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What Trump Can Do for Defense

What might President Trump’s defense policy look like? We have few solid facts to go on. But one is of overriding importance: because Trump is anti-establishment, military reform would at least be a possibility. So long as the establishment is in power, it is not. In defense as in everything else, establishment leadership means more of the same.

In the case of Hillary Clinton, not only does that mean more wasted money, it means more wars, wars we will lose. Hillary is a wild-eyed interventionist. She gave us the Libyan fiasco, and had Obama been fool enough to listen to her again, we would now be at war on the ground in Syria. The establishment refuses to see the limits of American power, and it also refuses to compel our military to focus on war against non-state opponents, or Fourth Generation war. The Pentagon pretends its future is war against other states. The political and foreign-policy establishments pretend the Pentagon knows how to win. They waltz together happily, unaware theirs is a Totentanz.

Under Trump it is likely the dance would be interrupted. He has repeatedly questioned American interventionism. He roundly condemned the idiotic and disastrous Iraq War, which suggests he would rather not repeat the experience.

Of equal importance, he has called for repairing our relationship with Russia. Were he to do the same with China, what states could the establishment and the Pentagon puff as threats? North Korea? Trump has said he would sit down and talk with them as well. Might he be able to make a deal? Of course. Few dictatorships want to commit suicide.

This leads to the most important grand strategic question: might a Trump administration see the need for an alliance of all states against non-state forces? Here we have a clue: Trump has chosen as a defense advisor—the rumor mill says shadow secretary of defense—retired Army general Michael Flynn. It was an excellent choice. Flynn was forced out for attempting to reform the Defense Intelligence Agency, which has been dysfunctional for decades, in part because the Pentagon insists that it inflate threats. (I recall a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in the 1970s where the DIA testified; Sen. Sam Nunn turned to Sen. Gary Hart and said, “Well, now that we’ve heard from the DIA, we know what isn’t the case.”)

Not only is Flynn oriented toward reform, he has written about Fourth Generation war, using the term. Among senior U.S. officers, that is both rare and heretical. 4GW does not justify big-ticket programs such as the F-35 fighter/bomber and its trillion-dollar price tag.

This points to another likely aspect of a Trump administration’s defense policy. Trump is a businessman. Businessmen do not like wasting money. They want efficiency. They cut bloated staffs, fire incompetent executives, and get rid of unnecessary contractors. Capitalists do not care much for Soviet-style planned economies, and the Pentagon now runs the largest planned economy in the world.

thisarticleappears julaug16 [1]Quite apart from grand strategy, a businessman-led housecleaning of the U.S. military could save hundreds of billions, money Trump might want to put into a national infrastructure-repair program, which would generate more jobs than does defense spending. Cutting our bloated mid- and senior-grade officer corps at least in half, firing most of the contractors, showing the door to major generals who cannot tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin: all these would be signature Donald Trump moves.

Above all, President Trump would want a military that can win. At present, against Fourth Generation enemies, ours cannot. It has been beaten four times: Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. That sort of losing record is not likely to make Donald Trump an admirer. On the contrary, it suggests he would arrive at the Pentagon broom in hand. Secretary of Defense Flynn could take that broom and sweep out the trash that must go if we are to win: the outdated doctrine (except the Marine Corps’), the dysfunctional personnel system that rewards courtiers and careerists and forces out officers with strong character, the programs that fund weapons for yesterday’s wars.

In the end, it may be this simple. Trump wants to win. Winning requires military reform. If that is all President Trump understands about the Pentagon, it will be enough.

William S. Lind is the author, with Lt. Col. Gregory A. Thiele, of the 4th Generation Warfare Handbook.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "What Trump Can Do for Defense"

#1 Comment By Follow the money On July 11, 2016 @ 3:16 am

Possible, yes, but wishful thinking mostly. Until Trump actually comes out and says so, you cannot assume with confidence that he will behave so. This is like dismissing the Mexico Wall as bluster.

#2 Comment By seydlitz89 On July 11, 2016 @ 5:55 am

Still peddling the 4GW snake oil . . . Would there even be an ISIS without the support of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Turkey, Israel . . . or without the Bush administration having destroyed the Iraqi state? 4GW is a mantra used rather ineffectively to obscure the obvious reality of our own strategic dysfunctions . . . replacing the establishment leadership only takes care of part of the problem, and perhaps not even the worst part, which imo is conceptual . . . connected with having followed Mr. Lind and Martin van Creveld down the rabbit hole notion of the “Transformation of War” . . .

#3 Comment By John On July 11, 2016 @ 8:35 am

It’s tempting to project your preferences onto Trump because there’s so much blank space there in terms of policy, but Trump has in no way committed to firing half of our general officers, or a “housecleaning” that takes away enough money from the Pentagon to fund a major infrastructure program in its own right, or cancelling any weapons system currently under development.

