The US position and future actions on the Ukraine continue to evolve as more reporting comes out. Reportedly, in order to avoid a broader military conflict, President Biden has apparently advised Ukraine to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin by potentially ceding territory or granting autonomy to the Russian-backed separatist regions, The Daily Caller reported on Sunday.
The report of Biden allegedly urging Ukrainian appeasement of Putin coincides with public remarks he made that essentially foreswore the possibility of America taking any sort of military action to oppose Russian aggression against Ukraine.
It was the Associated Press that first reported on the supposed concessions President Biden had suggested in a call Thursday with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, which came two days after a call Biden held with Putin to discuss, among other things, the unsettling situation on the border shared by the two former Soviet republics.
In a sense, Biden offered up conflicting messages to Ukraine and the world, in that he reportedly assured Zelensky that the US would defend Ukrainian sovereignty and territory and would respond to any Russian invasion with defensive aid, military deployments to nearby NATO allies, and harsh economic sanctions aimed at Russia.
At the same time, however, the Biden administration was reportedly pressing Ukraine to grant greater autonomy to the Russia-aligned regions controlled by separatists who had revolted against the government in Kyiv in 2014. Those eastern regions, such as Donbas, are currently labeled with an ambiguous and vaguely-defined “special status” that was established in a 2015 peace deal but has never been formalized.
Also, the Biden administration is reportedly holding back $200 million in aid to Ukraine. Is this to gain leverage with Russia (if they don’t invade then no aid) or is it leverage against the Ukraine to make concessions? When talking of leverage, one must always consider sanctions and embargos. The biggest item the US could embargo is gas and oil. They account for about 30% of Russia’s annual income—oh I forget that we are no longer an oil exporter. This leverage is gone and Putin knows it. This brings us back to the capitulation or some other kind of military action.
In effect, it would appear that Biden and his administration are searching for a way to cave to Putin’s ambitions and demands without appearing publicly to do so, and it will undoubtedly be a hard sell to get Ukraine to go along with it, to say nothing of other actual NATO allies situated on Russia’s flank who could see themselves facing a similar fate in the future.
Biden noted that he also informed Putin — and Putin reportedly understood — that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would likely result in the U.S. troop presence being bolstered in other nearby NATO nations, as well as that America would provide Ukraine with additional “defensive capability.”
However, as for putting U.S. “boots on the ground” in Ukraine, Biden said, “That is not on the table.”
However, there are other military options in the region that could leverage Russia to back off from any invasion of Ukraine. Whether the Biden administration has the stomach for true strategic maneuvering we do not know, but thought repeating some ideas that are now getting some visibility in Washington might be useful.
A major military operation in Ukraine would take most of Russia’s active military ground and airborne forces to accomplish, but it could be done. But what if there were other demands on those forces? Obviously, such strategic actions would be a combination of political/diplomatic, economic, psychological and military activities. However, it is the military activity that needs to be considered as it is the foremost activity that Russia will understand.
Since military force is something that Russia seems to understand, are there other theaters where Russian hegemony can be challenged creating a need for a Russian military response—thus diluting the force available to attack Ukraine? Said differently: Are there non warfighting force deployments that could demonstrate US/NATO resolve while controlling the possibility of escalation. Such deployments would also allow Biden to portray an image of strength and statesmanship. And if he followed through, he could be an emancipator.
What if the US/NATO were to threaten Russia’s previous efforts to establish buffer zones through so-called “frozen conflicts?”
In Georgia, Russia has created two autonomous zones through frozen conflicts — Abkhazia in the Black Sea region and Ossetia in the north. In Moldova, a small Russian force remains inside the breakaway Republic of Transnistria, which borders Ukraine.
These Russian expansionist deployments are exposed and vulnerable to military action. Military action by Georgia and Moldova, supported by the US and NATO. Most importantly, threatening these zones would not threaten Russian territory. Russia has not declared them to be Russian territory. Reinforcing Moldovan and Georgian forces with NATO forces could create a credible threat to retake these breakaway zones. To hold them would require Russia to divert military forces from those they plan to use against Ukraine. How much of a threat would be required? Probably several armored brigade combat teams with air support could create a credible threat. Russia would have to divert at least comparable forces not counting those required to open and maintain robust lines of communication.
Also, the US and NATO could threaten to conduct a blockade or quarantine of the Russian exclave in Kaliningrad which is surrounded by Poland and the Baltic Sea. Such an action would stress Russian military resources, especially when coupled with the build-ups around the Russian outposts in Moldova and Georgia.
There are also actions that could be taken with respect to the Black Sea, but that would require Turkish assistance. In a longer-term game such actions would be helpful, but in the short-term gaining active Turkish support against Russia might be quite difficult.
We can hope that President Biden’s strategic decisions are not limited to the weak positions outlined earlier. If the US and NATO want to prevent Russia from attacking Ukraine next month it would be prudent if they create counter pressure options similar to those noted above. That means more than “saying” we would take steps. The troops and equipment must be moved and positioned so that actions are available should NATO so choose. This is a non-combat option that will clearly be visible in Moscow. This is the kind of diplomacy through strength that Russian leaders can understand. Will leaders in Paris, Berlin, London and Washington understand?
Tuesday President Biden and President Putin conducted a two-hour teleconference. Based upon the reports Biden threatened much stiffer sanctions if Russia invaded the Ukraine. It is reported that he also promised more aid to the Ukraine from the US and its NATO partners.
Reportedly, he never put the threat of military action by the US or NATO on the table. In other words, by not threatening military action Putin can now operate on the knowledge that the US and NATO will not respond militarily to a Russian attack. In short deterrence has been destroyed if Putin is willing to absorb the threatened economic penalties. This corresponds to the growing consensus that Putin sees the US and Biden as weak. He has always seen NATO as weak (by looking at the member nations defense budgets), though unwilling to push too hard.
As a note—it never serves one well in an international negotiation to take anything off the table until a desired accommodation has been reached.
If I was Putin, I would get my economic house in order while waiting for the ground to freeze in the Ukraine. Once he is prepared militarily and economically the road is clear for the Russian attack. If/when Russia is successful in conquering Ukraine, he will have solved the strategic problem of Ukraine possible entering NATO and he will have created an economic problem in the NATO area abutting Ukraine as it deals with all of the Ukrainian refugees from the fighting and will have undermined the downstream creditability of NATO. This later may create an unintended consequence for Russia. The next time it acts belligerently, thinking that such behavior worked the previous time, the knee jerk reaction may be overwhelming and greatly exceed Russia’s expectations and NATOs normal modus operandi. In other words, NATO’s future over reaction may actually inflict real damage on Russia.
Biden and NATO need to put the military option back on the table. I would recommend mobilized forces on the southern Polish border prepared to attack and at least partially cut the Russian lines of communication into Ukraine. This threat might be a sufficient deterrent.
Ukraine, a non-NATO member may prove to be the unwinding of NATO, if the above weakness is exploited in the Baltic states. When one looks at the whole Ukrainian situation, he needs to look at a much larger three-dimensional chess board. The Biden administration, to date, has not proven to be very good at considering unintentional consequences or long-term consequences. Maybe the Ukrainian drama will teach them how to operate an a dynamic and fluid international environment—one can only hope.
As I said in Monday’s piece, we will keep our eyes open.
