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.
This week in The Bunker: scouring the heavens for votes; a small Pacific island is becoming the fulcrum for the coming showdown with China; why the U.S. is good at winning battles and lousy at winning wars; and more.
A NEW PENTAGON MISSION
Tracking down outer-space vote fraud
Who knew the Pentagon had a role to play in U.S. elections? Certainly not The Bunker. In more than 40 years of covering the building, he can only recall writing about the Defense Department’s honorable get-out-the-vote push among the troops. But it turns out the Defense Department had a much bigger role to play in the most recent presidential election: trying to confirm that an Italian defense contractor uploaded software to a satellite that then switched U.S. votes from President Donald Trump to challenger (and ultimate winner) Joe Biden.
And you thought Star Wars was nuts.
The topic was launched(PDF) at the June 23 congressional hearing into the January 6, 2021, mob attack on the U.S. Capitol. Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) asked Trump-appointed Justice Department officials about what Kinzinger — a Republican — called a “completely baseless conspiracy theory.” In the final days of the Trump administration, the White House wanted DOJ to investigate a video, orbiting on YouTube, that alleged the stellar vote-snatching. Like humans in space, the charge was weightless, but that didn’t deter Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, from demanding it be (space) probed.
Richard Donoghue, who served as acting deputy attorney general in the waning days of Trump’s presidency, told Kinzinger the video was “pure insanity” and “patently absurd.” His then-boss, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, told the panel that he told the White House, on New Year’s Day following the election, that the Justice Department would have nothing to do with investigating it.
Running into a brick wall at Justice, the White House dialed up the Pentagon for reinforcements. After all, the alleged plot involved an Italian defense contractor and Italy’s a member of NATO, so why not? Plus, the CIA and Britain’s MI6 spy agency were supposedly somehow involved in the heist. So Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who had been tapped by Trump to run the Pentagon six days after the 2020 election, dutifully saluted when the White House telephoned. “A call was actually placed by Secretary Miller to the [U.S. defense] attaché in Italy,” Kinzinger said, “to investigate the claim that Italian satellites were switching votes from Trump to Biden.” Miller’s action when it came to the White House’s bizarre and brazen request stands in sharp contrast to the building’s foot-dragging when the Capitol actually was under attack on his watch several days later.
Pentagon leaders should go nowhere near domestic politics. Especially when the scam sounds like a Dr. Evil scheme from one of Austin Powers’ movies (“One…million dollars votes!”).
Highlighting the shambles that the Trump administration had become in its final days, Miller, Rosen, and Donoghue all were serving in their high-ranking jobs in acting capacities, without Senate confirmation. At least the pair from Justice knew how to play their roles.
ANOTHER TIP OF THE SPEAR
Germany then, Guam tomorrow
The U.S. military is readying for war with China. That puts the U.S. territory of Guam — 1,800 miles from the Chinese coast — on the front line. The chief of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command says he needs the U.S. military’s best fighter aircraft permanently based on the island. “Guam is absolutely a strategic location,” Admiral John Aquilino said June 24. “We will need to operate from Guam, we will need to both fight for and from Guam, and it will provide a variety of capabilities and support functions should we end up in some crisis situation.” Three days earlier, the head of the U.S. Pacific Air Force said the isle needs better missile defenses to protect those F-22 and F-35 fighters, and other military assets, from Chinese attack. “I can’t get it soon enough,” General Kenneth Wilsbach said.
The U.S. military sees China as its biggest threat. That’s why the Pentagon is pumping $11 billion to beef up U.S. forces on Guam over the next five years, upsetting some locals. The Pentagon currently controls 27% of the 30-by-12-mile island. Andersen Air Force Base regularly hosts B-52 bombers, Navy warships, and submarines. Nearly 5,000 Marines are moving from Japan, where they are no longer welcome, to Guam. The Army runs a missile defense system to protect all this hardware, and the 168,000 Americans living there. China is “capable of conducting precision conventional or nuclear strikes against ground targets, such as U.S. military bases on Guam,” according to the Pentagon’s latest annual report on China’s military, released in November. There’s even a Chinese missile that has been dubbed the “Guam killer.” So a new and improved missile shield — protecting the island from attack in any direction — is in the works.
