All posts by Douglas Macgregor

Why Do We Fight? How Do We Fight?

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Today’s political and military leaders have no choice but to project technology and strategic conditions into the future while they develop their forces today. However, before such multi-billion dollar investments are made, critical questions should be answered.

What is the real mission set? In other words, whom do we fight? Where do we fight? How do we fight? And how do we get there? On Memorial Day, we must take a step back to properly address these questions because right now it’s not so clear. What we do have is a military spending strategy that is out of whack with reality and setting us up for failure when real threats arise.

The United States is primarily a global maritime and aerospace power, not a global land power. Washington is known for exaggerating threats, but is the notion of spending to fight a near-simultaneous war with Russia and China in 2030 a realistic goal? Wars with continental powers like Russia, China, or even Turkey or Iran, demand the persistent employment of large and powerful ground forces projected over thousands of miles. U.S. military advantages at sea and in the air are relegated to supporting roles as seen in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Long before U.S. forces entered World War II in 1942, the British Empire and the Soviet Union fought for years and sustained millions of casualties. Who are Washington’s allies today? How many field capable forces would be able to assist us in the field? How many are just military protectorates seeking to shift the burden of their defense to Washington?

Throughout the 20th century, strong majorities of Americans opposed involvement in all wars overseas. President John F. Kennedy’s statement that Americans “would pay any price, bear any burden…oppose any foe in order to assure the survival and success of liberty,” was false the moment JFK made it.

The answers to the questions above should align the structure and use of U.S. military power with strategic, technological, and fiscal realities. But in the senior ranks of the armed forces—especially in the U.S. Army and Marines—aligning military power with reality is sacrificed to the protection of “service equities,” meaning warfighting structures, equipment sets, and missions from unwanted changes in warfare wrought by technology.

Fair use excerpt. Read the rest here.

John Bolton is the Problem

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Thanks in large part to John Bolton, America, the global cop, is back on the beat. This time it’s the Caribbean and the Persian Gulf in a near-simultaneous demonstration of resolve.

For Bolton, President’s Trump national security adviser, Venezuela is an exceptionally appealing target. Juan Guaidó, the democratic socialist who is Washington’s choice to lead Venezuela is dutifully following Bolton’s script asking for US military intervention to install him and his followers in power.

Why not? Venezuela harbors a few hundred Russian Special Operations Soldiers and at least 2,000-3,000 Cubans. Crushing the pathetic Venezuelan Armed Forces would be another exercise in clubbing baby seals on the Iraq or Afghan model.

Venezuela might also be the last place on the planet where a carrier battle group can sit just offshore in support of a marine amphibious assault. Against any capable opponent these operations would end quickly, far out to sea, in volleys of precision guided missiles and submarine attacks, but Venezuela is naked in the face of US military power. At most, Venezuela offers the potential for a low-level civil war launched from the interior on the Afghan model.

True, Moscow could escalate horizontally meaning that Russian forces could provoke an incident in the Baltic Littoral, particularly in Estonia where large numbers of Russians legally reside. In Ukraine, Russian air and ground forces could move suddenly to seize Odessa and establish a Russian military presence on the Romanian border. Putin, after all, plays chess, not checkers. But that’s not likely, is it?

Iran’s economy is reportedly on the verge of collapse. Iran is in a deep recession and inflation is running at about 40 percent, yet Iran still presents a threat to its neighbors serious enough in Bolton’s words to warrant ‘maximum pressure’ to suppress Iran’s appetite for war — the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force.

Why not? Iran’s defensive capabilities are modest, though still robust enough to sink a few ships and damage a carrier. If provoked, Tehran may simply conclude it has nothing to lose, but it’s not Iran’s capabilities that worry US military planners.

Russia is very unlikely to tolerate an American military intervention against Iran. US forces already sit on Russia’s borders and routinely sail close to Russia in the Baltic, the Black Sea and the North Pacific.

Iran may well be Putin’s line in the sand. Moscow’s space-based assets would share intelligence with Tehran. Russian ground, air defense and aerospace forces would move rapidly into northern Iran. Russian submarines would show up in short order in the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean.

Beijing is equally unlikely to sit still given its dependence on Iran’s role in developing China’s ‘One belt, One Road initiative.’ It’s already done so. The unmanned aircraft diverted to Iranian control did not find its way into Iranian hands without Chinese assistance.

How fascinating it would be to sit in the Oval Office when Bolton explains these unanticipated developments to President Trump, who ran on none of this? Senior advisers like Bolton who urge presidents to initiate military action always express confidence that the opponent, especially, a weak opponent, will back down, or, at most, put up weak resistance.

We’ve all seen this movie before in 1965, 2001 and 2003. The ability to employ military power, not the valid strategic need to do so, seduces presidents. In the history of the West, few advisers acquired fame urging their sovereigns to go to war, but one stands out — Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count Duke of Olivares ― principal adviser to Spain’s King Philip IV.