While most eyes have been focused on the Biden administration’s problems and attempts to impose a dictatorial state, foreign issues have continued to increase as areas of concern specifically the Russian build up along the border with Ukraine and the Chinese bellicose talk and actions in the Taiwan straits. As is my wont I will discuss these two in order with this piece being about the Ukraine and the next being about Taiwan.
Amid recent news that Russia has initiated a “large and unusual” – and potentially warlike – buildup of troops along the border with Ukraine, a top State Department diplomat has revealed that “all options are on the table” with regard to a possible response. We must consider the rhetoric and its meaning as part of any determination of what is occurring. We have been following events for several weeks and hope that this will make readers current.
The above map of Ukraine and surrounding countries highlights how geography plays in this growing “situation”. Russian seized the Crimea several years ago. Belarus remains loyal to Russia. Romania and Poland are members of NATO. Moldova is independent and neutral but has cultural ties to Romania and Ukraine.
Map courtesy of the Economist.
According to Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, countries comprising the NATO alliance were set to consult last week on next steps in dealing with the Russian military mobilization of roughly 100,000 troops. Speaking to reporters during a telephone briefing, Donfried said, “As you can appreciate, all options are on the table, and there’s a toolkit that includes a whole range of options,” according to Voice of America (VOA).
Donfried’s remarks were made ahead of a trip last week for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to visit Sweden and Latvia in which he is slated to attend meetings with officials from NATO as well as from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and it seems certain that those talks will focus – at least in part – on Russia’s seemingly aggressive and potentially threatening conduct.
Whether Blinken was likely to meet with Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister while in Sweden remained unknown, though Donfried suggested that reporters simply “stay tuned.”(The meeting actually took place as discussed subsequently.) VOA also noted that President Biden had himself expressed alarm over the troops amassing on Ukraine’s border with Russia and reiterated American respect for the territorial boundaries of that nation, indicating also that he would “in all probability” discuss the situation with Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin, the leaders of the two countries at issue.
It was also reported that last week, Biden administration national security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with Andriy Yermak of Ukraine and lamented the “harsh rhetoric” employed by Russia in this regard, concurring that diplomatic measures should indeed be undertaken in order to tamp down tensions.
While concerns have grown among western nations about the troop movements along the border and the possibility of an imminent Russian attack, Putin and his deputies have continued to deny such suggestions and dismiss them as irrational fearmongering, according to VOA.
While Russia’s ultimate motivation for this latest troop buildup still is unclear a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation noted that: “What seems to have changed is Russia’s assessment of where things are going,”. “They seem to have concluded that unless they do something, the trend lines are heading to Russia losing Ukraine.”
Also, according to the defense-intelligence firm Janes, much of the recent Russian deployment has been covert, often taking place at night and carried out by elite ground units, in contrast to the fairly open buildup in the spring. The build up only became apparent due to its size.
Reports indicate that the possible invasion will occur in January when the ground is frozen, thus enhancing the mobility or armored vehicles cross country. The build up has, as noted above, been semi-clandestine. It has had a unique characteristic. The Russian troops moved their heavy equipment forward, established bivouac areas and then returned to their home stations. This prepositioning would seem to be designed to allow for the Russian troops to quickly return to their equipment and subsequently launch an attack.
Ukraine has declared its ambition to join the EU and NATO, to Russia’s dismay. While Russian officials often boast privately that their forces could quickly reach Kiev, it would be much more difficult to maintain control of a country of 44 million inhospitable people amid international condemnation.
Putin warned Europe last April that “they will regret it more than they’ve regretted anything in a long time” if they cross Russia’s “red line” on security. The deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, Pyotr Tolstoy, declared that “all of Ukraine will be part of Russia and there won’t be any Ukraine” in a debate broadcast on Russian TV.
As part of the bellicose statements,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an address to the nation: “I hope now the whole world clearly sees who really wants peace and who is concentrating almost 100,000 troops on our border. “Psychological pressure from Russia doesn’t have an impact on us, our intelligence has all the information, our army is ready to repel anytime and anywhere.”
As the above rhetoric suggests neither side is backing down, nor can it without losing face. During previous confrontations in the region the Obama administration provided non-military aid, the Trump administration provided weapons and ammunition and so far, the Biden administration has provided words. The foreign aid from the US and NATO that is forthcoming from the current set of talks will be very instructive. It will indicate several things:
- The resolve of the western nations
- How serious the Russian threat is perceived to be
- The direction that tensions are evolving, and
- Harbingers of the future.
Interestingly, there has been no suggestion of reinforcing Poland or the Baltic states with NATO or US forces. Such reinforcements, would clearly be seen as reassuring to NATO allies and the Ukraine and threatening by Russia. The problem with US reinforcements is the lag time involved between a decision and boots on the ground. As we have noted in previous articles, the US maintains a small token prepositioned set of equipment in Germany, but those are a long way from any battlefields in Eastern Europe. A movement to deploy troops to that equipment would certainly be seen as escalatory by the Russians and insufficient by NATO, unless NATO were willing to forward deploy troops its self. The deployment could even serve as a decision point for the Russians to launch their attack before US troops, except the brigade or so currently deployed in the region, could enter the fray.
There are those that have suggested the President Biden’s weaknesses may be a tempting opportunity to Putin. However, those that believe in “wag the dog” theories suggest that such a move by Putin would be the recovery opportunity that Biden seeks and thus he (Putin) will not provide it. And the discussion continues. On Friday, President Joe Biden said that he is going to make it “very, very difficult” for Russia to invade Ukraine. “What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do,” Biden said.
What exactly this would entail is unclear, but it follows similar comments made earlier last week by Secretary of State Blinken, who had met with Lavrov. Lavrov, following the meeting, claimed that Blinken threatened Russia with new sanctions, but did not go into details. Lavrov also threatened a response from Russia if the U.S. follows through with such sanctions.
In an adjacent theater the Russians have threatened a US destroyer that entered the Black Sea. Historically the Russians have thought of the Black Sea as their own private lake, but since the fall of the iron curtain, now NATO states like Romania have had different thoughts. The Black Sea thus offers a separate place for a US-Russian show down to occur—one where the force multipliers are clearly in Russia’s favor.
It appears that arrangements are currently being made for a conversation between Biden and Putin—possibly as early as tomorrow.
As the situation continues to unfold, we will stay on top of it.
I, like most Americans, celebrated the Republican victories of early November. After these results all across the country the pundits said that the Democrats could lose the Senate and 70 seats in the House next year. Catastrophic? But the Democrats just seem to be yawning over such reports. I think that I can almost understand their thinking and am going to lay it out here.
Reminder: During his 8 years in office Obama lost a lot of local elections and didn’t really care. He had a long-term vision and was above those hardworking people at the grassroots level. (There is even a video piece running around the internet where he says that the people are not smart enough to understand where he was headed or to rule themselves.)
The Democrats have written off the traditional hard working middle class. Their goal is to eliminate the traditional middle class through taxes, mask and vaccination mandates, etc. They have already reduced the working population through giveaways in the name of COVID relief. The part of the population who have become dependent upon government largesse is increasing daily as they add refugees and illegal aliens and spread them around the country.
