told, the B-52 is no longer a “bomber” but a “lobber.” Top-secret U.S. war plans require B-52s to fly close to targets in Russia, China, Iran, North Korea—you name it, and the Pentagon has plans to bomb it—but stay outside of the range of enemy air defenses. That requires bombers to carry missiles, so they can “safely” lob atomic weapons, designed to kill millions, with minimal risk to the bomber and its crew. Bizarre world, this nuclear-war biz. It’s all part of the strange theology of nuclear warfare, and no one at the Pentagon wants to risk excommunication.

BEAMING US UP

Airborne laser weapon on track for 2022 demo

That’s the word from the Air Force, according to this June 10 dispatch in C4ISRNET (a trade publication just as nuts about acronyms as the high-tech building it covers). Pentagon watchers of a certain age may recall that Defense Secretary Bob Gates killed the YAL-1 Airborne Laser in 2009. That big ray gun, crammed into a 747, was designed to shoot down enemy missiles shortly after their launch. “There's nobody in uniform that I know who believes that this is a workable concept,” he said after his department spent $5 billion on it.

This smaller AC-130 Ghostrider version is designed to fry electronics aboard enemy aircraft. “…the offensive high energy laser would be able to disable enemy systems stealthily,” the report says. “As envisioned, a Ghostrider could take out several aircraft, defensive weapons and sensors with its silent, unseen laser weapons before the enemy even knew they were under attack. There’s no explosion, sounds or flashes of lights to alarm the targets. An enemy combatant would only realize what had happened once they attempted to use a system that had already been disabled.”

Kinda like a lot of the Pentagon’s wonder weapons, many of which tend to self-disable.

Of course, the U.S. military’s longest war has been against the Taliban in Afghanistan, which doesn’t have an air force, but it’s still a cool idea. “Laser weapons are five years into the future,” The Bunker recalls hearing a Pentagon official say 30 years ago, “and always will be.”

WHAT WE'RE READING

Here’s what has caught The Bunker's eye recently

Shades of Robert McNamara?

Ex-SECDEF Bob Gates is out with a new book titled Exercise of Power: American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World. In his June 15 review, NPR Pentagon reporter Tom Bowman cites Gates’ “stunning admission” that he now believes the U.S. should have pulled its troops out of Afghanistan in 2002. In 2001 and 2002, 61 Americans died in Afghanistan. Since then, 2,449 have perished. Gates ran the Pentagon from 2006 to 2011. Thank you for your service.

The cuts are coming!

The Pentagon is doing what it always does: warn that cuts will harm the nation’s security and put off tough decisions about what to sacrifice until it is too late to make wise decisions. But as this independent assessment from data/analytics firm Govini makes clear, the pandemic makes looming cuts in the Pentagon budget all but inevitable.

How the ICBM force might escape…

Most Americans want to sleep soundly in our beds because warriors stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm. But they tend not to care how that happens. That shifts the power to those who really do care…like the congressional ICBM Coalition, as William Hartung of the Center for International Policy explains in this June 8 fact sheet. That’s why it is so challenging to change military policy…follow the money, and you’ll often learn why the Pentagon is like a soldier in lead combat boots.

A long time coming

General Charles “CQ” Brown became the first African-American to head a service following the Senate’s approval of his nomination to serve as Air Force chief of staff June 9, Military.com reports. (No word yet if this will change Lucy’s thinking about the [nuclear] football.) Brown spoke passionately about racism in the ranks in this June 5 video.

Fill ‘er up, but not with that…

Hard to believe, but the beleaguered KC-46 tanker that Boeing is trying to build for the Air Force has run into another snafu, Air Force Times reported June 15. Seems the latest delivery had to be delayed because junk was found in its fuel tank. This isn’t the first time the plane has had such troubles. Colleague Dan Grazier wrote about the tanker’s woes just last week.

Overseas arms sales: cost vs. benefits

The Pentagon and its contractors like to sell their arms overseas in hopes that such deals will lower the cost paid by U.S. taxpayers for such weapons and build stronger alliances. But like so many deals with the devil, it doesn’t always work out that way, as this June 3 Cato Institute paper makes clear.

Three years ago today…

…the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant ship in the Pacific Ocean. On June 13, the warship left a shipyard at Pascagoula, Miss., for its new homeport of San Diego, after more than two years of repairs. The Bunkerwrote about the lack of training that led to the June 17, 2017 collision. The Navy spent an estimated $523 million making the Fitzgerald shipshape once again. Unfortunately, nothing can bring back the seven sailors lost that night.