Like his King, in 1621 Olivares was an ardent Catholic determined to restore Spain’s formerly uncontested military and political hegemony at any cost. Given that 40 percent of Spain’s national income was annually diverted to service Spain’s enormous national debt cost was not a small matter.

No matter, Olivares waged sporadic war against Britain, Holland and the north German Protestant states on and off for 20 years. Seeing Spain dissipate its military and economic power in the Americas and Europe, another ambitious minister in Paris named Richelieu decided in 1631 the timing was auspicious for France to ally with Sweden, Holland and Savoy against debt-ridden Spain and its overstretched army and navy.

Spain was suddenly in a two-front war that it could neither easily win nor afford. More important, at home, Olivares’s appetite for war increased taxes, and fomented rebellions against the Spanish crown in Catalonia and Portugal. Spain’s overseas military commitments meant that King Philip could not prevent Portugal’s independence. Spain faced an existential crisis.

King Philip removed Olivares from office, but the proverbial die was cast. Within a decade, it was clear that Spain must surrender its military and economic dominance to France or face total collapse. Today, Olivares is forgotten, but King Philip IV is infamous in European history for leaving Spain in a state of financial, political and military exhaustion from which Spain never recovered.

If any of John Bolton’s current military ventures trigger a confrontation with an alliance of Russian, Iranian, Chinese or even Turkish military power, on the Richelieu model President Donald Trump, not John Bolton, will be thrown under the bus. John Bolton will just shrug his shoulders as he did after the Iraq debacle and say, ‘Intervention was still the right call.’ He’ll simply return to his old job at the American Enterprise Institute, Foundation for the Defense of Democracy or another of the many neocon-friendly think tanks.

Donald Trump can’t do that. He needs to stop and think. Does he want to be remembered like President Eisenhower as having cultivated peace, prosperity and strength? Or, would he prefer to be mentioned in the same breath with President George W. Bush? Dubya was the president who ‘exported death and violence to the four corners of the earth’ with disastrous consequences for the United States and its economy.

The choice is clear.

Reprinted with special permission from Spectator USA.

Make Donald Trump Great Again

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Candidate Donald Trump won the presidency because he talked tough in ways no presidential candidate has done in recent memory, maybe ever. Trump left no sacred cow unscathed with searing attacks on the Iraq War, bad trade deals, Sen. John McCain, and the most sacred cow of them all—illegal immigration. Trump’s words resonated, and millions of Americans delivered victory for Trump at the polls.

As president, Trump’s words remain tough, his actions less so. Trump often praises American military heroes like Gen. George Patton; a man who subscribed to the philosophy of relentless attack. But unlike Patton’s bold and decisive battlefield leadership, Trump's tough talk produces few tangible results. His meandering speeches inspire, but they do not translate into coherent, sustainable policy.

Trump came to office with an instinctive grasp of what mattered most to his countrymen—building the Mexican Border wall, reinvigorating the US economy, securing better trade deals for US industries and improving relations with Beijing and Moscow. To his enduring credit, Trump always understood that the nation’s twenty-plus trillion-dollar sovereign debt combined with the American electorate’s growing resistance to endless wars overseas made the withdrawal of US Forces from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq imperative.

Trump’s focus on making life for the average American better worked. In March 2019, the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment indexrose to 97.8 in early March from 93.8 in February. Though trade talks with China continue with an uncertain outcome, in the words of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, “The US economy is in a good place.”

However, the president’s frequently stated intentions to secure the Mexican Border, to remove US Forces from Afghanistan and Syria, and to reduce defense spending were followed by confounding reversals that raise serious questions about the president’s focus and his authority. Whenever a president declares big intentions only to contradict them with his actions, he looks impotent. Trump is no exception.

In the opening months of his presidency, Trump seemed to hit his stride with dramatic policy shifts. His threat of a preemptive strike on North Korea brought Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table. Trump, then, pragmatically opted for negotiation and forged the foundation for peace on the Korean Peninsula. In December 2017, President Trump ordered the complete withdrawal of US Forces from Syria while also pressing his feckless generals to exit Afghanistan. He beefed up the number of border patrol agents and deployed small numbers of Soldiers to support the Border Patrol. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, events that began with a bang ended with a head scratching whimper. Trump’s talks in Hanoi broke down. John Bolton’s flawed “all or nothing” proposition torpedoed the deal in another win for the swamp. Just as soon as Trump announced the US Troop withdrawal from Syria, within a few days, Trump backtracked. According to the New York Times, Trump’s advisors convinced him to make a U-turn and keep four hundred troops in Syria.

The number has since increased to one thousand but gallingly, future decisions on when and how US forces in Syria will be reduced or removed is left in the hands of the Department of the Army, not the president! If President Trump wants to extricate US Forces from Syria before a new conflict ignites involving the Turks and Kurds, then he must take command and get the troops out.

