Header Image (book)


Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Third Shoe

by MacKubin Thomas Owens

The Department of Defense faces some stark choices in the future due to the threat of sequestration. But the continual sounds of shoes dropping at the Pentagon suggest that the sequester may be the least of its problems.

The first shoe was the announcement in December that Marine Gen. James Mattis would leave his post as commander of Central Command in March, well short of what would be expected of a combatant commander who has acquitted himself well since he was appointed in August 2010. Most observers were stunned. There seemed to be no logical reason for his being replaced early. Most unforgivably, he learned of the move when an aide read a Pentagon press release announcing the change.

According to recent reports (on journalist Tom Ricks’ blog, for instance), White House officials, especially National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, weren’t happy with Gen. Mattis’s advice, in particular his effort to change the strategic framework regarding Iran. Gen. Mattis thought we should be planning for what Iran is capable of doing —such as closing the Strait of Hormuz or attacking Israel —not just what we assume Iran will do. In addition, Gen. Mattis and the White House clashed over the way ahead in Afghanistan, his concerns about Pakistani stability, and the response to the Arab spring.

Despite these policy disagreements, it is noteworthy that during Gen. Mattis’s time as the commander responsible for one of the most volatile regions in the world, there were no manifestations of the unhealthy civil-military relations that characterized the tenure of Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense. There were no leaks to the press from within his command over policy disagreements and no reports of “slow rolling” or “foot dragging” in Gen. Mattis’s implementation of the president’s policy.

A president has every right to choose the generals he wants, but it is also the case that he usually gets the generals he deserves. By pushing Gen. Mattis overboard, the administration sent a message that it doesn’t want smart, independent-minded generals who speak candidly to their civilian leaders. What other generals and admirals are likely to take from this is that they should go along to get along, a very bad message for the health of U.S. civil-military relations.

The second shoe to drop was the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense. Much of the opposition to Mr. Hagel has focused on his alleged hostility to Israel and his seeming indifference to a nuclear-armed Iran. As serious as these issues may be, the real problem is his likely approach to the defense budget.

The Hagel nomination is a replay of President Harry Truman’s appointment of Louis Johnson as secretary of defense in early 1949. Like Mr. Obama, Truman was committed to funding his domestic programs at the expense of military spending. When the incumbent defense secretary, James Forrestal, argued that cuts in the defense budget were too deep in light of emerging threats, Truman asked for his resignation and replaced him with Johnson, whom most historians regard as a partisan hack.

Like Truman and Johnson before them, Messrs. Obama and Hagel are predisposed to look at the defense budget in the abstract, independent of the real world. Yes, the defense budget can and should be cut. But the danger is that President Obama has appointed Sen. Hagel for the same reason that Truman appointed Johnson: to take an ax to the Pentagon in order to free up money for the president’s expanded welfare state. This is alarming. National security strategy—not budget cuts for their own sake—should drive defense spending and force structure.

The third shoe dropped on Jan. 24, when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the opening of most ground-combat billets to females. There are three reasons this is a terrible policy change.

First, there are substantial physical differences between men and women that place the latter at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to ground combat. Second, men treat women differently than they treat other men. This can undermine the comradeship upon which unit cohesion, and thus battlefield success, depends.

Finally, the presence of women also leads to lowered—or worse, double—standards that will have a serious impact on morale and performance. Secretary Panetta’s statement that “if [women] can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve” is bunk, and everyone, especially infantrymen (and most women), knows it.

Indeed, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave the game away when he said as the policy change was announced that, “if we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, why is it that high?” Gen. Dempsey thereby guaranteed that politically appointed civilian officials will lower standards.

So we have a yes-man/hatchet-man as the likely next secretary of defense whose job is to do his worst at the Defense Department. And the firing of a general who did what he is supposed to do: provide advice forcefully. And women in the infantry, which undermines military effectiveness but pleases the diversity crowd.

With a secretary who doesn’t care and generals who will now think it in their best interest to keep quiet, we are likely to see more such nonsense. The combined effect of these three events will degrade the readiness and effectiveness of the U.S. military far more than sequestration will.

Mackubin Thomas Owens serves on the faculty of the Naval War College. He is also the editor Orbis, the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and author of US Civil-Military Relations After 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain.


  1. Arm the Muslim nations and withdraw. Is that our national security strategy now?

  2. With all due respect I have come to believe our overly assertive, quasi-dictatorial involvement in the Middle East has been fundamentally flawed from its inception.

    In my never humble opinion the forceful implantation -- by Western Powers, namely England and later the USA -- of modern-day Israel in the midst of hostile territory was a tragic error in judgment. Despite the admiral accomplishments of the incessantly beleaguered Jewish State, the bitter harvest the world has reaped from from its creation should prove that it was an error of mammoth proportions.

    Also, our high cost, ham-fisted attempts to change the culture by main force in Iran and our interference in the internal affairs of other nations all over the globe since our victory in World War Two have brought uniformly disastrous.