If you listen to both Biden and before him Obama the goal has always been to get rid of the middle class. They both have said that the people are incapable of governing themselves. They need the help of Martha’s Vineyard elites, Silicon Valley, Hollywood and those smart government bureaucrats who mostly live in Northern Virginia. (There may have been a small crack in that part of the ruling elite, but one election is not definitive.) (Readers will note that I excluded large corporations as most likely their shareholders may force them back to being almost politically neutral. )
Once the huge giveaways are passed and become law the Democrats’ idea is that even if the Republicans gain control of the government, they cannot take away the giveaways. Their hope is to have this all imbedded to create the dependency stage by early 2024. This explains the push on the second of the two big bills in Congress right now. Eventually the gift givers will be returned to power. Power over a few liberal elites, pockets of conservatives with some resources, and the masses who will beg for their next freebie. The younger generation already has a significant number of buy me, get me, give me members. The expectation is that that number will grow.
As part of this strategy energy development and complex manufacturing must be outsourced as the skilled labor required to accomplish such tasks will have been eliminated. Is this the Achilles heel of the plan? Will those illegals and refugees who came to America for the American dream be willing to not be able to rise towards that dream? How can you make it obvious to them that they are being denied? Maybe some Hispanics who are voting more and more for Republicans understand this threat. It is clear that they understand what cheaper alien labor means to their standard of living. There are some blacks who are also figuring this out.
What is amazing is that Biden’s handlers do not even fear impeachment. They are violating laws and judicial edicts and saying “so what” as they thumb their noses at the people who expect elected leaders to abide by the law. They know even if they lose the 2022 elections and control on the Congress there will always be at least 34 Democratic senators to vote against impeaching Biden. The fear of a Harris administration goes a long way in keeping at least 34 Senators in line. Of course if she should be eliminated first?
Trump won in 2016 by appealing to the hard workers of America. Any future Republican candidate will need to continue that theme. In the interim the Democrat giveaway strategy must be shown to be bankrupt. There will be rapes of kids in the new day care centers, there will be graft in the giveaways, and life will not be improving as promised. These problems must be highlighted! Every time a school teacher or administrator steps over the line those who protect them must be highlighted. It is the failure of the giveaways that will do more than a lot of things to make reversal of such programs possible.
I know that there are many of you who are saying that this could never happen in America and others who are saying shame on you for exposing ‘the plan.” My hope is that both groups will think about what I have presented here and decide that America is better than this. If that doesn’t happen the next likely scenario is some form of rebellion, as a I mentioned in my last article about mandates.
This may come sooner rather than later if Americans awaken to the Democratic Plan.
What would happen if nobody took the freebies?
I have been watching carefully the administration’s fixation on vaccinations and masks as a methodology for slowing the spread of the COVID virus. This fixation has now reached the point that it is threatening the health and welfare of the country. A fixation that is not based on medical facts. It is a fixation based upon the administration’s own fear mongering. It is a power fixation. The Biden administration believes that it can train us like Pavlovian dogs to respond to its tyrannical whims—better known as mandates.
The administration believes that it can survive by mandates. It has no way to explain the health and economic vigor that exists in the states like Florida and Texas that have no mandates. Mandates are power and not obeying a mandate is treasonous, according to Biden. But this is unravelling. The Marines and Air Force are talking about each losing thousands of service members who have resisted the vaccine mandate through mandatory separation. An Air Force officer has been relieved for failure to push vaccinations. Are they going to man our armed services with illegal immigrants?
The same applies to the vaccination of children. Again, there is no proven risk to children, but we must make them and their parents subservient to the government. In spite of what the school union says the data shows that children have a very, very low incidence of hospitalization. But the teachers’ unions are an arm of the socialist left that seek power over all Americans.
A second grader in Florida is being kicked out of school for refusing to wear a mask to school. However, Wednesday’s TV appearance with Governor DeSantis may cause the Palm Beach School Board to either be thrown out by the people or thrown in jail by the governor. Then there is Virginia. One can anticipate significant changes there in terms of mandates and responsiveness of the boards of education.
Why mandates? The law of unintended consequences whirls around mandates. Biden and Harris, before the election pontificated against the vaccines, but after being elected they found it necessary to try and get the population vaccinated. Voluntary vaccinations were not occurring fast enough for them and they couldn’t try to sell them to the population after having railed against them. The only other solution was a mandate. Mandates are the government saying thou shalt, without necessarily the law behind them. They are expedient and given the “follow-you culture that they are trying to create, where government knows best, they were the answer. However, mandates, whether they be for masks or shots have a huge unintended consequence—the people saying NO!
Some will argue that there is a history of mandates on vaccinations in the country—that is true as far as it goes. In most cases mandates for COVID have occurred at the state level where the history and legal precedents are stronger. Federal mandates have not occurred without Congressional consent. In every past mass inoculation, there has been a significant attempt to “sell” the inoculations. But how do you sell something that you said was unsafe? You mandate without congressional approval! Previous mandates had clear medical need. With a survival rate approaching 99% (close to 100% for children), new cases plummeting, and cases of adverse reactions all over the web those that are still unvaccinated are saying” “I’m not taking the risk.”
This is the first mandate where companies with federal contracts are being leveraged to force their employees and subcontractors to comply.
Saying NO is reaching rebellion levels. Thousands of aero-space workers are refusing the vaccinations with life long Democrats saying they are leaving the party. What happens to their production? Their employers are in a box. They want to obey the mandate, but they don’t want to go broke. The government is in a similar box. They don’t want (I hope) to wreck the military or business but can’t appear weak and indecisive. They have created their own unintended consequence—potential rebellion.
The recently announced treatments for COVID may save the administration’s hide. They could provide a graceful way out of the box that they got themselves into. Once can hope that they will take it, however their track record on resolving issues is not good. Proving that they are in charge may be more important than avoiding this unintended consequence.
As workers from California to Maine resist different mandates civil government becomes more and more tenuous—fire and police stations are closed in New York. Texas and Florida are urging these skilled workers from multiple states to move to their states. Fortunately, to date, the rebellion is being fought in the courts, but how long will people tolerate their slow-motion approach? Maybe electoral victories like in Virginia and elsewhere may reduce some heat. The key will be how the administration reacts. Right now, they seem to be doubling down rather than smoothly trying to change direction. Maybe all they know is authoritarianism. If this is the case the next year may be a night mare of skirmishes, which could become dangerous.
It is interesting to put this in perspective. Former president Obama had a message for the American people who are horrified by the radical changes unfolding before their eyes, from Critical Race Theory in schools to doubly-expensive gas at the pump: “You’re just not used to change!” Speaking in a CBS Mornings interview with Bruce Springsteen, the former president said: “You end up having, on the one hand, change happening very rapidly, too rapidly for a big portion of the population.” Sure. It’s just “change.” Not chaos and economic mismanagement, but “change.”
Obama, in trying to explain the poor performance of the economy actually put his finger on something else—the need for authoritarian approaches to achieve the change that he wants. He and the White House staff understand that they really only have less than a year left to get all of these socialist and authoritarian policies, programs and perspectives in place. They realize that with a razor thin margin in Congress that they can only achieve their goals by draconian methods—damn the constitution, full speed ahead.
Thus, the Biden administration’s government by mandate has led us to the edge of some form of rebellion that is damaging our economy and weakening our military through a series of unintended (I hope) consequences. We can hope that the Congress continues to stall on the big spending bills as they sound like they have consequences that will change the scope and nature of the rebellion.
Some wonder how the Afghan army, with 300,000 soldiers and its own air force, could not hold its own against some 75,000 Taliban. And as we know, even with those odds, that well-equipped organization melted away in the face of a poorly armed militia. What was the difference? Morale!