There is more. During an April 4 meeting in the White House with China’s Vice Premier Liu He, President Trump suggested that the United States, Russia and China should invest less in their militaries. The statement sounds good, but when the president proposed a $33 billion reduction in US defense outlays he buckled within hours to the demands of former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Sen. Jim Inhofe that Trump abandon his proposal.

Then, there is the Southern border, or what remains of it. The crisis is metastasizing. The chaos, criminality and health issues are so bad that even the mainstream media are beginning to acknowledge it. Surely, Trump should have concluded by now that withoutan Executive Order that commits the US Army to the defense of the southern border and limits cross-border traffic to legitimate commercial activity, mass illegal immigration will not stop.

The point is Trump’s bold vision is drowning in the Washington Swamp. Talk is cheap and so is leaving important decisions to White House political advisors and senior military leaders with agendas that bear no resemblance to the policy goals that catapulted Trump into the White House. If President Trump continues to waver on issues of vital importance to the country and his presidency; if, in a word, Trump refuses to take command and match rhetoric with action, then he will join the pantheon of failed presidents that promised the world only, this time, the American Republic’s existence hangs in the balance.

Retired Col. Douglas Macgregor, US Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory, (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Reprinted with author's permission from The National Interest.

NATO Is Not Dying. It’s a Zombie.

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How do you know when a person is positively dead? Well, check for a pulse.

Walter Russell Mead checked the pulse of the Atlantic Alliance in a recent op-ed and concluded that NATO is dying. But Mead is wrong. NATO is simply a zombie periodically reanimated through various methods, usually voodoo magic.

Yet, reanimation has its limits. Even Zombies eventually die. With Georgia, a small state in the Caucasus Mountains that is wedged in between Russia, Turkey and Iran, lobbying hard to become NATO’s newest member, it’s useful to understand why.

When the life ran out of NATO with the demise of the Soviet threat, Sen. Richard Lugar was among the first to conclude in 1993 that NATO must go “out of area or out of business.” This proved to be a powerful infusion of voodoo magic that eventually took the form of a US-led NATO military intervention into the Balkans, which is where NATO sought to extend democracy at gunpoint to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo between 1994 and 1999.

Reanimation received a big boost with NATO’s 1994 “partnership for peace program.” Predictably, the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and virtually everyone in Eastern Europe compelled to live under Soviet occupation after World War II lined up to become NATO partners. Why not? What East European State would not want a direct line to Washington, DC that promised military assistance against the Russian menace that all believed would inevitably return?

Domestic American politics also played its part. President Bill Clinton came out for NATO expansion during his campaign for re-election in October 1996. There was nothing sinister in it. Clinton was just cultivating the Polish and East European vote in the Midwest, stealing the issue from Senator Bob Dole who also ran on a NATO expansion platform.

Mysteriously, the promises given to President Mikhail Gorbachev by President George H. W. Bush, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, President Francois Mitterand, Chancellor Helmuth Kohl and their foreign ministers in 1990—not to expand NATO eastward; not to extend membership in the NATO alliance to former member states of the Warsaw Pact—were ignored. Why was this important strategic commitment made by NATO’s key leaders to President Gorbachev ignored?

Well, in the 1990s, the Russian threat was nonexistent and there was no reason to suppose it would return. In addition, President Clinton and the Senators who were nominally in charge of overseeing the conduct of US Foreign and Security Policy were mesmerized by the prospects of being on the right side of history and campaign donations.

Given the voracious appetite for cash in Congress the defense industries were clearly interested in NATO expansion and found ways to advocate for it. Weapons sales to East European nations invited to join NATO promised huge profits. Bruce Jackson, a Lockheed vice president from 1993–2002, rushed to set up the Committee to Expand NATO and reportedly used contributions from defense companies to lobby Congress for NATO expansion.

After 2001, just about anything could be and was characterized as an existential threat to the American People: Islamist Terrorism or the Global Caliphate, China, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and, by 2012, a resurgent Russia. Defense budgets rose and US Forces were now in Africa, the Mideast, Asia and Eastern Europe. By the time President Obama completed his first term Moscow concluded that Washington’s expansion of the NATO Alliance combined with its open-ended presence in Afghanistan and the Near East was really a coordinated plan to make Russia's strategic situation untenable.

As George Kennan pointed out decades ago, the Russian sense of insecurity is profound. The Russian national temperament inclines to a siege mentality with a permanent enemy lowering beyond the walls. Right or wrong, President Vladimir Putin personifies this outlook.

President Putin tightened his grip on Russia’s 140 million citizens with laws and governance that offended Western sensibilities, but Putin’s policies arguably helped Russia to withstand the impact of damaging sanctions after its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula—a region that was under Russian control longer than Texas has been in the Union. Despite an economy that lags behind the Republic of Korea, a nation of forty-nine million, President Putin restored Russia’s military power and its national self-image to a formidable position.