    We should have heeded George Washington's sage advice and done everything in our power to "avoid foreign entanglements."


  3. I'm not sure I'd call it "nonsense," as the author does in his final paragraph, but this is a well presented and frightening scenario of what the once-great America has become under Obama.
    And nobody's doing anything about it.

    Conservativesonfire..brilliant. So true. I heard last night that our returning military are having their promised stipends for college money cut; meanwhile we are arming Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood because they promise to be nice.
    By by, Miss American Pie.......

  4. I meant to say, "uniformly disastrous consequences" in my statement above.

    I want to add too that I deeply resent Rich, Powerful Influential Oligarchical Figures risking the lives, limbs, sight and sanity of our young men and a few hapless women to ensure and improve the prospects of a foreign power, and to further enrich the already rich in a cause that does little or nothing to serve the best interests of the United States of America.

    This does NOT mean that I support the OBAMA administration -- only that I have little or no respect for the NEOCONS who inveigled us into embracing this tar baby in the first place.

  5. I am sure we will be safe and sound with our drones hovering around the world,

  6. Arm the Muslim nations and withdraw.

    Silly fringe right winger, you must be referring to the arms for Egypt.

    Look, this is all about Israel and making sure that the world's biggest welfare queens get everything they want.
    In order to do that you have to pass out a few bribes. Standard procedure to keep the lid on in Gaza.
    You should expect to spend a little on a valuable(LMFAO) ally like Benny Nuttyyahoo and Likud.

  7. There goes FT again, taking swipes at Israel. "I'm not prejudiced, why, SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE JEWS". Right, FT, you hypocritical sack of dog crap. Why don't you shut up about Israel for awhile? We all know now that you hate Jews.

    As for what Obama is doing, if you want a look at the future, read up on Adolf Hitler's rise to power. He, too, was a sociopathic megalomaniac and a Socialist. He too surrounded himself with people who would do what he said instead of differing with his policies. Obama is absolutely correct in all that he does and if you don't believe that, just ask him.

    Obama wants the United States to occupy a lesser position among world powers and become ruled by an Elite. His vision is for us all to be proletarians and he thinks that neither China nor Russia would ever attack us. Like Hitler, his vision is deeply flawed but also like Hitler was, he's unable to see it and won't see it even on his dying day.

  8. See, FT? Ducky's right with you on the Jew bashing. You two are a pair.

  9. No, no, NO!

    After 9-11 there was no "option" to withdraw into "fortress America".

    The problem is that all the idiots in our government and military keep looking for "exit strategies" instead of "victory strategies".

    ...and what it would take to WIN in the Middle East is NOT very much in terms of "treasure". All it would take would be the American adoption of al Qaeda's tactics. And no, I don't mean "suicide bombs". I mean setting up American citizens to serve as tribal warlords and allowing THEM to "make their fortunes" plundering the Afghan/ Pakistan tribes, controlling the drug trade and selling weapons.

  10. STOP trying to "civilize" them! It's an un-civil TRIBAL area!

  11. I suspect that if we sent the Bloods & Crypts over there (instead of to jail), we'd LITERALLY OWN Afghanistan/ Pakistan within a year, MAX!

  12. "setting up American citizens to serve as tribal warlords"

    LOL! And just how would you get all the Muslim natives to accept these Americans and join their little armies? Get back to us on that, will you? That would never work in ten thousand years.

  13. How much did you pay for that smoke?

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. The only drawback to MY plan is that heroin would LITERALLY retail for a nickle a bag on the streets of Chicago and NY.

    Never under-estimate the "profit" motive, Black Sheep.

  16. And just how would you get all the Muslim natives to accept these Americans and join their little armies?

    The SAME way al Qaeda does it. Go into their villages, kidnap the daughters of the chiefs, and then MARRY four of them (per warloard). Anybody complains, you kill the daughter and take another man's daughter hostage. If the old man still won't cooperate, you whack him and marry his wife (new hostage).

  17. So long as you "marry" them, technically, they're NOT hostages.

    It worked for the Romans. It was called "the rape of the Sabine women". Perhaps you've heard of it.

  18. And, thersites, tell us how that barbaric behavior will set with the American public and our democratic way of life, please. Really, how much DID you pay for that smoke? Come on. Seriously. That's NUTS!

  19. I know what happens to be true, BS, and I'm one of very very few who has the courage to tell it like it is.

    Sorry you don't like it.

    What I don't like is ANYONE who makes a career -- and profits enormously -- by TAKING OFFENSE and using his "hurt feelings" and calculated show of "OUTRAGE" to beat other people about the head and shoulders, thus cowing them into feeling inappropriate shame and embarrassment so that the OFFENDED ONE can have his or her way.

    After WWII this process quickly developed into a Fine Art, and it has made the entire world mentally ill. "OFFENDISM" is one of the biggest SCAMS every perpetrated on mankind.

