Trump on Ending the Crony Capitalism of War
Donald Trump's policy position on the US military has not received much attention during the primary season, but to my knowledge the other candidates’ positions haven’t been highlighted either. Most of the candidates’ plans are seem to be reasonable, but do not address the critical problem, and that is a huge contractor warfighting capability has enabled US executive action to fight our wars divorced from both a sound national strategy and a connection to the American people. If Trump’s plan outlined below is correct,* it shows that Trump has the right approach to return America's military strength to a traditional element of our national strategy to serve the interests of Americans.
Warning: This is not an old Cold War debate of bombers vs. day care centers, rather it gets to heart of how we fight our wars: (via Conservative Treehouse):
Trump believes the collaborative private/government sector military partnership should be limited to the modernization of equipment and material (research and development), and never the deployment of soldiers or U.S. fighting forces. (snip) ... our soldiers should never be deployed through the use of private contractors who operate within a grey area, and whose objectives can become detached and end up serving their own best interests.
This is both a Republican and Democrat problem, but interestingly finds its origin with the American left during Bill Clinton's first administration. And ironically, it has come full circle to implicate Hillary in a little examined tidbit revealed in her informal intel network scandal. More about that later.
Contractors working for the military have been around since the US was founded, but the modern incarnation was started in a big way in the wake of the drawdown in the early 90s. Bill Clinton made a decision to reduce the strength of the armed forces below the floor established by CJS Colin Powell and the service chiefs. The two main issues for Clinton were first, a potential political disaster of jobless veterans by handing out far more ink slips than planned; and second, a greatly reduced military operational capability.
These shortfalls were addressed by hiring former military via contracting firms to perform support services, and in particular to support the fielding of new digitized systems. Large numbers of experienced veterans and uniformed counterparts forged the new automated command and control empire. From the point of view of the Pentagon's managerial class, it was valuable in two ways. The program addressed employment of vets, and it was hoped, the systems would rationalize the too-severe drawdown by showing how fewer troops were needed in combat. In retrospect, it was a flawed effort.
In 2003, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMasters, then a Lt. Col., thoroughly eviserated the theory of information dominance and also called attention to a troubling trend. That is, former military working for contractors who were essentially advocating for new warfighting doctrines which could only be achieved by purchasing the company's equipment. He notes:
While those charged with the development and testing of concepts clearly have the best intentions, many are contracted from large defense manufacturing companies such as Lockheed Martin, TRW, and General Dynamics. In addition to the incentive to develop sound concepts for future war, other influences such as the renewal of the consulting contract or the benefits to the parent company of developing concepts that demand that company’s weaponry or communications equipment have potential to cloud judgment.
During the 90s, this trend continued with contractors acting as Clinton's shadow force by advising Croatian forces in their successful operations to separate from the former Yugoslavia, and by providing training and assistance to fledgling Bosniak and Bosnian Croat forces. Once US forces entered Bosnia proper, contractors accompanied the first echelon to provide needed transportation and logistic support. Contractors were evolving from building military equipment and weapons stateside to becoming an operational necessity on the battlefield.
The success of former military in accomplishing these missions, along with the ever larger revenue stream it generated, meant private military companies had a place at the policy decision table. Instead of acknowledging the shortfalls of uniformed strength and resident expertise, the President and the Congress were content to be the sponsors of a new type of federal jobs program while the corporate leadership of Northrop-Grumman, General Dynamics, et al dictated operational requirements rather than the other way around.
A few years later during the Bush '43 administration, the entrenched civilian and military functionaries continued with the privatizing of military power. In the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, Americans were lining up in droves at recruitment stations and at intel agencies to join the war effort. Never before in the history of the US have so many been turned away by so few in the face of a clear threat to the country. What should have been a windfall for the armed forces was blocked by the beltway elite for a simple reason. It would reveal that manpower and operational readiness was so woeful that to acknowledge it by recruiting large numbers of people would be tantamount to admitting the military readiness posture was horribly fudged in the 90s. The only way to salvage the beltway's reputation and the functionaries’ jobs, was to "go with the Army we had" and keep a captive audience in the equation by contracting out to fill the gaps.