Putin’s paranoia has led some observers to suggest that Putin is preparing Russia for a military showdown with the West. That’s an exaggeration, but it would be a mistake to doubt Putin’s resolve to protect Russia’s rights in its own hemisphere.

Now, Georgia is stepping up to join NATO. Georgia like Montenegro (and most NATO members) is in line to become another military protectorate of the United States, not an ally. Unless President Trump wants Moscow to conclude that Georgia will be a future platform for attack against Russia, Iran or another regional power, President Trump should just say “No!”

It’s time for the NATO zombie to expire. Charles De Gaulle was right, “England is an island and the United States is not in Europe.”

Army Col. Douglas Macgregor (retired) is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD and the author of five books. His latest is: Margin of Victory, (Naval Institute Press, 2016).

Reprinted with author's permission from National Interest.

The Case for Leaving Syria

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Professor Michael Howard, the eminent British historian, frequently stated , “Wars are not tactical exercises writ large… They are conflicts of societies, and they can be fully understood only if one understands the nature of the society fighting them.” The professor must have anticipated the Syrian Civil War.

In Syria, the civil war that killed as many as 400,000 people is over. Moscow’s ally in Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad, is the victor.

It’s true that the predominantly Sunni Arab opposition— virtually indistinguishablefrom a broad range of Sunni Islamist terrorist groups—to Assad clings to life inside Syria’s Idlib enclave , but its days are numbered. Thanks to an agreement reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sunni jihadist forces will eventually leave the demilitarized zone, patrolled by Russian and Turkish forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces, together with forces from Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and Iranian-backed Shia Arab paramilitaries, have essentially erased Islamic State-controlled territory from the map. Clearly, an American military withdrawal from Syria would seem in order, right?

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy to Syria , Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, is already recasting the American military mission in Northeast Syria as both ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS and as “ contesting more actively Iran’s activities particularly in Iraq, Syria and Yemen .” Jeffrey adds, “ This means we are not in a hurry to pull out .”

Is this a new form of diplomatic mission creep? Are “ Never Trumpers ” like Robert Kagan and Eliot Abrams now guiding Trump foreign policy? It’s complicated.

In the Northeast corner of Syria, anti-Western Marxist Kurds remain committed to an independent, national homeland in Syria—a development that Ankara views as an existential threat to the Turkey. Since Syria’s U.S.-equipped Kurdish militia provides the backbone for Washington’s anti-ISIS ground force Washington keeps special forces troops in Syria to work with the Kurds, thereby placing 2,000 U.S. troops directly in the path of a potential Turkish Army offensive.

Israel is acutely sensitive to what happens in Syria. Until fifteen Russians were killed in an accident Moscow blames on Israel’s fighter jets , Russian acquiescence allowed Israelis to launch more than 200 air and missile strikes against Iranian military sites inside Syria. Israel wants the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria to remain and act as a shock absorber for Israel; obstructing the movement of people and arms from Iran to Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon and protecting Israel’s potential Kurdish ally from Turkish attack.

In sum, the Syrian civil war is over and the “ enemy of my enemy ” principle applies to all of the regional actors. There are no moderates among the Sunni Arab or Kurdish factions, Turkey is at most a paper ally, and Washington’s strategic partners—Israel and Saudi Arabia—have interests that do not necessarily align with President Trump’s stated goal of building regional stability .

The United States has no strategic interest in Syria that justifies a war with Russia, Iran or Turkey. A war with any of these states would destroy the prosperity that President Trump has worked tirelessly to create. Instead, it makes sense to withdraw U.S. forces. An American military withdrawal from Syria would eliminate the fragile strategic rationale for Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria and severely obviate the few shared interests that tie Iran to Russia .

Moscow does not view its interest in Damascus in isolation from Israeli national security or the Islamist threat to Russia. Erdogan’s clandestine support for his Islamist allies is never far from Putin’s thoughts, and Putin knows that Tel Aviv has nothing to gain from hostility toward Moscow .

Given this strategic picture, Professor Michael Howard would advise President Trump to simply “get out” of Syria. Like most Americans, Howard would not be persuaded that further developments in Syria are, or plausibly could be, a serious threat to the United States, but congress is another matter.

Members of both parties need cash to fund their re-election campaigns and the liberal interventionist-neoconservative foreign policy machine is strictly bipartisan. The machine has cash, but it is fighting a losing battle.

Americans are not interested in war . In 1975, it was “No more Vietnams;” today, it’s “No more Iraqs, Libyas, Nigers, Somalias, Afghanistans” or any number of self-defeating interventions in dysfunctional societies and failed states.

