What’s happening to the Marines?

Lately, when we think about what’s happening to America’s military under Biden, we’ve been focusing on the Pentagon’s obsessions with race, LGBTQ+++ issues (especially transgenderism), women’s rights, and political “wrong think” (i.e., conservativism). That obsession has consistently put progressive social policy ahead of military cohesion and readiness. However, Jim Webb, who was a Marine infantry officer while in Vietnam, then the Navy secretary under Ronald Reagan and, lastly, a Virginia senator during the Obama years, has written an op-ed about a different concern: The potentially damaging, purely operational changes Marine commandment Gen. David Berger intends to impose on the Corps.

Webb raises the issues in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece. Berger’s proposed changes including (1) eliminating infantry battalions, (2) reducing the number of Marines in the remaining battalions, and (3) eliminating two reserve-component battalions, 16 cannon artillery battalions (to be replaced by 14 rocket artillery battalions), all of the Marine Corps tanks, and multiple tilt-rotor, helicopter, and attack helicopter squadrons.

From the outside looking in, that seems like a very significant force reduction. It turns out that this isn’t just an uninformed lay person’s perception. Marines are also worried about Berger’s plans:

Among Marines there are serious questions about the wisdom and long-term risk of dramatic reductions in force structure, weapon systems and manpower levels in units that would take steady casualties in most combat scenarios. And it is unclear to just about everyone with experience in military planning what formal review and coordination was required before Gen. Berger unilaterally announced a policy that would alter so many time-honored contributions of the Marine Corps.

The thing about the Marines is that they’re meant to be an all-purpose fighting force that can move quickly and go anywhere and do anything, fighting both on land and at sea. According to Webb, though, Berger’s unilateral decision-making will dramatically reduce the Marines’ unusual flexibility, turning them into a sort of generic, low-level fighting force associated with the Navy.

Image: Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger. Public domain.

And then there are the politics of the whole thing. When word got out about Berger’s plans, a lot of retired senior officers tried to talk with him about what was happening. When they were stalemated, rather than quietly going away, these same officers pushed back hard:

Recently, 22 retired four-star Marine generals signed a nonpublic letter of concern to Gen. Berger, and many others have stated their support of the letter. A daily working group that includes 17 retired generals has been formed to communicate concerns to national leaders. One highly respected retired three-star general estimated to me that “the proportion of retired general officers who are gravely concerned about the direction of the Corps in the last two and a half years would be above 90 percent.”

As far as Webb and these other retired officers are concerned, Berger’s planned changes are so momentous they never should have been done without a full review and debate in various Pentagon offices and even congressional oversight. Indeed, I gathered that Berger may have used the breakdowns in governance because of COVID (such as congresspeople running away in fear) as an opportunity to bypass this oversight.

Webb closes his essay by noting that, had Berger gone through channels and been open about his changes, including explaining either their necessity or the benefit to be derived from them, 90% of retired generals would have supported him. (After all, at least on paper, Berger has huge amounts of both practical and theoretical knowledge and experience about the Marines.) However, writes Webb, “the realities of brutal combat and the wide array of global challenges the Marine Corps faces daily argue strongly against a doctrinal experiment that might look good in a computerized war game at Quantico.”

Maybe these retired officers are simply reflecting the discombobulated times in which we live and are overthinking things. On the other hand, given the left’s hostility to a military that fights to protect America, and given the severely woke Pentagon under Austin and Milley, I’m inclined to believe that any big changes imposed on the military during the Biden administration should be presumed damaging and, therefore, must be closely scrutinized and, if necessary, fought at every turn.

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