Marine General Joseph F. Dunford, who has been nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is by reputation one of our best and brightest generals. Friends who have worked with him tell me he’s great. In his short tenure as Marine Corps Commandant, he moved to end much of the nonsense that had gone on under his predecessor, including suppression of dissent. Virtually all the Marines I know let great hosannas ring when he took over.
So how, in his recent confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, did he get it so wrong?
According to the July 10 New York Times, General Dunford told the committee,
Russia’s aggressive behavior and its nuclear arsenal make it the single greatest national security threat faced by the United States…
Throughout the hearing, when asked about threats, General Dunford returned repeatedly to Russia…
“If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia,” he said. “And if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”
Where did this come from? If General Dunford just meant that the size of Russia’s nuclear arsenal means they could threaten our national existence, he is technically correct. But the same could be said of Britain, France, China, and Israel, all of which could drop enough nuclear warheads on us to destroy the country. We don’t consider those countries threats, because we know they don’t plan to do that. Russia doesn’t either.
If General Dunford means that Russia’s actions in Ukraine so threaten us that they make Russia our number one enemy, that is also nonsense. The U.S. has no interest at stake in Ukraine, and General Dunford suggested we should send weapons to the Ukraininans to fight the Russians. Russia has no troops in Mexico or Canada, nor is she considering sending arms to the Taliban, ISIS, Mexican drug cartels, or anyone else we are fighting. Just who is the threat to whom here? Most fundamentally–and I am going to write this in big letters–THE WORLD HAS CHANGED!
The main threat to the United States is not any other state. The main threat is spreading statelessness and the Fourth Generation elements that fill the resulting space. What the U.S. and the international sate system need is an alliance of all states against non-state forces. The two allies we need most, the only two strong enough to do us some good, are China and Russia. The only way Russia would be likely to become a threat to us is if the Russian state were to disintegrate. That was a real possibility under President Yeltsin. President Putin’s great achievement has been strengthening the Russian state. For that, we should thank him. Instead, the incoming JCS chairman has pronounced Russia our number one threat.
General Dunford’s flight into fancy did not stop with Russia. According to the Times,
Asked whether the military had the ability to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, General Dunford was unequivocal. “My understanding is that we do, senator,” he said.
Again, this may be technically correct. We may be able to destroy most Iranian nuclear facilities. But we cannot destroy the knowledge Iran has, knowledge which would enable them to rebuild quickly. After such an attack, Iran would unquestionalbly move to build a bomb, something it is not doing now. And Iran would respond on the ground using allied Shiite militias to round up all the American troops in Iraq and probably attacking those in Afghanistan as well, with plenty of help from Afghans.
So what gives? How could one of, by reputatioon, our best generals get it so wrong? He did not appear to be doing as the White House bid; it distanced itself from his remarks. Was he nervous before the committee? Had someone coached him with answers intended to please committee chairman John McCain, who wants war with Russia and everyone else?
There may be one clue to an answer. If, when interviewed by the White House, a candidate for the JCS nomination said what I said, namely that wars between states are obsolete and the real threat we face is 4GW, he would not be nominated. Too many rich rice bowls in Washington depend on preparing for wars with other states. Only “peer competitors” seemingly justify the vast defense budget and huge weapons programs. Against 4GW opponents, they are useless or worse.
Perhaps General Dunford does know that the world has changed. Perhaps he is just playing the role he must in the usual kabuki until he gets the JCS job. At that point, he will try to move Washington to confront reality. I have thought that before about senior Marine generals about to move up. So far, I have been disappointed.