Now, on the precipice of more cuts in defense spending with the survival of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid at stake, the misguided use of U.S. military power and the disaster it creates are not affordable. Politicians and their dependence on donors for reelection guarantee a slow death to the employment of U.S. military power as the global shock absorber, but it is dying.

Colonel (ret.) Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD, and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory , Naval Institute Press, 2016.

Reprinted with author's permission from National Interest.

The Case for Leaving Syria

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Professor Michael Howard, the eminent British historian, frequently stated , “Wars are not tactical exercises writ large… They are conflicts of societies, and they can be fully understood only if one understands the nature of the society fighting them.” The professor must have anticipated the Syrian Civil War.

In Syria, the civil war that killed as many as 400,000 people is over. Moscow’s ally in Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad, is the victor.

It’s true that the predominantly Sunni Arab opposition— virtually indistinguishablefrom a broad range of Sunni Islamist terrorist groups—to Assad clings to life inside Syria’s Idlib enclave , but its days are numbered. Thanks to an agreement reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sunni jihadist forces will eventually leave the demilitarized zone, patrolled by Russian and Turkish forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces, together with forces from Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and Iranian-backed Shia Arab paramilitaries, have essentially erased Islamic State-controlled territory from the map. Clearly, an American military withdrawal from Syria would seem in order, right?

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy to Syria , Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, is already recasting the American military mission in Northeast Syria as both ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS and as “ contesting more actively Iran’s activities particularly in Iraq, Syria and Yemen .” Jeffrey adds, “ This means we are not in a hurry to pull out .”

Is this a new form of diplomatic mission creep? Are “ Never Trumpers ” like Robert Kagan and Eliot Abrams now guiding Trump foreign policy? It’s complicated.

In the Northeast corner of Syria, anti-Western Marxist Kurds remain committed to an independent, national homeland in Syria—a development that Ankara views as an existential threat to the Turkey. Since Syria’s U.S.-equipped Kurdish militia provides the backbone for Washington’s anti-ISIS ground force Washington keeps special forces troops in Syria to work with the Kurds, thereby placing 2,000 U.S. troops directly in the path of a potential Turkish Army offensive.

Israel is acutely sensitive to what happens in Syria. Until fifteen Russians were killed in an accident Moscow blames on Israel’s fighter jets , Russian acquiescence allowed Israelis to launch more than 200 air and missile strikes against Iranian military sites inside Syria. Israel wants the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria to remain and act as a shock absorber for Israel; obstructing the movement of people and arms from Iran to Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon and protecting Israel’s potential Kurdish ally from Turkish attack.

In sum, the Syrian civil war is over and the “ enemy of my enemy ” principle applies to all of the regional actors. There are no moderates among the Sunni Arab or Kurdish factions, Turkey is at most a paper ally, and Washington’s strategic partners—Israel and Saudi Arabia—have interests that do not necessarily align with President Trump’s stated goal of building regional stability .

The United States has no strategic interest in Syria that justifies a war with Russia, Iran or Turkey. A war with any of these states would destroy the prosperity that President Trump has worked tirelessly to create. Instead, it makes sense to withdraw U.S. forces. An American military withdrawal from Syria would eliminate the fragile strategic rationale for Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria and severely obviate the few shared interests that tie Iran to Russia .

Moscow does not view its interest in Damascus in isolation from Israeli national security or the Islamist threat to Russia. Erdogan’s clandestine support for his Islamist allies is never far from Putin’s thoughts, and Putin knows that Tel Aviv has nothing to gain from hostility toward Moscow .

Given this strategic picture, Professor Michael Howard would advise President Trump to simply “get out” of Syria. Like most Americans, Howard would not be persuaded that further developments in Syria are, or plausibly could be, a serious threat to the United States, but congress is another matter.

Members of both parties need cash to fund their re-election campaigns and the liberal interventionist-neoconservative foreign policy machine is strictly bipartisan. The machine has cash, but it is fighting a losing battle.

Americans are not interested in war . In 1975, it was “No more Vietnams;” today, it’s “No more Iraqs, Libyas, Nigers, Somalias, Afghanistans” or any number of self-defeating interventions in dysfunctional societies and failed states.

Now, on the precipice of more cuts in defense spending with the survival of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid at stake, the misguided use of U.S. military power and the disaster it creates are not affordable. Politicians and their dependence on donors for reelection guarantee a slow death to the employment of U.S. military power as the global shock absorber, but it is dying.

Colonel (ret.) Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD, and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory , Naval Institute Press, 2016.

Reprinted with author's permission from National Interest.

The Case for Leaving Syria

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Professor Michael Howard, the eminent British historian, frequently stated , “Wars are not tactical exercises writ large… They are conflicts of societies, and they can be fully understood only if one understands the nature of the society fighting them.” The professor must have anticipated the Syrian Civil War.

In Syria, the civil war that killed as many as 400,000 people is over. Moscow’s ally in Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad, is the victor.

