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The Bunker: Unseen Threats

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The topsy-turvy turmoil continues this week. The Pentagon pulled the plug on its “critical” $10B JEDI program, a key non-governmental backer of anti-nuke efforts bails out, troops threatening to shuck their uniforms if the COVID-19 vaccine becomes mandatory, and don’t even mention Afghanistan. Yeah, The Bunker is in A Funker.

CLOUD-Y WEATHER

The not-JEDI for prime-time players call it quits

The Pentagon killed its troubled Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program, designed to put the Defense Department’s 13 different computer clouds into a single gigantic combat cumulus, July 6. “With the shifting technology environment, it has become clear that the JEDI Cloud contract, which has long been delayed, no longer meets the requirements to fill the DoD’s capability gaps,” a Pentagon official said, apparently with a straight face. If that were the yardstick, much of the Defense Department’s arsenal would have to be canceled, leaving it incapable of beating even junior-varsity insurgents.

The companies—Amazon and Microsoft—had fought to land the winner-take-all program, launched in 2018. Microsoft actually won it twice, although a federal court had put the program on hold because Amazon protested its loss. There were grounds for complaint: President Trump reportedly wanted to make sure the deal didn’t go to Amazon whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns the Washington Post. Others claimed the revolving door between Amazon and senior Pentagon officials corrupted the award process.

The Defense Department originally insisted that awarding the entire deal to a single bidder was the way to go. “Single award is advantageous because, among other things, it improves security, improves data accessibility and simplifies the department’s ability to adopt and use cloud services,” a Pentagon official argued in 2018. But experts say that single-winner requirement ultimately doomed the deal, leading to a politically-charged fight destined to be tied up in the courts indefinitely. It’s looking like what emerges from JEDI’s wreckage will be a joint arrangement featuring…Amazon and Microsoft.

Given its complexity, taxpayers can only scratch their heads over the flip-flopping fiasco. Unlike that 20-year long conflict with those junior-varsity insurgents in Afghanistan, the Pentagon wasted only three years on JEDI. The acronym—a play on the Jedi knights of Star Wars fame—thankfully won’t afflict its successor. It’s going to be known, dully and dutifully, as the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability.

TIME TO DUCK AND COVER?

Grim news on the nuclear front

When it comes to the merit of nuclear weapons, there is no comparing the Defense Department to the MacArthur Foundation. The Pentagon wants to spend up to $1.7 trillion building a new nuclear triad of bombers, submarines, and land-based missiles to keep deterrence (and the prosect of instant international incineration) alive. The foundation—which also awards those “genius grants” that The Bunker never gets—has spent $100 million in the form of grants to reduce the danger posed by nuclear weapons over the past five years. But it’s getting out of that business. “We will exit the nuclear field” with 2023’s grants, MacArthur says on its website. “The foundation’s investments and the opportunities afforded by the external landscape did not offer a line-of-sight to our ultimate…goal” to “end production and eliminate the stockpiles of weapons-useable material,” it told The Bunker.

That’s bad news, according to anti-nuclear activist Ward Wilson. “The second nuclear arms race is on,” he wrote in The Hill July 9. “The cautious, step-by-step approach of arms control, with the minimalist goal of ‘limiting’ nuclear weapons, indeed has failed.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. “It’s been almost 30 years since The Bunker floated on air while walking into the Pentagon following the historic nuclear weapons cuts made by presidents George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev,” we noted last year. It took a willingness to dare to make it happen.

But the status quo is likely to prevail. “Both the Obama administration and the Trump administration continued funding for nuclear modernization,” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said July 9. “In this administration, the first budget that came over continues that recognition of the need for modernization.” The Biden administration launches its review of U.S. nuclear policy this week. Like its proposed 2022 defense budget, and all the prior pro forma U.S. Nuclear Posture Reviews, it’s unlikely to change much. “Nuclear posture reviews have always inhabited the mainstream of the nuclear enterprise—the community of expertise and practice that endures beyond the tenures of presidents and parties,” the late Janne Nolan (and Brian Radzinsky) wrote in 2018.

The Bunker is no peacenik, but the continuing luck of living on a knife’s-edge of terror posed by nuclear weapons will eventually run out.

For its part, the Air Force Association, the service’s biggest independent booster, has decided to enter the lobbying trade for the first time in its 75-year history. “We want to invigorate our efforts on Capitol Hill,” an AFA official toldPolitico. The Air Force operates the bomber and ICBM legs of the nuclear triad. It’s a safe bet its lobbyists will do all they can to keep those two legs running in place.

VACCINE SHOWDOWN

Making it mandatory could cause trouble

The latest flashpoint between the Pentagon and some of its troops could come soon, if, as expected, the U.S. military makes COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory. It seems that some elements of the All-Volunteer Force would prefer to be known as the Anti-Vax Force. Getting the shot, of course, should be a no-brainer. But nothing is that simple in this country. “The last damn thing you need is to have those in the military that are our warriors unable to respond to a mission because they've gotten COVID-19,” former defense secretary Leon Panetta said July 11. “There's no excuse for that.”

Except that there is. It’s what happens when the polarization splitting the nation infects its politics and its military. Only about two-thirds of U.S. troops have gotten at least a single vaccination dose. “I've been contacted by members of our voluntary military who say they will quit if the COVID vaccine is mandated,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-KY, said July 3. He proposed legislation in June that would let troops opt out of the vaccine. “Forcing someone to take a needle into his or her body is violence,” he tweeted.

Troops already are required to get 17 vaccines for ailments ranging from measles to the flu. “When I was in the Army, I got every shot required by the military, shots in both arms as well as everywhere else,” Panetta said. “There is no reason we should not require a COVID-19 shot for everyone in the military, period.”

