Monday, February 20, 2017

The Imperial City Disconnect, by the Numbers

I do my best to give the benefit of the doubt to my friends in academia who are thrashing about in search of why the nation is in the mood it is in right now. Poor things live in academia for goodness sake; the human intellectual terrarium. The outside world is a frightfully dangerous "other." They just don't know any better. It is what it is.

Those inside the Beltway who are still foam-flecked and thrashing around as to why everyone in the lumpenproletariat seem to be taking crazy pills? Not as much sympathy.

In many ways, we are not a normal nation (i.e. ethnic Danes mostly live in Denmark, etc). We are a republic of ideas. As such, even our capital is a bit different. Unlike London which is a financial hub of global importance, Washington DC has but one business; government. Like Brazil's capital, Washington DC is a purpose built entity whose very existence is simply as a place for our central government to call home. 

It serves then to be an indicator of who is serving whom. Does our government serve the people to help them grow and prosper, or do the people exist to serve to government and to make sure it grows and prospers?

Government at its most raw is an organization that uses the police power of the State to force wealth out of the citizens to put to the public good - "good" as the government and the people's representatives so define it.

It doesn't produce much but other people's money, access to power, and the ability to manipulate both both products in directions that may or may not be in the pursuit of the greater good - humans being human and all that.

Those who live and work within a commute of DC have a few things in common with each other that are distancing themselves and their worldview from the citizens in the provinces. 

First, is where their paycheck comes from. Always start with the money. If not directly, that are at best one to two degrees of separation away from having their livelihood directly connected to the Federal pocketbook. That bias towards a strong Federal government derives from the brain-stem need to supply food and housing to the family, and as a result, skews the mind for most. Any threat to a big government is a threat to their family and tribe.

Second, as a result of #1, they are soaking in a left-of-center ether well out of tune from the rest of the nation. Sure, there are plenty of right-of-center people and ideas in the environment, but as love of government is largely a left-of-center mindset, just not as many compared to the rest of the nation. The USA may be a 50/50 nation, but the Beltway is more of a 70/30 nation. 

As such, those of the left get lots of affirmation from peers, and those of the right are constantly second guessing themselves while trying to make friends with the bullies and Heathers that they have in their neighborhood and have to find a way to live with.

Third, they get caught up in the same information flow their neighbors are in; WaPo, NYT, and the Big-3 networks. Even in 2017, with a few exceptions, they derive their perspective about what is right, wrong, or indifferent from the same sources their grandparents did. That isn't how the rest of the country works anymore.

That outlines their problem in broad strokes. Then there is how the rest of the nation sees them. 

At the front is the economic isolation those in the Beltway experience. They did not suffer during the Great Recession. As a matter of fact, they prospered.

Here we find ourselves with four of the five most rich counties in our republic cocooned around the Washington DC. 

This isn't how it was supposed to be.

It is how things are. It is not good for the American people or its government – and it is a condition that is not good for the long term sustainability of our republic.

We have a legion of rent-seeking people focused on two things; access and power.

Access matters so much because in a large nation such as ours, as the Federal government grows in its size and degree of control, it becomes more like the late middle-ages imperial monarchies.

Access to the levers of power in the Imperial City gives those who are “at court” access to the largess of the state.

There is a dysfunction in a republic of ideas, of individual liberty, of a self-governed mercantile republic where the bureaucratic machine becomes the center of wealth.

Let’s take a little quote from G.J. Meyer’s book, “The Tudors,” and tell me this doesn’t sound a bit familiar?
Access mattered so much because the whole political system was powered by royal largess. It was the king (along with those to whom he listened) who bestowed the highest offices, the gifts of land, financial favors ranging from annuities and monopolies to exemption from the payment of tariffs, wardships like the one that had brought Plantagenet blood into the Tudor family, and pardons for virtually any kind of offense. Such gifts were the means by which the king built a following and rewarded faithful service. TO be eligible for them one had to be known to the king or his most trusted friends, and there was little chance of becoming known except at court.

Admission to court as most broadly defined – to the crowds that gathered wherever the king was resident – was not difficult. It required little more than a reasonably respectable appearance (meaning the attire appropriate to a gentleman), a plausible claim to have business with the Crown (anything from wares for sale to a dispute in need of resolution), and a sufficient supply of ready cash (bribery being routine). Merely being at court, therefore, was of limited value. Men spent years, even decades, hanging around the court and angling for preferment, only to see little of the king and come away empty-handed in the end. The trick was to get lifted out of the herd; this could be accomplished through good connections, and ability to charm or to make oneself useful, simply good luck, or some combination of these things. The goal was to become one of the lucky few likely to come to the royal mind when lucrative offices needed to be filled or patronage was available to be disbursed. Getting there could take years.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Trump, Andrew Jackson and Our Navy - on Midrats

Since his election in November, the administration and several articles have suggested Donald Trump is a new Andrew Jackson whose portrait now hangs in the Oval Office. What might that mean for the Navy? How did Andrew Jackson approach his Navy and what lessons can we draw from that?