It’s true that the predominantly Sunni Arab opposition— virtually indistinguishablefrom a broad range of Sunni Islamist terrorist groups—to Assad clings to life inside Syria’s Idlib enclave , but its days are numbered. Thanks to an agreement reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sunni jihadist forces will eventually leave the demilitarized zone, patrolled by Russian and Turkish forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces, together with forces from Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and Iranian-backed Shia Arab paramilitaries, have essentially erased Islamic State-controlled territory from the map. Clearly, an American military withdrawal from Syria would seem in order, right?

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy to Syria , Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, is already recasting the American military mission in Northeast Syria as both ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS and as “ contesting more actively Iran’s activities particularly in Iraq, Syria and Yemen .” Jeffrey adds, “ This means we are not in a hurry to pull out .”

Is this a new form of diplomatic mission creep? Are “ Never Trumpers ” like Robert Kagan and Eliot Abrams now guiding Trump foreign policy? It’s complicated.

In the Northeast corner of Syria, anti-Western Marxist Kurds remain committed to an independent, national homeland in Syria—a development that Ankara views as an existential threat to the Turkey. Since Syria’s U.S.-equipped Kurdish militia provides the backbone for Washington’s anti-ISIS ground force Washington keeps special forces troops in Syria to work with the Kurds, thereby placing 2,000 U.S. troops directly in the path of a potential Turkish Army offensive.

Israel is acutely sensitive to what happens in Syria. Until fifteen Russians were killed in an accident Moscow blames on Israel’s fighter jets , Russian acquiescence allowed Israelis to launch more than 200 air and missile strikes against Iranian military sites inside Syria. Israel wants the 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria to remain and act as a shock absorber for Israel; obstructing the movement of people and arms from Iran to Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon and protecting Israel’s potential Kurdish ally from Turkish attack.

In sum, the Syrian civil war is over and the “ enemy of my enemy ” principle applies to all of the regional actors. There are no moderates among the Sunni Arab or Kurdish factions, Turkey is at most a paper ally, and Washington’s strategic partners—Israel and Saudi Arabia—have interests that do not necessarily align with President Trump’s stated goal of building regional stability .

The United States has no strategic interest in Syria that justifies a war with Russia, Iran or Turkey. A war with any of these states would destroy the prosperity that President Trump has worked tirelessly to create. Instead, it makes sense to withdraw U.S. forces. An American military withdrawal from Syria would eliminate the fragile strategic rationale for Russian-Turkish cooperation in Syria and severely obviate the few shared interests that tie Iran to Russia .

Moscow does not view its interest in Damascus in isolation from Israeli national security or the Islamist threat to Russia. Erdogan’s clandestine support for his Islamist allies is never far from Putin’s thoughts, and Putin knows that Tel Aviv has nothing to gain from hostility toward Moscow .

Given this strategic picture, Professor Michael Howard would advise President Trump to simply “get out” of Syria. Like most Americans, Howard would not be persuaded that further developments in Syria are, or plausibly could be, a serious threat to the United States, but congress is another matter.

Members of both parties need cash to fund their re-election campaigns and the liberal interventionist-neoconservative foreign policy machine is strictly bipartisan. The machine has cash, but it is fighting a losing battle.

Americans are not interested in war . In 1975, it was “No more Vietnams;” today, it’s “No more Iraqs, Libyas, Nigers, Somalias, Afghanistans” or any number of self-defeating interventions in dysfunctional societies and failed states.

Now, on the precipice of more cuts in defense spending with the survival of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid at stake, the misguided use of U.S. military power and the disaster it creates are not affordable. Politicians and their dependence on donors for reelection guarantee a slow death to the employment of U.S. military power as the global shock absorber, but it is dying.

Colonel (ret.) Douglas Macgregor, U.S. Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a PhD, and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory , Naval Institute Press, 2016.

Reprinted with author's permission from National Interest.

The Only Way Donald Trump Can Truly Put America First

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Intentionally or not, President Donald Trump filled many of his top national security and foreign-policy positions with Neo-Wilsonian, Bush-Obama era Liberal Interventionists; an action that became a source of endless frustration for the president. On issues ranging from preventing transgender people from serving in the armed forces to disengaging US forces from Afghanistan and Syria , Trump’s own national-security team has actively obstructed the president’s defense- and foreign-policy agenda.

President Trump always wanted to disengage US forces from overseas commitments that in his view had no direct relation to American national security. Trump also rejected the alleged permanence of the postwar liberal order; an order that was dissolving when Clinton was in office. Instead, Trump sought to enhance American influence with economic strength by focusing on trade, job creation; enforcing the rule of law, immigration and border security.

On the economic front, President Trump broke through the opposition, reinvigorated America’s stagnant economy and began changing the Cold War trade arrangements that favored foreign competitors and harmed American workers and businesses for decades. In Northeast Asia, he has defused the Korean Conflict and at this point it appears that the Korean Peninsula will no longer figure prominently in the US national military strategy.