Morale is almost impossible to measure but any good commander knows when his unit has it. Morale is essential element of effective units just as it is for winning athletic teams. More often than not, it is the difference between winning and losing in any arena.
In Expendable Warriors. I described the Montagnard Popular Forces soldiers as having had victory sucked out of them when after destroying all attacking NVA they watched their Marine counterparts board helicopters and leave the District Headquarters. They had won and been deserted—just like the Afghan Army.
Over the course of its history, the American military has mastered the process that develops unity by compelling recruits to let go of their individualism for the sake of their unit. The traits of race, creed, color, faith, and family heritage are hard enough to put in check, but technology has created an additional problem by encouraging individualism.
Today’s military labors to rid the iPhone generation of its focus on self through a relentless series of physical and emotional challenges that can be resolved only by believing in and being part of something bigger than the individual. Well trained basic trainees leave with a service culture, work ethic, and an indelible bond that is shared with all others that have earned the right to wear that uniform. The Marines are probably the best at this,
A couple of examples of morale at work. In the middle 60s I commanded an Airborne cavalry troop. More than once, I got called to the enlisted club to break up potential brawls. What I found were my paratroopers in the middle and the “legs” on both sides of them. Race was not an issue for them—their airborne heritage was predominant. Other units that I commanded took long unit runs on Friday mornings with lots of Jody cadence and on some runs we added unit actions such as passage of lines or scouts out for reconnaissance. For the rest of the day, you could feel the troops being on a different level.
At West Point the Corps of Cadets is referred to as the 12th man—the bonding of the Corps to support its athletic teams. Every former Army athlete that I know will tell you that their team and the support that they got from the Corps played a large part in their success. Morale takes many forms!
Leaders of units with exceptional morale fight off every stimulus that could pit one part of their team against another. During the late 1960s and 70s race was a big divider within Army units. It was through the efforts of Generals Abrams and Depuy that we rebuilt the Army to create the force of the Gulf wars. Hard realistic training built effective fighting units. These units were effective because the men and women that they consisted of worked together. And in many cases played together.
And of course, today the Biden administration is trying to destroy the unity of units by destroying their morale and cohesion by stressing critical race theory.
Critical race theory destroys unifying organizational cultures by dividing people by race and sex. And then, incredulously, it demands each subgroup to identify themselves and the others as either oppressors or the oppressed. The remedy critical race theory offers society, is to subjugate the “oppressors” to the whims of those it has predetermined to be “oppressed,” sanctifying the blight of racism the units and whole services have worked so hard to stamp out. Critical race theory divides organizations against themselves, and history shows that divided organizations fail.
Unfortunately, the senior leaders within the Defense Department have become so politically motivated that they cannot do what must be done—stand alone, if necessary, against every introductory element or seemingly benign aspect of this destructive effort. They must make that stand now, before we lose the bond that holds our military together and relegates those segregated groups, and our nation, to the kind of nightmare the people of Afghanistan now endure.
With respect to the service academies recently, the White House reached out to numerous former Trump administration officials to ask for their resignations from the service academy advisory boards to which they were appointed by the former president.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed to reporters at a briefing that officials asked for Trump appointees to resign from the advisory boards for the Air Force Academy, West Point and the Naval Academy, positions that come with multiyear terms and typically span across administrations.
“The president’s objective is what any president’s objective is, which is to ensure you have nominees and people serving on these boards who are qualified to serve on them and who are aligned with your values,” Psaki said. “And so yes that was an ask that was made.”
The intent of these requests is obvious. The administration does not want any advice coming from such boards as to their efforts to destroy the service academies with critical race theory and other such “woke” ideas.
The board of visitors, as the advisory boards are called, visit their assigned service academy usually once a year and review the curriculum and other such matters. The board then writes a report that goes to the superintendent of the academy and also the secretary of the service involved. In some cases, the board results are provided to the Congress. In several cases superintendents have asked select members of the board to work on specific issues that confront the academy. The Borman effort on honor at West Point is one that comes to mind.
Several of these “fired” board members have filed suit against the Biden administration arguing that the president does not have the authority to terminate their membership on the board. If the mass firings were not such an obvious attempt to avoid negative reports from board members it might be something different.
What do you think?
I lived through and was part of the remaking of the US military in the 1970s and 80s. I fear that we are going to have to do that again and am concerned that we may not have the leadership that is required for such a task. If the service academies are not producing the leaders because their graduates have been infected with critical race theory the leaders will have to come from today’s middle ranks—captains and majors. Maybe this is the good news because there are a few of such leaders speaking out. Where are the great leaders of the future going to come from? Will they survive this current wave of wokeism? Will the service academies survive these efforts? Or is that the ultimate goal—the destruction of the greatest leadership development institutions of all time?
One can only hope that the readers of this essay will make their voices heard to avert this looming disaster.
What does it mean to win?
Recently in City Journal two associate professors in the department of Military Strategy, Planning, and Operations at the U.S. Army War College wrote about putting the war back into the war colleges. Their basic argument is that students at the senior service schools are no longer taught about how to fight and WIN wars. I can only hope that they are wrong, but in this era of “wokeism” they are probably fearfully correct. My how things have changed!
Twenty -five plus years ago plus I wrote a booklet and taught a course at the Army War College entitled: Combat Termination: What does it mean to win? The subject got the attention of the Commandant after I had given an hour-long presentation to the Chief of Staff of the Army in the context of Somalia. This resulted in a two-hour long lecture on the subject to the entire War College classes of 1993-95. The material probably still exists in the War College archives and the presentation to General Sullivan was captured in a chapter: “End State Planning: The Somalia Case” in Managing Contemporary Conflict: Pillars of Success, Max G. Manwaring and William J. Olson, Westview Press, 1996.
Several years ago, I gave a lecture at my high school alma mater. I am going to republish part of that lecture hoping that it makes my point.
So what does it mean to win? What is victory in real terms today?
Several years ago my book on my experiences in Vietnam was published. I wrote the book trying to set the historical record straight and to ensure the stories of brave warriors—American, Vietnamese and Montgnard were saved for posterity.
Let my own experience and the conclusions in my book be used to the answer question of what it means to win.
From the Vietnam War experience we should learn the relationship between political and military objectives, if we learn nothing else. Sometimes those political and military goals can be at odds. In this process we should develop a sense of what it means to win. Winning is not necessarily the destruction of the enemy, though it is often a consequence/objective. The Vietnam War was a political war — not for the United States but for the North Vietnamese. They understood that the war would not be won on the battlefields of Vietnam. It would be won in the streets of the United States. In the United States of the 1960s and early 70s the anti-war demonstrations convinced the politicians that the effort was not worth the political cost—not the military cost, but the political cost.
The same thing happened in 1954 in France. In the French case the siege of a remote airfield named Dien Bien Phu lasted for an extensive period and eventually fell to the Viet Minh. The French people were tired of war so soon after World War II and Korea. They wanted peace and after the battle of Dien Bien Phu brought this fatigue to the political front. The French people voted in the streets of Paris by their demonstrations and the French government then sought peace, resulting in the division of Viet Nam and planting the seeds for the next war.
The United States had not learned from the French experience this critical strategic lesson — the relationship between military operations and political objectives. We had stopped studying Clausewitz in our military and civilian schools.
Previously, traditional thought held that when diplomacy failed, things were turned over to the military. The linkage between the two was not apparent. This of course is the World War II model.