Our guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern for a discussion of an understudied part of our naval history and what it could mean for the current administration is returning guest Claude Berube.

Claude is the Director of the Naval Academy Museum and has taught in both the Political Science and History Departments at the Naval Academy. He has worked in the U.S. Senate, as a maritime studies fellow at the Heritage Foundation, as the head of a terrorism analysis team for the Office of Naval Intelligence and as a defense contractor. An intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, he deployed with Expeditionary Strike Group Five in 2004-05. His articles have been published in Orbis, Vietnam Magazine, Naval History, The Washington Times, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Naval Institute Proceedings and others. He’s also written or co-authored five books. He’s completing his doctoral dissertation through the University of Leeds.

Join us live if you can, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio or Stitcher

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Mattis Goes Salamander

Do you ever get tired of saying, "SECDEF Mattis?" I sure don't.

Our friends in NATO just got a little direction and guidance from SECDEF Mattis that is so welcome for my ears at least.

Head on over to USNIBlog where I set out the details and a little commentary.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What's in a Name?

Words mean things. A ships name can, and should, mean something too. Repeat names for ships usually carry with them the history of the ships with that name that went before. Ship's names are rarely given by accident.

As such, I found this little thread interesting in a couple of different ways;
Izumo was the lead ship of her class of armored cruisers ... During the Russo-Japanese War, she was the flagship of Japanese 2nd Fleet's Admiral Hikonojo Kamimura; in that war, she participated in the Battle off Ulsan on 14 Aug 1904 and the Battle of Tsushima on 26 May 1905. ... When Japan invaded China in 1937, thus starting WW2 in Asia, she was the flagship of the Japanese 3rd Fleet. During the Second Battle of Shanghai, she was attacked unsuccessfully by Chinese torpedo boats. On 14 Aug 1937, she was attacked by a group of Chinese Air Force aircraft led by Captain Claire Chennault. At 0400 on 8 Dec 1941, moment after the Pacific War began, Izumo forced the surrender of American gunboat USS Wake and sank the British gunboat HMS Peterel. ... She was sunk at dock at Kure, Japan in an American air attack in 1945, near the end of the war. Her wreck was raised in 1947 for scrapping.
The Japanese, of course, have a new IZUMO,
the JS Izumo (DDH-183), commissioned on March 25th, 2015. Officially classified as a $1.2 billion “helicopter destroyer”, this warship is the largest constructed by Japan since the Second World War, and at first glance bears a striking resemblance to a light aircraft carrier. With an impressive length of 248 meters and a beam of 38 meters, the vessel is larger than short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) carriers operating in the Spanish and Italian navies. Likewise, its fully-loaded displacement of 24,000 tonnes and 7.3 meter draft put the Izumo class in a category similar to that of the Invincible class carriers commissioned by the Royal Navy. Altogether, the scale of these vessels represents a major advance in Japan’s maritime defense capabilities, significantly increasing the country’s ability to project force.

Equipped with the latest in electronic warfare, fire control, and radar systems, the Izumo class has been designed with the battlefield of the 21st century in mind. According to Janes Defense, the Izumo class will carry up to 14 helicopters- primarily Japanese-built MCH-101s and SH-60Ks equipped for anti-submarine warfare or search-and-rescue operations. For closer encounters, the Izumo is equipped with the Phalanx and SeaRam close-in weapons systems (CIWS), capable of defeating most forms of incoming ordnance.

Furthermore, the Izumo class boasts the exceptional capability of supporting amphibious assault operations as the ships have the capacity to embark up to 400 marines and approximately 50 light vehicles.
Read in to it what you wish. She has quite the name to live up to - and in a few decades hopefully has a more graceful fate.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Just say no to BRAC

BRAC is back, and at the worst possible time.
The vice chiefs of the Army and Air Force on Tuesday threw their support behind another round of base closures as a way to save substantial amounts of money that can be put to use for the military’s other needs.

"It's real money that we really need to reinvest into deferred maintenance and infrastructure backlog," Gen. Daniel Allyn, the Army's vice chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Gen. Stephen Wilson, vice chief of staff for the Air Force, agreed: "In today's budget environment, it makes sense to invest wisely, so BRAC would help us make smart investments to prepare for the future.”

Wilson and Allyn were testifying alongside their Marines and Navy counterparts on the state of the military. They painted a bleak picture, lamenting that budget cuts have slashed the readiness of the force to fight in a war against a high-end adversary such as Russia. 
But the closure process, known as Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), has been a politically unpopular solution to the issue. Lawmakers in both parties oppose BRAC because of the potential for negative economic impact on the communities around bases.

The last round of BRAC was in 2005, and under current law, another round is banned.
I feel dirty just reading that. If anyone uses the terms, "wisely" and "smart investments," they are simply insulting the listener by implying that, if you don't agree, then you are "dull" and "stupid."

Well General Wilson - pack sand.