“In a war with China,” Task & Purposereported June 20, “the American territory of Guam would likely become the 21st Century Pearl Harbor.”
Or it could be the 21st Century’s Fulda Gap.
That’s the German lowland corridor that the U.S. and NATO feared Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks would plunge through to take over Western Europe. The Fulda Gap became the Pentagon’s favorite Cold War red flag, which it constantly waved to warn the West of the communist hordes poised to invade. But it never happened. Turns out those 10-foot-tall Russian soldiers would have had as much success taking NATO in the last century as they had taking Kyiv in recent months.
China poses a threat to the U.S. But the Pentagon’s warnings about Beijing should be tempered by the lessons history has taught us about the Russians.
THE AMERICAN WAY OF BATTLE
Why the U.S. wins battles, not wars
The U.S. military excels at winning battles, but doesn’t do so well when it comes to winning wars. Antulio J. Echevarria II of the Army War College wonders why. “The assumption that winning battles suffices to win wars is a risky one, and it has plagued American strategic thinking since at least the Vietnam War,” he writes in the summer issue of Military Strategy Magazine (something you won’t find in your doctor’s waiting room). Winning wars, he says, “means having the ability and the inclination to view an armed conflict not only militarily but also politically and in socio-cultural terms” — something the military doesn’t want in its foxhole.
Winning battles is what the U.S. military does best. Combat prowess requires technology and high-tech hardware — the bone, muscle, and sinew of the military-industrial complex — and is where nearly all U.S. national-security dollars go. Yet “winning battles or engagements does not necessarily equate to accomplishing one’s political objectives,” Echevarria writes. “Instead, closing the gap from battlefield victory to policy success can prove quite difficult, especially within the context of a modern limited war.”
This is not a new line of argument. The Pentagon famously failed to prepare for Iraq after it ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003. Fifteen years ago, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. needed to boost spending for the State Department to match U.S. military might. “We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen,” Gates said in Kansas in 2007. “Having a sitting secretary of defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of ‘man bites dog’ or, for some back in the Pentagon, blasphemy.”
He was joking. But after losing wars for 50 years, it’s no laughing matter.
Echevarria calls for a wholesale retooling of U.S. Army doctrine to reflect the greater challenge of achieving post-battle victory. “The U.S. Army profession deserves, indeed is owed, a more robust discussion of the relationship between military operations and political and sociocultural conditions,” he concludes. “Not only does it still retain its bias toward battle rather than war, it also is at times highly subjective in nature due to the fact that `lessons learned’ in one conflict are not necessarily transferable to another, and due to the military’s tendency to modify knowledge to protect individual and institutional interests.” [Emphasis added by The Bunker.]
“Modifying knowledge” is Pentagon lingo for “alternative facts.” As for protecting “individual and institutional interests,” now you know why it’s called the Department of Defense.
WHAT WE'RE READING
Here’s what has caught The Bunker's eye recently
Gordon Adams, a veteran defense-budget maven who oversaw Pentagon spending in the Obama administration, explained in his June 27 Sheathed Sword column why Democrats in Congress are pumping more money into President Biden’s 2023 Pentagon budget proposal.
As the Air Force fights to retire the A-10 Warthog, Brian Boeding shows how the Russo-Ukrainian war highlights its value, in Task & Purpose June 24.
Pentagon big spenders always talk about how the nation needs to be able to fight two wars at once. Of course, we had to defeat the Germans first during World War II before beating the Japanese, and had to win (eyeroll) in Iraq before we could win (double eyeroll) in Afghanistan in the post-9/11 wars. Given that history, it’s heartening to hear Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall say it is “unrealistic” to expect his service to wage two wars simultaneously, per Air Force Magazine June 24.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pledged June 24 to provide “seamless access to reproductive health care” to U.S. troops following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that ruled that abortion was a constitutional right. On June 27, the Congressional Research Service issued a summary of U.S. military abortion policies.
The Air Force has bombed the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich into oblivion, Sarah Sicard reported in Air Force Times June 20. The service’s medical branch has replaced “two slices of Wonder Bread, a dollop of chunky Jif peanut butter, and globs of Smucker’s grape jelly” with peanut-only peanut butter and fresh fruit, between slices of broiled sweet potato. Is nothing sacred?
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