There was also prevalent in Washington a belief in gradual escalation/de-escalation, and the idea that you could vary the amount of force applied for signaling the opponent about your seriousness and intentions to convince him to quit. This is the rationalist argument pushed to the extreme and characterized Defense Secretary McNamara’s approach to conflict. He believed that you could calculate an enemy’s willingness to resist in terms such as body count. Unfortunately, today’s media are trying to continue the relevancy of body count as a measure of success. It was not useful then and it totally fails in today’s conflicts. The North Vietnamese understood the relationship of political and military objectives.
The North Vietnamese attacked the U.S. strategy and our political center of gravity (public support) through a combination of actions on the battlefield that created casualties, media concern for our POWs, and a greater than expected devotion to their objective of conquest of the South. In other words, McNamara’s rational calculation approach was incorrect. The North Vietnamese understood that they didn’t need to have a more capable army – they understood they needed to enflame the American public and provoke protests and dissension against the war. That’s how they would win. Their calculations were correct.
The North Vietnamese understood that if the American public stopped supporting a war that eventually the politicians would have to end it. They were right! We won the battle on the ground in Vietnam and lost it in the living rooms of America where war footage was shown on TV for the first time in history.
Tet is a Vietnamese holiday, the ‘high holy days’. Each year there was a cease fire agreed to by both sides so that they could celebrate Tet. However, in late January 1968 the North Vietnamese infiltrated large numbers of troops into South Vietnam and even attacked the US Embassy in Saigon. The Tet offensive and “Agony of Khe Sanh” of early 1968 were designed with precise political objectives in mind. For two plus months the American people were confronted daily in the media by the possibility of a major battlefield defeat. This was the high point of the war. Following Tet the demonstrations in United States increased, which undermined the political support for President Johnson. During the Paris peace talks an American colonel said to his Vietnamese counterpart: “You know you never defeated us on the battlefield.” To which the Vietnamese colonel responded: “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.”
There was a Wall Street Journal article several months ago that argued that the North Vietnamese had actually been badly defeated on the battlefields of January to April 1968.
The political loss of the war began when the North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive. The American public was kept in the dark about the capabilities of the North Vietnamese to mount such an offensive in order to maintain the public perception that we were winning the war. The ability to launch such an attack so caught the public off guard that it GALVANIZED them and was the beginning of the end — the beginning of the political loss.
Politics is the diplomacy of national leaders as they deal with one another to manage the relationships of countries. It is a game of control and has always superceded the military in importance. Battlefield decisions are highly influenced by the political situation. This is not always a productive situation because the objectives may not always be the same.
The announcement of the bombing halt by President Johnson is a classic case in point. He announced a partial bombing halt of North Vietnam in an attempt to induce them to enter into negotiations. During March 1968, while preparing to conduct the relief of the Khe Sanh Combat Base, the 1st Cavalry Division was given its next mission — an attack into the A Shau Valley 50 miles south of Khe Sanh to destroy the North Vietnamese Army “remnants” from the occupation of Hue during the Tet offensive.
On April 1, 1968, the division plans officer and I prepared a concept brief for the attack to the division commanding general. The concept was to execute the planned attack to relieve Khe Sanh, but the attack would be continued past Khe Sanh into Laos and then leapfrog south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, while blocking and destroying the trail, and enter the A Shau Valley from the north — not the traditional attack route west from Hue. We would have achieved operational and tactical surprise at least and probably “won” the war.
The commanding general dismissed the concept quickly by asking whether we had heard the president’s speech the night before. He told us that President Johnson had announced a partial bombing halt. We answered that we had not. He said: “What you are proposing is not politically feasible.” He turned and left. Such a pursuit would have militarily destroyed the North Vietnamese forces in the northern part of South Vietnam and denied them their base areas and infiltration routes. Three years later the South Vietnamese were to try this with devastating losses.
This is a classic example of the political limitations on even the most elemental operational aspects of the war in Vietnam. It also highlights the need for clear, unwavering military and political objectives that are in consonance before a conflict begins.
It was the experience of this war with its constantly changing political objectives and limitations on military action and the constant interplay between the political and the military that gave birth to the doctrine of “overwhelming force” espoused by General Colin Powell and practiced during the Gulf War against Iraq. It had its roots in situations similar to the one described. Powell believed that in Vietnam we had never truly tried to win the war militarily because we always limited the area where we could fight and never committed enough troops to get the job done.
What Khe Sanh in particular and the Vietnam experience in general should teach us is not necessarily the criticality of overwhelming force.
They should teach us the importance of military objectives being a clear translation of the conditions that a politician seeks for the U.S. military to achieve at the end of the conflict — what it will mean to win. There are three critical pieces of guidance that need to be developed during the policymaking process, before hostilities begin:
A clear statement by the political authorities of the desired situation in the post-hostility and settlement phases of a dispute — what the area should “look like” following hostilities. President Bush 41’s 4 clear statements are a clear example of achievable political objectives.
A clear set of political objectives that when achieved will allow the above vision to become reality.
A set of military objectives that will, when achieved, allow and-or cause the above to happen. The stated political objectives continually changed in Vietnam in reaction to battlefield realities. They were not linked to achievable military objectives. Therefore, we may have won the battles, but did not win the war.
There is an argument to be made that the same was true of our initial thinking when we went to War with Iraq in 2002. We did not have a clear vision of the end state.
The final point is for the political leadership to have the courage to continue unwaveringly in the face of adversity. He who quits loses!
We should learn from Vietnam that winning is the achievement of political objectives by military means. As the political goals changed the military ones did not. When that occurs, the conflict is over. This applies as much today in Iraq and Afghanistan as it did to Vietnam.
In the Mexican War of 1846 to 1848 the US captured Mexico City, which in those times meant that we had won. But, there was no one Mexican authority who would surrender and be politically liable for “losing” to the Americans so the process dragged on for several months.
As we think about the Vietnam War, and all wars, we should be asking ourselves “Have we learned the lessons of Vietnam?” Did we learn the lessons of the Gulf War? Are we ready to support the politics of winning?
Today the nature of warfare has changed. It is unclear what constitutes victory in the current political climate in the eyes of the media. What does it mean to win? We fight against terrorists who know no rules of war and who want to deny us our freedoms. Very pertinent to today is what Winston Churchill said in 1940, before the United States entered World War II “Victory at all cost. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory no matter how long and how hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.
As we contemplate the sacrifices made years ago by the men and women commemorated in this service today let us insure that these warriors’ lives continue to be relevant in our search for freedom from the tyranny that terrorists would impose on us. We as part of an international community must remember that without victory there is no survival. Those brave men and women of years gone by understood this—do you?
Let me close by reading “The Absent Legions” by – Edgar A. Guest, which reflects the gratitude of a nation for those who paid the ultimate price to insure victory.
Somewhere, far away, they heard us
When the word of Victory stirred us.
Safe within God’s Holy keeping,
Heard us cheer and saw us weeping;
Shared in all we did or said—
Freedom’s glorious, youngest dead.
Never doubt it, there was gladness
Where the dead are done with madness,
Hate and hurt, and need for dying.
As they saw our banners flying
On our day of joyous pride,
“ ‘Twas for this,” said they,
What if tears our eyes had blinded,
As of them we were reminded?
Never doubt it, they were voicing
Somewhere, songs of great rejoicing;
Glad to look on earth and see
Safe our country, still, and free.