While Massie’s bill has no chance of winning approval in a Democratic Congress, it’s the political limelight that he’s seeking that’s deplorable. The scientific consensus is clear that getting the shot will save lives. It’s amazing that Massie and his 25 co-sponsors are so cavalier about risking troops’ lives.

Much the same kind of political push is behind the state-to-state effort to send National Guard troops to patrol the southern border. Eight Republican governors have said they’ll send National Guard troops or state law-enforcement personnel to Texas at GOP Governor Gregg Abbott’s request. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem recently said she was sending troops there, funded at least in part by a private donor. “Money in politics already creates significant corruption concerns,” Bunker overlord Mandy Smithberger wrote in the Washington Post July 12. “This South Dakota deployment seemingly places decisions about where we use force and why up to the highest bidder.” These tugs-of-war over vaccinations and border deployments show a nation unable to come together to deal with real issues. Next thing you know, we’ll be losing the longest war in our history and wondering why.

AFGHANISHAM

The nation’s longest war comes to a pitiful end

Speaking of which, The Bunker’s final item this week is Afghanistan. After all, it’s not every day you witness the end of the longest war in your nation’s history. And a losing war, to boot. The Bunker, alas, has seen this happen twice. We’d make it the lead item, but it’s just too damn depressing.

“It's a crushing defeat,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, R-IL, said July 11 on Meet the Press. As an Air Force KC-135 tanker pilot, he flew refueling missions over Afghanistan’s rugged terrain. “The Taliban have outlasted the will of the United States.” A July 9 independent assessment says the Taliban—which controlled 73 of Afghanistan’s 398 districts on May 1—now control 204. “What we’re seeing right now is that they’re taking out the districts, and then they will move on to the cities and provincial capitals, and then Kabul itself in due course,” Carter Malkasian, a former special assistant to the Joint Chiefs, told a Washington confab the same day. “Their strategy is to try to capture Kabul and take over the whole country.”

On July 12, the Pentagon itself finally acknowledged the Taliban’s aim. “It is clear from what they are doing that they have governance designs certainly of a national scale,” spokesman John Kirby said. “It is clear from what they are doing that they believe there is a military solution to the end of this conflict.”

The U.S. public likes shiny new things, whether it’s the latest car or the freshest fish. But after awhile, such things begin to rust, or rot. That’s why nearly three of four U.S. voters support President Biden’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan after 20 years of a grinding stalemate.

The autopsies have begun, even as some U.S. troops in Afghanistan have yet to come home. Malkasian argues in his new book, The American Way of War, that the Taliban simply wanted to win more than the U.S. government and its Afghan allies. The Bunker recently cited the key role played by Pakistan that enabled the Taliban to prevail.

Grunts aren’t the only ones leaving.

On July 12, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan for nearly the past three years, Army General Austin “Scott” Miller, stepped down. “Our job now is just not to forget,” he said, as much as many Americans might want to. “With the families that have lost people across this conflict, it will be important to know that someone remembers, that someone cares, and that we’re able to talk about it in the future.” On July 8, the Pentagon acknowledged the military lawyer in charge of prosecuting five men for the 9/11 terror attacks is retiring with his job undone. Army Brigadier General Mark Martins spent the past decade vainly trying to bring the five, held in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, to justice. And, as the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, at least seven Afghan pilots have been hunted down and assassinated, almost certainly by the Taliban or its sympathizers, Reuters reported July 9.

“Why did we lose?” Malkasian, the Joint Chiefs’ aide, asked. “Some people argue that the United States never had a strategy,” he told that gathering at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that’s true. There was a strategy. It might not have been coherent, or it might not have been good, but there was a strategy.”

Talk about depressing.

WHAT WE'RE READING

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

Which one would you pick?

The Biden administration has allied itself with its predecessor and warned China to keep its hands off its multiple claims to various isles, islets, and islands and surrounding waters in the South China Sea. It also emphasized, in a July 11 statement, that “an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, public vessels, or aircraft in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.”

That’s good news for Filipinos, who have been feeling increasingly penned in by Beijing’s expansive view of the South China Sea as its own backyard pool. But it can hardly be reassuring to Taiwan—another nearby target of Chinese threats—which lacks any such U.S. security obligation. And after what’s happening in Afghanistan, it’s easy to understand why they might be feeling jittery.

Unseen threats

Washington spends so much time debating foreign nations that could end up as potential foes that it sometimes overlooks threats closer at hand. The Bunker was reminded of this over the past week by a pair of calamities affecting the U.S. military. On July 7, a tornado ripped through the Navy’s Kings Bay base in Georgia, the East Coast home of the its ballistic missile submarines, damaging about a dozen vehicles and injuring just as many people. Two days later, the Air Force released an investigation into maintenance snafus that caused nearly $3 million in damage to an F-22 fighter. Such events remind us that even the world’s best military force can be waylaid by Mother Nature, and us.

“I did what I was supposed to do”

Henry Parham, the last known surviving Black combat soldier from World War II’s D-Day invasion, died on July 4 in a Pittsburgh veterans hospital. He was a member of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, the battle’s only all-Black U.S. combat unit, the New York Times reported July 11. Parham spent nights following the invasion sending balloons aloft. The balloons were tethered to the ground with cables, which had small explosives attached. The detonating curtains were designed to destroy German warplanes during low-level strafing runs over Normandy’s beaches. “I did my duty,” he told CNN in 2019. “I did what I was supposed to do as an American.” 1921-2021. R.I.P.

Thanks for sticking with The Bunker to the bitter end this week. Next week has got to be better. Sign up to get The Bunker delivered on Wednesdays, here.