The View From Olympus: Curiouser and Curiouser

Alice, in the form of the American taxpayer, is wandering ever deeper into the Wonderland that is the Pentagon. An article from the October 15 Army Times is titled, “Hagel devises new mission for Army: Coastal defense force.” As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

The coastal artillery was the only branch of the U.S. Army that had any social cachet, so it is not surprising the Army might want to resurrect it. Considered only as an objet d’art, the coastal artillery has much to commend it. I would enjoy packing a picnic basket and going down to the shorre to watch the disappearing guns fire on passing tankers, and batteries of horse-drawn six pounders could put on a good show trying to pick off the occasional water skier. A cynic might make the argument that coastal artillery would be as relevant to our national security as any other component of the Army.

In the real world, the first question facing any proposal for “defense” is, what is it supposed to defend us against? Before an enemy could land in strength on our shores, it would have to defeat the U.S. Navy. Exactly who is in a position to do that is not clear. Neither Russia or China qualify. The Royal Navy just isn’t what it used to be. The French are dastardly enough to try anything, but how much threat is posed by landing the French Army is not clear. If it met our Army on the field of battle, the question would be, which is the better French Army? Do we fear a flotilla of a million sampans coming from China? A million dhows from the Persian gulf?

There is a serious side to Secretary Hagel’s startling proposal. How on earth could a seemingly sane Secretary of Defense suggest such a thing?

Years ago, my old colleague Paul Weyrich said to me of then-Senator Chuck Hagel, “He thinks about the Pentago the same way you do.” I am sure Paul was right at the time. Yet since the day Mr. Hagel became Secretary of Defense, he has served as a faithful spokesman for the Pentagon’s strategy. What is that strategy? As John Boyd put it, “Don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.”

This happens over and over. Even people who have been critical of the Pentagon, once they get an official position where they might be able to fix the place, turn their coats and become an advocate for it. It is easy to ascribe their new mindset to personal gain: if they play the game, they can count on being richly rewarded by defense industry when they leave office.

But something more subtle is also at work. It is difficult to be the only man in an organization who is critical of it. The loneliness of command becomes more lonely still. Not many people have the innere Führung to be able to stay that course. Add in the fact that the people in the uniformed military are mostly individually good people. You find yourself repeatedly upsetting and disappointing them. They cannot understand what you are doing, or why. After all, they accepted the rules of the game long ago. You are in the position of continually kicking a dog that only wants to be your friend.

And so we get the Secretary of Defense proposing the Army again serve as our coastal defense force. The Army, which will see only dollar signs, won’t tell the Secretary he’s nuts. The Navy could say to Secretary Hagel what the First Sea Lord said to the cabinet in London when Napoleon threatened to invade England: “I do not say the French cannot come; I say only that they cannot come by sea.” But it probably won’t, because the Navy does not take Secretaries of Defense seriously, nor civilian control of the military for that matter.

Somewhere in the Pentagon is a wall locker where Secretary Hagel, upon taking office, checked his brain, his backbone, and his balls. It is one of many lockers containing the same body parts from previous senior civilian defense appointees. Can we ever put someone in the Secretary’s position who refuses the operation? favicon