I am an old war horse and it has been both my privilege and sacred duty to prepare the rising generations to be more prepared for the battlefields of tomorrow than all the generations before you. Upon graduation you will make decisions that may bring you to the brink of accepting that call to duty. I admonish you to be prepared, be diligent, and be firm in your calling to protect the freedoms of this great nation. And above all – understand how priceless victory is!
As an old soldier and scholar who has written extensively on conflict termination – or how to exit combat in a manner that serves your strategic objectives – the news of the past several days has been both heartbreaking and profoundly disappointing.
The Taliban’s rapid conquest of Afghanistan following President Biden’s order to rapidly withdraw US forces is a strategic disaster. No matter how hard the President or his defenders attempt to assign blame elsewhere, public opinion has rightly concluded that the buck stops with him. There are three critical areas to examine:
- Why did the Afghan Army fall apart so quickly?
- Why was the withdrawal so ineptly organized and executed?
- What will be the strategic outcomes of this whole episode?
The Afghan Army. There are numerous reasons for the failure of the Afghan military to stop the Taliban. There is much to learn from our failed two-decade effort to make them into a self-sufficient fighting force. Unfortunately, many of these lessons are ones we have been unable to learn before.
The cultural aspect of the failure of the Afghan military is more significant than many appreciate. Beyond Kabul, Afghanistan is still a tribal society with only nominal allegiance to the central government. While Afghanistan’s forces suffered significant casualties over the past several years, with some fighting valiantly, too often, their soldiers were not in their home regions and had no relationship with the area they were charged to defend. When confronted by motivated Taliban mujahedeen, they quickly surrendered or melted away.
I have seen several sources, especially on the right, comment on the cultural revulsion that many Afghans and others in the Muslim world feel when they see US facilities fly LBGTQ flags and publicize pride events. While tolerance is near-universal in liberal western democracies, it was painfully naïve to think we could export these values to Afghanistan in the span of less than a single generation.
The mostly illiterate Afghan armed forces were also incapable of utilizing combined land-air doctrine with its reliance on air support, intelligence, and technology. When the US pulled the contractors who had maintained the equipment, the machinery simply stopped working.
A brief bit of history is instructive. The collapse of the Afghan armed forces was not like the fall of Saigon and the defeat of the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN) in 1975. In Vietnam, the Democratic-controlled Congress, including the support of the junior senator from Delaware, denied President Ford the ability to resupply the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN). They also blocked Ford’s ability to provide air support against the advancing North Vietnamese (NVA) units. In both cases, there was corruption and bad to terrible leadership. In the Afghan situation, it was a voluntary, hurried withdrawal against an artificial timeline. In Vietnam, the US had withdrawn from the fight for some time. Vietnamization had been a long process that included attacks into Laos and Cambodia to gain time for ARVN to get on its feet. In Afghanistan, there were no such spoiling attacks to attrit the Taliban while the Afghan units got on their feet. In both cases, the militaries had been built on a US model, and when the sophisticated US support was no longer available, things went bad—in Afghanistan, it was rapidly, and in Vietnam, it was a drawn-out campaign. Both routs could have been stopped if the American leadership had had the political will to do so. Sadly, our political leadership again failed us.
Organizational Failures. Senior military officers and diplomats are already leaking they had withdrawal plans. It is quickly turning into a war of finger-pointing fought with more vigor than the effort to rescue stranded Americans.
What is unclear is whether the plans drawn up were utterly ignored by the President – according to Peter Beinhart’s piece in the Atlantic, this seems like a plausible if disturbing scenario – or the plans suffered from fatally flawed intelligence. It would certainly not be the first time that our intelligence agencies badly underestimated or misunderstood a threat in recent memory. I suspect that a healthy measure of both factors was at play.
General Milley, the chairman of the JCS, said last week that no one saw the Afghans falling apart this fast. He thought that they could hold out for at least 30 days. This admission from the man responsible for an orderly withdrawal
The “Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau” – which was designed to handle medical, diplomatic, and logistical support concerning Americans overseas was paused, by the Biden State Department earlier this year. The bureau was formed by the Trump administration so as to have the ability to respond rapidly to crisis situations and to avoid Benghazi types of incidents.
There is no doubt that there was not a headquarters to control the US withdrawal AND apply air power to delay the Taliban. Additionally, even though they have had months to prepare it is not apparent that anyone even considered having to fight a withdrawal. The intelligence failure allowed for the sloppy unplanned exodus that has taken on all the appearances of a rout. Additionally, there was no plan for securing regional base access, for the contractors that maintain the Afghan military, for training that military after the US departure, for evacuating interpreters and helpers. The current plan is if you can get to Kabul airport you can be evacuated otherwise the guidance from the Biden team to Americans who are stranded in the country “Hide”.
In addition, why are they using Kabul airport and not Bagram Air Base where there are facilities for security? The only thing that makes sense is proximity to the US Embassy.
There are currently about 6000 soldiers and Marines on the ground at the airport. The administration has frozen Afghan assets in the US and appealed to the Taliban to let Americans be evacuated without incident. In short, now we have a hostage situation and it would appear the Taliban have the negotiating leverage. Maybe the Chinese will help get Americans out of Afghanistan. And finally, the French and British are going out and collecting their personnel and getting them evacuated while the Americans sit at the Kabul airport. Are we afraid that they might get into a skirmish? I am sure that the White House is afraid that a skirmish could turn into multiple skirmishes and we would be committed to a new fight. Good military leadership should be able to manage such a situation, but…….
Unfortunately, I am accustomed to failures from the political class. So more disappointing is that our intelligence agencies were blind to the extent of political dealings the Taliban had made as the withdrawal loomed. It likely took weeks or even months of planning for the Taliban to organize near-simultaneous assaults on the Afghan provincial capitals. Our intelligence efforts missed (or were ignored) that Taliban shadow governors were already in place, alongside the requisite staff, to take over provincial functions immediately.
Both the Trump administration and now Biden’s team prefaced America’s withdrawal on the notion that US intelligence capabilities would enable the United States to maintain an over-the-horizon strike capability against both insurgents and terrorists. The CIA’s failure, however, shows that as US forces withdrew, they were essentially blind. These failures caused the White House to construct America’s post-withdrawal strategy on a rotten foundation.
To misread intentions and capabilities so completely raises more uncomfortable questions about whether the intelligence community has improved its products and capabilities since its well-documented failures on 9/11 and later weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The intelligence apparatus opens itself up to criticisms that they are more concerned with trendy social or political causes. As a group, they erode any faith that remains by a regular parade of retired senior officials parading on cable news shows to lend credibility to Russian pee tapes against their political enemies while dismissing evidence that their political ally’s son engaged in reckless personal behavior while auctioning access to his father.
Strategic Outcomes. This brings us to our final item of discussion—the strategic situation following the fall of Afghanistan. From afar, the US appears to be an aging, weak empire. Weakness emboldens our adversaries (especially Russia and China) and causes our allies to doubt our strength and resolve. It bears all the signs of the Obama Administration, which should not surprise anyone given the personalities who again control the levers of power.