However, President Trump’s attempt to secure American borders, especially America’s southern border has met with failure. The failure is tragic because violence inside Mexico has reached horrific dimensions.

The rule of law has collapsed. Mexicans of all ages are being killed so frequently that the number of homicides in 2018 will likely exceed last year’s total of 29,168. According to Mexican authorities, drug-trafficking gangs pay around 1.27 billion pesos (some $100 million) a month in bribes to municipal police officers nationwide.

To this depressing picture must be added the growing connections between Mexican drug cartels like Los Zetas and Islamist terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda making Mexico’s use of the United States as a relief valve for its poor anddiscontented masses extremely dangerous.

Criminal elements in Mexico are equipped with the latestsurveillance and communications technology. They can easily maneuver to locations along the border where the US police presence is minimal or non-existent. Adding more police to the thousands already on the border won’t help. Worst of all, in any future war the metastasizing nexus of criminality and terrorism south of the Rio Grande will create a second front for US forces.

Given the sophisticated threat, the only way to effectively secure America’s border with Mexico is to commit the regular army to patrol and defend all but the legal crossing points with a mix of air and ground forces, at least until an effective barrier system is in place. In addition, Washington and Mexico City should consider combined military action inside Mexico against transnational criminal organizations for the benefit of both nations.

So why have neither the Secretary of Defense nor the Joint Chiefs urged such action? One reason may be the American military’s oppressive atmosphere of political correctness ; a climate in which strategic discourse is constrained by fear of being called a bigot or racist for suggesting action to secure America’s borders.

There are other reasons. Defending America’s borders, a mission the regular Army performed for over one hundred years between 1846 and 1948, isn’t likely to justify more manpower or force structure. As a result, the border mission does not appeal to serving officers the way it appealed to Patton, Eisenhower, Truscott, Harmon and practically every Army general officer who fought in World War II.

Clinging to the Cold War past is far more attractive. In fact, active and retired Army four-star generals have registered their indignation at the president’s actions to alter the US military’s overseas presence, an expensive legacy of the Cold War security system.

Gen. Robert Abrams, the Army four-star nominated to be the next US Forces Korea (USFK) commander, recently criticized President Trump’s decision to suspend joint military exercises between the United States and the Republic of Korea. He has argued that President Trump’s decision is undermining combat readiness by creating an ostensibly unwanted atmosphere of détente . In 2017, retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey went even further by insisting that President Trump was a “serious threat to US national security.”

Coming from the leader of the failed war on drugs McCaffrey’s statement is rich, but his comments and those of Abrams speak volumes. Thinking and behavior of this kind is harmful because it skews the way senior officers in the armed forces think about warfare. In the international system war is always possible, but managing the risk of war involves much more than reacting to events with escalating threats.

For instance, sailing a large surface fleet into the South China Sea with the goal of “warning China” is hardly good risk management. It’s particularly ill-advised in an area where the Navy’s warships are vulnerable to a broad range of Chinese surface-to-surface missiles, loitering munitions, and submarine-launched weapons linked to an array of space and terrestrial-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.

Accidents happen . An unwanted incident that results in American losses in the South China Sea would signal weakness, not strength, which is the true purpose of naval power. Sooner or later, US naval losses in the South China Sea would invite military aggression against the United States in other regions. Put more bluntly, dragging the United States into a war with China involving territorial disputes on behalf of the Philippines,Communist Vietnam , or Taiwan is stupid.

Why is the Department of Defense on this path? Part of the reason is because the thirty-eight four-star generals on active duty in the armed forces tend to view contemporary conflict through the wrong lens, the distorting lens of World War II and the Cold War. After all, nuclear weapons may have eliminated total war, but war below the nuclear threshold persists.

Armed conflict for regional power and influence are inevitable in many parts of the world, not just in the South China Sea. Such conflicts inevitably overlap with the competition for energy, water, food, and mineral resources. But these conflicts do not necessarily demand American participation.

If the last twenty-seven years have taught the American people anything, conflict anywhere in the world is by no means a threat to peace everywhere, least of all to the United States. Peace is divisible; conflicts regardless of their causes are overwhelmingly local or regional, not global in significance. This is why it so important for American political and military leaders to first, formulate strategic aims that truly justify military action, before American blood and treasure are put at risk.

These points explain why the military inertia in strategic thinking that tries to intimidate China on China’s doorstep is worse than foolish. It’s downright dangerous when senior military leaders erroneously conclude that US military control of the South China Sea, roughly eight thousand miles from US shores, is a vital strategic interest of the United States, but securing America’s southern border is not.

The good news is the president can fix this problem because it’s a cultural and intellectual problem—not a fiscal one. Fixing it means reaching down and appointing new senior civilian and military leaders to the Defense Department who are not hostage to the policies of the past.

