Last year, friends gave me a splendid Christmas present in the form of all ten volumes of Samuel Pepys’ diary covering the years 1660-1670. (As if that were insufficient, they accompanied it with a richly decorated chamber pot for the Imperial Library). Pepys, a civilian, was primarily responsible for developing the first modern naval administration, which turned a collection of ships into the Royal Navy.
The diary’s entry for July 4, 1663, touches on a broader matter. After visiting a general muster of the King’s Guards, Pepys wrote,
Where a goodly sight to see so many fine horse and officers, and the King, Duke (of York) and others come by a-horseback . . . (I) did stand to see the horse and foot march by and discharge their guns, to show a French Marquesse (for whom this muster was caused) the goodness of our firemen; which endeed was very good . . . yet methought all these gay men are not soldiers that must do the King’s business, it being such as these that lost the old King (Charles I) all he had and were beat by the most ordinary fellows that could be.
Pepys’ theme, the defeat of parade-ground armies by “most ordinary fellows”, is an old one. It appears to be unknown to our own military, or, more likely, they know it but cannot conceive it applies to them.
But it does. With all their vastly expensive equipment, they can put on a wonderful show, shows such as Gulf War I and the initial phase of Gulf War II. But once they no longer face another king’s Royal Guards and come up against those ordinary fellows, they lose. The U.S. Marines, who put on a show all the time, and a very convincing one, are now 0-4 against guys in bathrobes and flip-flops armed with rusty AKs. Pepys’ age-old theme repeats itself.
This faces us with two problems, one difficult, the other impossible. The first is how to turn a parade ground military into one that can fight war as it is, not as they want it to be, and win. We know the basic answers: reduce the number of officers above the company grades to a fraction of their present number, fire the contractors, get rid of up-or-out, adopt a regimental system and a true general staff, and change the type of people we promote. Do the intellectual work necessary to understand Fourth Generation war, and revise doctrine and training accordingly. Dump the hi-tech weapons useful only for parades. Most challengingly, get rid of the U.S. military’s 2GW culture with its inward focus and adopt the Third Generation’s outward-focused culture.
All that would be hard enough. But before we can attempt any of it, we must confront the impossible problem: finding national political leadership willing to put enough chips on military reform to make it happen.
If we survey the current crop of presidential candidates, we find not a one who even knows what military reform means. Most of the Republicans just howl for yet more spending on the Pentagon, to make the parade ground military even bigger. The Democrats, as usual, know nothing about defense and could not care less about it. Three candidates might–might–listen to someone who does know what military reform means: Trump, Sanders, and Rand Paul. The only reason to think they might have an interest is that they are anti-Establishment. The mice who are the remaining candidates squeak and twitter with fear at the notion of changing anything. A hint they might do so would be enough to endanger their Establishment membership.
When Trump says the problem is that our current politicians are dumb, he is half right. Most show intelligence at only one task, promoting themselves. But the other half of the problem is that they are cowards. They will risk nothing for the good of the country.
The reason Trump and Sanders are surging is that both have shown not only some sign of a brain, but also guts. The American people know something is drastically wrong with our country’s direction, and they are desperate to find a leader who will change our course. Most of our soldiers and Marines know the same about business as usual in their service. Where are real military leaders, men with brains and courage, to come from? Nowhere, so long as the politicians who choose our senior commanders and service chiefs remain mice.