While trying to point fingers away from himself, one retired four-star general lamented that our days as a superpower are over. He went on to say that this might have been a continuation of the Obama-era goal of denigrating American greatness. What this means is that President Biden has two choices:
- Watch almost impotently as the caliphate in the Middle East rises, and we lose strength in Asia, accelerating the continued fall from greatness for the United States, OR
- Do something drastic to convince world leaders that the US is still the global superpower it has been for nearly a century. If this course is pursued, the US needs to engage and overpower someone over some issue. Think of this as Margaret Thatcher turning a dispute over a mostly meaningless island into the Falklands conflict. There are many candidates for such a move – and all are profoundly dangerous.
- Given that the Chinese are now telling the Taiwanese that the US can’t be trusted and are conducting live-fire drills in the Taiwan straits, some bellicose types of action/response in support of Taiwan are called for.
- Given the Russian stance that the Black Sea is a Russian lake, increased naval action there may be called for.
- Given the situation in Eastern Europe and Crimea, additional US presence and favorable armaments support might temper the Russian’s bellicosity.
- Support for an anti-Taliban insurgent movement should be a natural course of action coupled with the diplomatic and economic efforts that are underway. But make no mistake, the Taliban will only laugh off strongly worded letters expressing the displeasure of infidels in far-away foreign capitals.
- The South China Sea stand-off over freedom of navigation can always be a way to show American strength and devotion to a high set of goals and ideas.
- And recently an East China Sea issue has arisen between China and Japan. US support for the Japanese is just another way of trying to keep the Chinese genie in the bottle.
Related to item two above is a drastic overhaul of the US military leadership. The current leadership has failed in Afghanistan. It will probably take a new presidential administration before the damage that this leadership has caused can be remediated and reversed. HOWEVER, if President Biden was to throw the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and several other generals out on their cushy retirement rears, he might reduce the growing call for totally remaking our military. This is a dangerous path politically for a president whose opinion ratings were recently measured below 40%. What will these officers say about the Commander in the Chief once free to speak freely (or at least for attribution)?
Whatever course the administration chooses will be hotly debated as the left leaning media awakens to just what they have created. The emergence of balanced reporting and honest dealing with the American people would be a great thing to come out of this mess. One can always hope.
Finally, back in April, we discussed some of the future international movements by multiple actors to gain favor with the new Afghan government. The Chinese have already made diplomatic moves to align themselves with the Taliban, and one can be sure that Pakistan will be right behind them. The Chinese will continue to push throughout the region. As predicted, the Russians are seeking to insulate the Taliban. As suggested by my caliphate remark earlier, what was not discussed but now seems to be a logical extension is Iran offering the Taliban its good offices and a close relationship.
The April article on the future of Afghanistan is a good reference as we follow the post-Afghanistan events. Please stay tuned.
By Bill Shuey
July 10, 2021
Recently a lady who interjected herself into an ongoing conversation on Facebook accused me of blaming, if not all, most of America’s problems on blacks. I don’t know if the lady has a reading comprehension problem or if she just wished that I had made the statement. Either way, I corrected her and told her that I viewed she and those of her ilk as the real problem.
From the day that the 13th Amendment was signed into law, Democrats fought allowing the freedmen from assimilating into society, voting, or owning property. This initiative continued all through the Reconstruction Era and gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan and the terror, torment, and killings of blacks it inflicted.
Once the 14th and 15th Amendments were established as law, Democrats resorted to another ploy. They banned blacks from restaurants, schools, drinking fountains, and lower seating in theaters, amongst other things. With the advent of the Civil Rights movement, Democrats beat, intimidated, harassed, sicced dogs on, and killed both black and white civil rights marchers and advocates. Those of us that were alive during the 1960s can remember Democrat Governors Lester Maddox and George Wallace blocking entrances to schools to keep black kids out.
When the white backlash grew after seeing black beaten, water hoses used on them, and the German Shepherds which were used to control them, a new tactic was invented. Since intimidation was no longer a viable tactic, then President Johnson and his cronies devised another plan. As LBJ is quoted as saying after he signed his Great Society legislation into law, “We’ll have those n—-rs voting Democrat for the next 100 years.” He must have been right; no Republican presidential candidate since the Great Society had gotten more than 20% of the black vote until Trump.
Suddenly there were two new vocations: breeders and single moms. Single black girls got paid by the child and the breeder got a small percentage of the action for his contribution. Within a decade the black household was disintegrating, and the nuclear black family was mostly a thing of the past. Black household income dropped like a stone off a cliff because there was no longer a breadwinner in the home. The federal government became the surrogate father and provider for the 70% of black babies born out of wedlock.
People are guided by human nature. If you give a person Section 8 housing, welfare payments, SNAP food stamps, free school lunches, free medical care, and top it off with tax credits and payments for children, even though you never made a dime, who wouldn’t be tempted.
Ever pliable, the former Democrats/liberals, who are now mostly socialists, are now introducing a new tactic. All white people are racist and oppressors. All black people are oppressed and victims. If one wants to keep a segment of the population subservient, one must constantly invent new buzz words and allegations. Blacks have been told for years that the deck is stacked against them. Reverends who get rich off the black community’s misery foment hatred and suspicion. The corporate black community and near-do-well liberals embrace the indoctrination.
Socialists treat blacks like perpetual children. The presumption is that they cannot survive without social assistance (44% of the black community draw some type of social benefits), they need special consideration in order to vote because of their skin color and ineptitude, and education has to be dumbed down so all their young can compete in school. (America is the richest nation in the world and ranks 30th overall in education) If I was black, I would feel demeaned and patronized; unfortunately many believe the propaganda.
Now the socialists have invented Critical Race Theory, which is nothing more than a Marxist tool to divide Americans into tribes. Then the NY Times invented the 1619 Project which, in short, asserts that America could not have been developed without slave labor. This balderdash conveniently ignores all the industry in the north which was largely fueled by non-slave labor, or the westward expansion that was essentially a European endeavor.
No, Madam, blacks are not the problem and browns are not the problem. You and people with your narrow mindset that have created the culture of dependency and promised the free candy store are the greatest threat to our nation. The sad truth is that you and your ilk are so self-absorbed, you can’t even recognize the damage you’re inflicting.
Have a good week. Bill Shuey is a freelance writer in San Angelo, Texas
No, Madam, blacks are not the problem and browns are not the problem. You and people with your narrow mindset that have created the culture of dependency and promised the free candy store are the greatest threat to our nation. The sad truth is that you and your ilk are so self-absorbed, you can’t even recognize the damage you’re inflicting.
Have a good week. Bill Shuey is a freelance writer in San Angelo, Texas
This is a book critique by my West Point classmate Colonel (ret) Barrie E. Zais
The most visible socio-political movement of our time is identity-based politics. In its broadest sense, it includes a range of gender and racial causes. Agendas such as critical race theory, diversity and inclusion, the Me Too movement, The 1619 Project, Black Lives Matter, and equity are all part of this larger counter-culture war. Most claim the existence of an American form of systemic and institutional racism and discrimination and call for some sort of social justice. Today identity politics permeates governmental, military, and educational institutions at all levels. And it divides us.
Emerging as a manifestation of this movement is the recent work, Robert E. Lee and Me, (St. Martin’s Press, 2020) by Ty Seidule. The author, a former head of the West Point Department of History, claims to have discovered that all we have been taught about the Civil War and the South are myth. While in his position, Colonel, now Brigadier General Retired, Seidule presided over a fundamental shift in the teaching of military history at West Point until his retirement in 2020. Announcing that “it is important that we get our gender and racial agenda right,” large portions of the military history curriculum were eliminated, specifically the Civil War. As an example, the study of Lee’s brilliant campaigns were scrapped in favor of things like a Civil Rights staff ride throughout the South. Military history is the data base of the military profession. When it is diminished, as has been the case at the West Point, the result is professional catastrophe. Current faculty have told prominent sources, “Sir, it’s so bad I don’t think we are going to be able to fix the department.” Another more optimistic senior professor said, “Give us some time.”