This is all wishful thinking, even without considering what Congress would do. I understand you have to generate content on a regular basis, and a conservative publication should at least try to find the silver linings in a Trump presidency, but you have provided me with very little foundation for why all of these (ostensibly good) things would come to pass because of President Donald J. Trump.

#4 Comment By An Agrarian On July 11, 2016 @ 8:45 am

I wish it were as simple as waltzing about the Pentagon saying “You’re Fired!” There’s good reasoning in the essay with which I agree; Trump seems to have the better instincts to deal with Pentagon Inc, particularly when Option 2 is Hillary. But. How does one reform an inherently unreformable institution? How to overcome a system rigged with flag officers and SES bureaucrats that were groomed for their true-belief in the military-industrial complex? Maybe I’m just the eternal pessimist, but knowing the Pentagon culture firsthand, I see zero chance at a “businessman-led housecleaning of the U.S. military.

#5 Comment By Johann On July 11, 2016 @ 9:50 am

“4GW does not justify big-ticket programs such as the F-35 fighter/bomber and its trillion-dollar price tag.”

I would go further and say nothing justifies the F-35. Because of its expense, it is not mass producible, and therefore not suitable for a conventional war either. The cost/aircraft would come down with mass production, but it would still be too expensive and slow to mass produce in an all-out conventional war. It would be kind of like an aerial tiger tank.

#6 Comment By Egypt Steve On July 11, 2016 @ 10:28 am

Enjoy the dream while it lasts, Mr. Lind. But be prepared for a rude awakening. Anyone who thinks that Trump will have a positive influence on any aspect of American governance needs to have his head examined, and probably to have it replaced.

#7 Comment By Kurt Gayle On July 11, 2016 @ 11:55 am

William S. Lind contrasts Trump and Clinton with respect to Pentagon reform:

Trump: “Because Trump is anti-establishment, military reform would at least be a possibility….Trump is a businessman. Businessmen do not like wasting money. They want efficiency. They cut bloated staffs, fire incompetent executives, and get rid of unnecessary contractors.”

Clinton: On the other hand, “So long as the establishment is in power, it [reform ] is not [possible]. In defense as in everything else, establishment leadership means more of the same. In the case of Hillary Clinton…that mean[s] more wasted money.”

Lind also contrasts Trump and Clinton with respect to American interventionism:

Trump: “He has repeatedly questioned American interventionism. He roundly condemned the idiotic and disastrous Iraq War, which suggests he would rather not repeat the experience. Of equal importance, he has called for repairing our relationship with Russia.”

Clinton: A Hillary Clinton presidency “means more wars, wars we will lose. Hillary is a wild-eyed interventionist. She gave us the Libyan fiasco, and had Obama been fool enough to listen to her again, we would now be at war on the ground in Syria.”

However – on reading further in the Lind article – it becomes apparent that Lind’s argument is not so much with endless American military interventionism as it is with the targets of endless American interventionism:

“The Pentagon pretends its future is war against other states…The establishment…refuses to compel our military to focus on war against non-state opponents, or Fourth Generation war…Might a Trump administration see the need for an alliance of all states against non-state forces?”

In other words, Lind proposes to merely redirect the current endless American military interventions away from existing nation states and towards non-state forces. Lind doesn’t simply want to work with other states on a case-by-case basis when it is in the US national interest to do so — rather he wants a new “grand strategy” of an open-ended world-wide alliance with other states against non-state forces. Lind doesn’t want to put a stop to endless American military interventionism, but instead to concentrate on a new kind of endless American interventionism.

An additional point of concern in the Lind article: In asking “Might a Trump administration see the need for an alliance of all states against non-state forces?” Lind writes: “Here we have a clue: Trump has chosen as a defense advisor—the rumor mill says shadow secretary of defense—retired Army general Michael Flynn. It was an excellent choice.”

Two reference articles show why Michael Flynn would not be an “excellent choice”at all: First, in Flynn’s own words on July 9th op-ed in The New York Post:

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And secondly, in Daniel Larison’s excellent “Flynn’s Warped Worldview” (today in TAC):

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#8 Comment By Fred Bowman On July 11, 2016 @ 12:01 pm

Wishful thinking, Mr. Lind even if Trump could with the election and try to make the changes you envision. Truth be told, America is now govern by the “Deep State” of which the MIC is major part of. Also, the MIC is not the least interested in ending any of these interventions wars as that would negatively impact their “gravy train”.

#9 Comment By Billy On July 11, 2016 @ 1:30 pm

Mr. Lind, there is a question on a somewhat unrelated note I was hoping you could answer. In your novel there are two characters, Bill Kraft and John Rumford who both seem to reflect and embody your beliefs. To resolve a small dispute amongst some friends who are also reading it, I was wondering which of the two do you see as more of a stand-in for yourself.

Thanks for your time, Mr. Lind.