There are a lot of reasons not to support a new series of base closures, but the top one should be that in 2017 we are looking at growing our military, not shrinking it.

There is a certain logic to doing a BRAC for those who live and breathe inside the Beltway and see things only through the refracted light of the green eye-shade, and that is the problem. They drive the discussion.

There is a lot more to military base utility than a simple spreadsheet snapshot in a time of peace, you have to look at why you have a military to begin with; to fight and win your nation's wars.

Let me give you a few bulleted items to consider as to why we should firmly say no to a new BRAC. 

In no specific order;

1. Quality of life/work: In the course of my couple decades of military service, I had the pleasure of being stationed at small, medium and large bases on both coasts. The ability to get to work, home from work, and to get actual work done at small bases was always much better than the large, impersonal, industrial sized bases. Living out in the economy (I never lived in and do not support base housing) was easier, and the military has a lighter impact on the host community.

2. Risk mitigation: Just put on your "red hat" for a few minutes, study your history, and then tell me again why it is best to have all your military forces packed in to a few static locations. If I need to say more, then you really aren't paying attention.

3. National presence: The cynic thinks we should have military bases scattered around in order to increase support for the military in Congress. As anyone from the former Representative Dellums (D-CA) district would tell you, that theory only works on the margins. I am more interested in a higher purpose - the people and their representatives need to know people in their neighborhood who fight their nation's wars. Nothing bridges the military-civilian divide as being neighbors. As an unalloyed Southerner, I am quite happy that so much of the officer corp is Southern and Western - but I don't think it is good for the nation as a whole to make that skew worse by packing military bases in the South and West. The paucity of military bases remaining in New England, for instance. Tell me that is good for DOD or the people of New England or the nation.

4. Redundancy: Saturate the Virginia Tidewater area or San Diego with a large "dirty bomb" - or give the bad guys a "Weekend Boat Club" number of remote control boats. See #2. No need to say more.

5. Surge capability: Hey, stuff happens. We need to grow from 350 to 500 ships, and the Army, USAF and USMC need to grow 50% in the next three years? In a nation of 320 million and growing - where are you going to find the next Ft. Hood or Norfolk when they are already at maximum capacity?

6. When you lose it, you don't get it back: If you squint your eyes a bit and grab a few bags of cash to buy people out - you can almost see on the East Coast being able to re-militarize North Charleston and Cecil Field. Almost. Many of the other areas, not so sure. The last BRAC didn't just cut away a few extra bits of fat, it took out huge chunks of meat and bone.

7. Politics, developers and petty corruptions: Don't discount that many people want the land military bases are on. In an increasingly crowded nation, especially along the coasts, the military has some prime land. People want it for their own purposes. As in many things in politics; follow the money.

Back to the beginning. Let's just look at our Navy. If we are going to grow to 350, where are we going to put them if we close down what few naval bases we have left? One could argue that we should be looking again at what we may need to claw back from the last BRAC. I still get cold sweats every Christmas when I look at "Murderer's Row" in Norfolk.

Our fleet needs to be more dispersed not less. Say no to BRAC and let's invest our political capital instead on growing the Fleet of the future, and improving the one we have now.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Rice Bowls, Silos, & Firewalls - the National Security Bureaucracy - on Midrats

For the first time in eight years, we are watching a new team take over the national security infrastructure. Now is a good time to review, "Who is who in the zoo" and what exactly they do.

In the alphabet soup of organizations, how do the NSC, NSA, CIA, DOD, DIA, DHS and DNI all work together - and in competition - to enhance national security? Though everyone likes to bash bureaucracies, they are important and are only as good as those who populate and lead them.

Our guest for the full hour this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to help us navigate the swamp the "blob" lives in will be Loren DeJonge Schulman.

Lauren is the Deputy Director of Studies and the Leon E. Panetta Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. She most recently served as the Senior Advisor to National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Before returning to the White House in 2013, she was Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. She served as Director for Defense Policy on the National Security Council staff from 2011­–2012 and prior to that as a special assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. She is a Texan (the obnoxious kind), mom to the most awesome pizza loving two year old ever, and spends too much time on twitter.

Join us live if you can, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio or Stitcher

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fullbore Friday

He is a man who, at first glance by any person, is defined by his shear physicality. It isn't just a look either, he was co-captain for the West Point football team and all that goes with that path.

Befitting such a man, he moved forward to a successful career as an field artillery officer from DESERT STORM to all the other conflicts officers of his generation were involved with. Then one day, at the height of the surge in Iraq,
...returning from a memorial service in Baghdad for two Soldiers from his brigade on May 7, 2007, when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device. He lost both legs above the knee and suffered a severe injury to his right arm.
That began a journey that represents the best of what a leader is. He continued to serve on active duty until 2014.

Colonel Greg Gadson; great man with great friends and a great family (and a little bit of a movie star along the way).

Follow the links above for more details, but NFL Films does a good job. I'll leave it up to them - watch it.