    It is the ROOT and the BRANCH of Political Correctness -- a deadly scourge that has forced pusillanimity and sniveling hypocrisy on us all.

    Why else do you think The West is now in SUICIDE MODE?

    The TRUTH is always hard to take -- especially for those in Power, because it never flatters anyone.
    The political elite of His time CRUCIFIED Jesus Christ, precisely BECAUSE He told them the Truth.

  20. ... if you want a look at the future, read up on Adolf Hitler's rise to power.

    The best I've read is Richard Evans' "Third Reich" trilogy. He says you're full of crap.

    What are your sources.

  21. As for Ducky, Mr. Vinegarpuss, we must remember that "even a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day." ;-)

  22. The only drawback to MY plan is that heroin would LITERALLY retail for a nickle a bag on the streets of Chicago and NY.
    It's the drug of choice in Boston. Cheaper than cigarettes.

  23. I don't know Evans, but do you think Shirer's magnum opus The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is "full of crap," Ducky? I don't, I believe every word of it.

    HOWEVER, as the old tune (almost) says, "The Song Has Ended, but The MALADY Lingers On."

    What some group of vicious barbarians did to someone's ancestors in the past doesn't give ANYONE the right to wipe their boots all over ME.


  24. I wonder where we would be today had this Fruit Cake-in-Chief been in charge during WWII?

    BTW, I think that there was a forth shoe to drop (actually the first) in allowing flaming, so called, "Gays" to cohabit with [normal] service members. I guarantee that no good will come of that situation. Further, if B.O. "yes men", Generals, Admirals, etc report how well it's working, rest assured, it isn't!!!

  25. Ah the Sabine Women!

    Howard Keel did a wonderful job poking fun at the poor dears in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers singing in his hearty baritone about the "SOBBIN' WOMEN."

    Oh for the good old days when men were men and could rape and pillage their way to the top! -- NOT!

  26. And, thersites, tell us how that barbaric behavior will set with the American public and our democratic way of life, please. Really, how much DID you pay for that smoke? Come on. Seriously. That's NUTS!

    You thnk my recommendation is NUTS?

    NUTS is spending a trillion dollars on the war... and then LEAVING.

    Drug dealers in the West tend NOT to attack their clients or blow THEMSELVES ip.

  27. btw - the American public are dumberr than stumps. Who CARES what THEY think?

  28. Shirer called Hitler a socialist?

    Buy a vowel, FT.

    "The party had to play both sides of the tracks. It had to allow Strasser, Goebbels and the crank Feder to beguile the masses with the cry that the National Socialists were truly 'socialists' and against the money barons. On the other hand, money to keep the party going had to be wheedled out of those who had an ample supply of it."

    --- William Shirer

  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

  30. The articles posted here are often well stated and the subjects pertinent to our lives, but the people who comment on them are some of the strangest imaginable.

    Rarely does anything they say add to and/or expand the discussion of the topic. There's little agreement, only screwball points of view and wacky scenarios are offered.

    These same people use the privilege of commenting here as a forum for airing their personal grievances, to the point of being ludicrous in the extreme.

    They disgust me. This is why I challenge and insult them.

    Some housecleaning is seriously in order. If the blogmaster wants to clean me out as well, that's fine. I far prefer reasoned discussion to what I get here anymore, anyway. AOW seems to be the only one left who makes that effort.

  31. Well, Black Sheep, I typically let the discussions here lead to wherever they go.

    I hope that some commenters and readers are gleaning something and, if nothing else, solidifying their own views or questioning their own views (when appropriate).

    I've always tolerated tangents at all my blogs. Sometimes tangents yield insights about something other than the topic of the blog post.

    In any case, the tone of discussions is what it is.

    I concluded a long time ago that rarely do discussions on blogs change anyone's mind.

    We are indeed a polarized nation.

    Anyway, you are welcome to read -- and comment or not comment as you see fit. I do so at every blog I read.

  32. That man is taking it upon himself to try tell you how to run your blog, AOW. He takes it upon himself to chides other for for not making substantive remarks, while he does nothing but grumble and scold. The do what I say and not what I do approach always amuses me. We reveal ourselves most in what we say about people other than ourselves. I sense this poor man is very unhappy with the way his own life has turned out. People who've been disappointed and badly hurt often take it out on others. I suggest we try to be very very nice to him. It might help.

    ----------> Katharine Heartburn

  33. We need to stop all the foreign aid to our enemies. I'm with Rand Paul and a few others on that.

    Right Truth

  34. It's NICKEL not NICKLE.

    Unbrin de Grammaire

  35. Is it REALLY, cuz you really shouldn't correct non-mistakes... I mean if Websters considers it an accepatble variant.... who are YOU to disagree?


We welcome civil dialogue at Always on Watch. Comments that include any of the following are subject to deletion:
1. Any use of profanity or abusive language
2. Off topic comments and spam
3. Use of personal invective

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.