Unfortunately, when one sets out to write history for political purpose, it usually turns out to be bad history. And Robert E. Lee and Me is just that. The author’s purpose is to indict Robert E. Lee and other Confederate leaders and purge them from the Army and West Point. In a fit of self-righteous virtue signaling, Seidule declares that “Lee was a traitor and does not represent my values.” So Seidule proudly committed to “change our history to reflect our values.” Some have argued that it is disingenuous to judge one’s views on an issue from another era by the circumstances and ideologies of today. Or judging historical figures based upon current mores and understanding does not lead to an accurate interpretation of the figure in question. Rather, they must be placed in historical perspective. If so, this book is the poster case of historical malfeasance.
Seidule’s method is to indict all white, Southern culture, and in doing so, take down its most revered symbols. How Seidule goes about this takes a classic page out of the Marxist handbook. It starts with what is called “The Big Lie,” in this instance, that the South seceded from the Union and fought the Civil War for the exclusive purpose of perpetuating white supremacy and expanding slavery. Few, if any, of the hundreds of books tracing the coming civil war arrive at such a simplistic conclusion. Of course, slavery was the dominant issue of the time, but the cause of the war was far more complicated than that. One must go back at least to James Madison, the Constitution, and the rights of states in the new nation. But Seidule hammers his Big Lie over and over, four or five times in the Introduction alone. Once he gets the gullible to nod, the rest is easy. If the protection and expansion of slavery was the singular Confederate purpose, then they all must have been bad, and their version of events must be myth. And the actions of succeeding generations of Southerners must be evil and their historical interpretations, myth. In history this is called a single factor theory. This is not to ignore decades of slavery and segregation and their evils, but just to acknowledge that single factor theories are always simplistic and most often wrong.
The author’s misuse of historical events and documents has gone unnoticed, as the book’s reception has been mostly unfettered acceptance. He is loose with both facts and interpretations. His assertion that the Ordnances of Secession of the seceding states confirm that the issue was slavery is not true. Some of the deep South ordnances stress the subject of slavery, but Virginia and others emphasize threats to their sovereignty. Seidule’s mean attempt to bring down a great man consciously omits facts such as two thirds of Virginia born officers in the Army went with the Confederacy and that in 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arlington House and the surrounding grounds, now Arlington National Cemetery, were taken illegally by the Lincoln Administration without due process. The court returned the property to the Lee family. An attempt to advance “social justice” should not dispense with a respect for factual interpretation.
Seidule’s intent to smear Lee as a cruel racist is a most egregious historical assassination. Lee was at least ambivalent, at most opposed, to slavery. However, his foe, U.S. Grant, only freed his personal slave in 1859, but his wife kept hers. There is some discussion whether the slaves were legally hers or her father’s, but they were in the Grant family. Years later she claimed the four were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. We know this is not true since the proclamation freed no slaves in Missouri where Julia Grant resided.
These are only a few examples of the author’s selective use of facts. What we get throughout the book are disconcerting nomenclature changes, he refuses to use the term “Union Army,” using instead “U.S. Army,” and ideological interpretations rather than statements of moral and political clarity. The book is also bogged down by an overdone account of the author’s personal life and his purported epiphany.
Seidule, did, and continues to do much damage to the Army and West Point. Calling racism a “national institution,” he has played a key role in the cultural purge of Lee and Confederates at the military academy. It is all but certain that Lee Gate, Lee Barracks, Lee Hall, Lee Road, and Lee Housing Area will be erased from history by the cultural commissars. Heeding Seidule’s proposition that all use of the name “Lee” at West Point is “a protest against integration and equal rights,” the Military Academy leadership is all in on the purge.
The Robert E. Lee Award for mathematics was eliminated and the West Point superintendent removed the Lee portrait from his quarters. Perhaps the Class of 1961 Reconciliation Plaza that recognizes post-civil war healing will survive. But that is not assured, as the current scorched earth movement shows no signs of abating.
Riding the wave of uber wokeism sweeping the nation, Seidule received an appointment to another commission charged with renaming the ten Army posts in the South carrying Confederate names. Installation names such as Fort Gordon, Georgia will disappear from history. And the name of John Brown Gordon, civil war hero, once Governor, three times elected to the U.S. Senate, and idol of the state of Georgia for 40 years, will be purged from memory.
It is no coincidence that Brig. Gen. Seidule is lauded in the 40-page June 2020 policy proposal authored by nine disgruntled West Point graduates. They allege that the Academy is racist to the core, that white privilege reigns, and that the institution does not accomplish its mission.
While political correctness, wokeness, and critical race theory thrive at West Point, expect no help from the very highest levels of our military establishment. The Secretary of Defense recently told Congress that the military does not teach critical race theory. He was wrong. The West Point superintendent confirmed the use of the book, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. And Congressman Michael Waltz, R-Fla., provided slides from a West Point workshop entitled “White Power at West Point” and “Racist Dog Whistles at West Point.” At the same hearing, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified that he saw nothing untoward about teaching critical race theory to West Point cadets under the title “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage,” what some cadets have called a “woke effort to inspire race-based guilt among students.” The Chairman huffed that he found it personally offensive that the U.S. military was accused of being woke. He went on to say that he had personally read Mao, Marx, and Lenin and adamantly denied that political correctness and wokeism are rampant in the military. The facts do not seem to confirm his view.
The Navy’s highest-ranking officer also wandered into the ideological stew by including several politically charged books on his officially endorsed reading list for all naval personnel. His refusal to address sailors’ complaints about Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist and what they called woke diversity training has drawn congressional attention. Two veterans, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Tex., viewed it necessary to establish a whistleblower hotline to report official military woke ideology training. The line has been flooded.
So, how does this end? Some are pessimistic. Others say the elections of 2022 have the potential to at least slow the tide. The elections of 2024 appear to offer a more critical opportunity. Prompted by attacks on the nation’s founders, in the waning days of the last Administration, the President signed an executive order establishing the President’s Advisory 1776 Commission. Calling America an exceptional nation dedicated to the ideas and ideals of its founding, the order noted a recent series of polemics grounded in poor scholarship that vilify our country. “This radicalized view of American history lacks perspective, obscures virtues, twists motives, ignores or distorts facts, and magnifies flaws, resulting in the truth being concealed and history disfigured.”
The order called upon all of us not to abandon faith in the common story that binds us to one another across our differences. Those symbols that bind are, of course, the American flag, the National Anthem, the U.S. military, and places like West Point. Disrespect of those only deepens the division. It is identity politics that divides, rather than unites. At the most fundamental level, the order concluded that an informed and honest patriotism taught in our schools should be the goal. In closing it is only fair to note that early on the Biden Administration eliminated the Advisory Commission.
Barrie E. Zais is a graduate of West Point who served two tours in Vietnam and commanded infantry units from platoon to regimental level. He holds Masters and Ph.D. degrees in history from Duke University and has taught on three college faculties. He was the Course Director of the two semester course, History of the Military Art, in the Department of History, U.S Military Academy, West Point.