(As an aside, the post mortem on the 2003 ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company perfectly illustrates this line of thinking. It was clear Jessica Lynch's outfit was totally unprepared for combat operations, and could not even provide its own convoy security. This is a task service support troops trained on routinely prior to the Gulf War. The reaction to this tragic deficiency was typical: hire former military as contractors to train active duty units to properly perform convoy duties.)
During and after the Iraq surge, the numbers of contractors as warfighters increased. Companies like Blackwater took a huge chunk of security business from the government. (An unexamined aspect was that Blackwater was hired by the State Department, not DoD. Apparently, DoS confidence in the military to maintain security was pretty low.) It got to the point that at most large base camps, contract third country nationals (TCNs) manned the walls protecting an army of contract intelligence civilians and former special operators. The administration and Congress seemed perfectly happy with the expenditure of tax dollars to pay former military several times more than a GI, especially when the job requirement seemed never ending. That is, winning the war was against the cronies' interest and padded the jobs-for-veterans resume for the politicos back home.
Stuck at a base camp in Iraq or Afghanistan with little or nothing concrete to show for the years of training and risks, naïve young GIs looked forward to working for the "private sector," which in reality was no more private enterprise than working for any government agency. Employment was always at the whim of elected officials and the largesse of the federal bureaucracy. The difference was the CEOs could leverage a vast array of capabilities and experience which were allowed to atrophy in the uniformed military. (Back to Blackwater: Just last year, the company’s founder, Erik Prince stated that Blackwater could have successfully taken on ISIS. He was probably right.)
In the age of Obama, crony capitalism has became an art form both in and outside of DoD. As the champion of the US withdrawal from Iraq, the stage was set for President Obama to deal first hand with the consequences of his cut and run strategy. Obama's epic failure in Syria, and the rise of ISIS was belatedly tackled by using the same Clinton era strategy of relying on pinprick airstrikes as in the Balkans, and a dubious contractor-run rebel train and equip program.
And in North Africa, the latest revelations concerning Hillary Clinton's email scandal show how the pay for play scheme works in the Obama designed chaos of Muslim Brotherhood brutality. The US lost four courageous contractors and a US Ambassador the night the so-called Arab Spring movement went south in Libya. From Sid Blumenthal's informal intel channel to Hillary, we find out he was conducting business development for the Osprey Group to get a contract for work to take advantage of the aforementioned chaos directly caused by Hillary and her boss. Hillary and Blumenthal's sales job was of course designed to enrich DC power brokers and defense contractors. But given the brutality of those 13 hours, it is beyond the standards of human decency to view the situation as a mundane business opportunity. We can only hope Osprey Group and others like it think twice before dealing with the likes of Hillary and Blumenthal.
Since the end of the First Gulf War, we have developed a fighting force for neither a republic nor a dictatorship, but rather for a Rollerball world. The reality is not a long war, but a perpetual war where our country's level of involvement and criteria for victory (or not) is decided in the board room and by the government managerial class. They can flex American combat power and intelligence operations with a wink and a nod to a bloated and rudderless political and military leadership and rake in profits all the while remaining unaccountable for the outcome to the American people.
Related to this, the always excellent Richard Fernandez describes in detail Obama's secret army composed of special operators and contractor support, which has in essence decoupled any meaningful national strategy from a warfighting capability. It is a global version of what was routine in Iraq. That is, a distracted America sat on the sidelines while special operators conducted SWAT raids on steroids to gather more intel for more operations ad infinitum. This indecisive do-loop certainly kept contract analysts and operators employed, but ultimately resulted in a stalemate -- and that's being generous. The sad part is that not only has strategy been separated from our warfighting capability, but most of our citizens are numb to the perpetual war on terror unless they are family members of soldiers and/or contractors.
It has been said that Donald Trump is the candidate of Main Street, while his opponents are the candidates of Wall Street. It will be a tough fight, but if Trump can deliver on his plans for the military, he will return the US to a formidable military power needed for peace and freedom in a chaotic world, and hopefully bring the citizens' passions and political power of Main Street back into the fight, because to continue to blindly follow the political and managerial class is to court disaster.
*The Conservative Treehouse statement on Trump's position on the military has no source links. Also, as of this writing, there is no specific position on the military on the Trump for President website. I am accepting the Treehouse statement at face value for purposes of discussing an important topic in the national interest.
John Smith is the pen name of a former American intelligence officer.