Retired Col. Douglas Macgregor, US Army, is a decorated combat veteran, a has a doctorate and he is the author of five books. His latest, Margin of Victory , is available from Naval Institute Press.

Reprinted with author's permission from National Interest.

Mr. President, Leave Syria

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No one knows precisely what happened inside the White House that resulted in President Trump’s sudden about-face on Syria. One day he was planning to extricate American ground troops from Syria; then he wasn’t. Regardless, whoever is urging the president to leave a small contingent of 2,000 lightly armed soldiers and Marines in a remote corner of Syria is doing the president and the nation a grave disservice. 

President Ronald Reagan committed 2,400 Marines to Beirut, Lebanon as part of an international peacekeeping mission on the advice of his Secretary of State George Schultz. Then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger opposed the mission as open-ended and with no reasonable chance of success, but Reagan followed Schultz’s recommendation. 

As Weinberger warned, the small US military presence had no strategic impact on the escalating violence in Beirut. The Marines operated under ludicrous rules of engagement that prohibited them from firing their weapons unless they were taken under direct fire and, even then, only with a weapon similar to the one used against them. In short order, the escalating violence confined the lightly equipped Marine infantrymen to their compound.

At 6:20 a.m. on October 23, 1983 the mission changed. A suicide bomber drove a truck into the Marine compound and detonated a bomb producing a blast equal to 12,000 pounds of dynamite. The blast destroyed the building and killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers.

Weinberger was furious and frustrated. When Reagan called him to the White House, Weinberger summed up the position of the Marines to the president in very succinct terms: “They’re in a position of extraordinary danger. They have no mission. They have no capability of carrying out a mission, and they’re terribly vulnerable.” 

According to Weinberger, President Reagan said, “Yes, Cap. You were right. I was wrong. Now, we’ve got to get our men out of there.” Despite the usual push back with bluster and bravado—“Americans don’t cut and run,” and “Marines never quit”—from the usual suspects inside the Beltway who’ve never pulled a trigger in battle in their lives, Reagan withdrew the Marines. 

As the White House wrestles with the Washington Swamp — a growing group of interventionists inside and outside of the White House—President Trump should consider adopting one of two courses of action in Syria.

1) Transform the weak US military presence in Syria into a more capable and survivable force of at least 5,000 US troops including tanks, tracked armored fighting vehicles, self-propelled artillery and air defense forces. 

2) Withdraw the force of 2,000-plus light troops currently on the ground in Syria. 

Keep in mind, that option one is — at best — a stop-gap measure to protect American lives and nothing more. Short of a massive American military intervention on the scale of Desert Storm, Washington’s actions will make no impact on Syria. Nothing Washington does in Syria will change the reality that Israel is involved in a permanent state-of-undeclared-war with Iran, Iran’s proxies and, increasingly, Islamist Turkey. Moscow comprehends this reality and has acknowledged Israel’s National Security Interests. As a result, Moscow has both warned off Iran and stood aside while Israel has launched more than 200 strikes against Iranian targets in Syria over the last 18 months.

Moscow’s readiness to act decisively against Islamists of all strikes is a good thing, but given Turkey’s defection to the anti-Western/anti-Israeli camp, there will always be a stray Sunni Islamist element present in the region to justify prolonging American military engagement. But staying in the region to chase the residue of ISIS and al Qaeda is pointless. Turkey and the regional Arab states will allow the few surviving Islamist fighters to escape and disperse rather than let them be destroyed.

President Trump should follow his gut instinct and disengage American forces from Syria. President Putin promised to end the Syrian Civil War with the “total annihilation of terrorists in Syria.” President Trump should let him keep his promise. 

As President Reagan discovered the hard way in 1983, open-ended peacekeeping or peace enforcement missions are halfway houses that appeal to dithering politicians, but such policies do not ignite passion or commitment among Americans. American voters dislike imprecise and indefinite policies that put American lives at risk casually. According to the latest polls, 62 percent of Americans oppose military intervention in Syria.

After 1991, Washington was stupid and embraced the Neocons’ unipolar moment. As President Trump routinely reminds his supporters, the outcome was a series of strategic disasters for the American people. If the president’s four star generals have not figured it out, at least the American people have concluded that using American military power to breathe new life into the comatose body of the perpetually failed states that litter the Eastern hemisphere is a huge waste of time. 

Option two is the right course of action. It’s the option President Trump’s base voted for in 2016. 

Extricating American soldiers and Marines from volatile quagmires like Syria (and Afghanistan) will only intensify the president’s popular appeal in the midterms when his base must mobilize and vote to support for the America First agenda in Congress. 

Doug Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, PhD and the author of five books. His latest is Margin of Victory from Naval Institute Press, 2016. 

Reprinted with author's permission from Breaking Defense.