#10 Comment By JohnG On July 11, 2016 @ 2:28 pm

I agree that we may be projecting our wishful thinking on Trump, but what is the alternative? Faced with a choice between a known bad apple and an apple that gives some vague hope, it is rational to bet on the second. Especially given that it is hard to imagine an apple more rotten than HRC, so our downside risk is limited too.

PS I was always willing to give pres. Obama a bit of a free pass because of his refusal to implicate us any deeper in the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. I figured the atrocity of Yemen and blunders elsewhere (Iraq, Afghanistan, relationship with SA and Turkey, the lack of resolve to draw an even clearer line in the sand on Syria, Libya, and Ukraine) were the norm given the neocon-infested foreign policy apparatus, and at least he was putting up SOME resistance. Sadly, that resounding endorsement of HRC blew it all up, he has fallen in line and we are in for some more GW-Cheney-style insanity should she prevail. Whatever respect I had for him is now gone. I was hoping he’d try to setup things so that the resistance to the neocon insanity and jingoism would grow further, not fall back, as the choice of HRC clearly indicates.

#11 Comment By eNostrums On July 11, 2016 @ 3:20 pm

“Anyone who thinks that Trump will have a positive influence on any aspect of American governance needs to have his head examined, and probably to have it replaced.”

“Positive influence” is all well and good, but we’re in slow motion collapse, and it’s beside the point.

Most Trump supporters hope for negative accomplishments, catharsis: firings and prosecutions of elite miscreants, ending immigration and deporting illegals, getting out of the Middle East, beating down the GOP establishment and, with it, great swathes of Leviathan.

I have no idea what the Clinton supporters hope for. More abortions? More government jobs? More immigrants? More gay weddings and transwhatever toilets? More dead Americans and Middle Easterners? More Wall Street bailouts? More foreign dictators and more taxpayer money to put them on the US payroll? They probably aren’t thinking “more money and power for the Clintons”, “more recklessness and irresponsibility”, or “more scandal and embarrassment”, even though that’s about all they’ll get.

#12 Comment By Stephen Johnson On July 11, 2016 @ 3:28 pm

While it’s true this is wishful thinking, one just needs to remember the alternative. It is as certain as anything can be in this life that with Clinton we will rush full speed ahead into more of the same disasters. Trump is bad, but worse than the status quo? That’s hard to imagine. Flynn, though, seems to be another neocon nut, though I’m open to any contrary evidence.

#13 Comment By Carl On July 11, 2016 @ 4:13 pm

I wish it were otherwise, but I don’t even think that Trump is a serious candidate. He’s done nothing to encourage his supporters, taken little to no advantage of Clinton’s obvious shortcomings, and everything to provide ammunition to Clinton’s legions of delusional ‘liberal’ fascists. This is not a Donald who wants to win.

#14 Comment By Hankest On July 11, 2016 @ 5:26 pm

“Trump is a businessman. Businessmen do not like wasting money. They want efficiency. They cut bloated staffs, fire incompetent executives, and get rid of unnecessary contractors.”

Nah.

Here’s how Trump runs his businesses, he incurs enormous debts by grossly overpaying for whatever new toy he wants. Then he incurs more debt to pay himself and his family large salaries or to pay off his personal debts. He also wastes money on the gaudy, unnecessary and tasteless “improvements” to his purchases(small e.g., gold plated fixtures in the Trump Shuttle bathrooms). Then, he doesn’t pay contractors for the work they performed. And, when it all goes belly-up he leaves his foolish investors or the banks holding the bag (i.e., the enormous debt).

More simply, going by his business record Trump actually loves debt, incompetence, overspending and obscene waste.

#15 Comment By sglover On July 12, 2016 @ 12:23 am

With this column, the 4GW hucksters have managed to get within their own OODA loop. I’m embarrassed to say that I ever paid attention to them.

#16 Comment By sglover On July 12, 2016 @ 11:49 am

I have no idea what the Clinton supporters hope for.

Maintaining a wobbly status quo. You’ll see no grand visions of anything from HRC.

#17 Comment By Elias On July 12, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

Trump dug his grave when he delved into xenophobia and ethnic chauvinism.His ranting about Mexicans and Muslims and now his new Nixonian slogan of being a tough law and order president has given enough ammunition to the Democrats to trounce him coming next election.

#18 Comment By Todd Pierce On July 12, 2016 @ 10:16 pm

I think Lind is proof of the triumph of hope over reality here; either that or that there is a sucker born every minute. I think some important facts about Flynn are missed here. Here is a statement he made to Hugh Hewitt: “Last, I’m going to just touch on Russia and Iran briefly. Both of these countries, I deal with in my book, because these are allies of radical Islamism, and most people don’t know how they are interacting with each other. So I just wanted to touch on that.”

Today, July 12th, his book with Michael Ledeen as co-author, Field of Fight, was released. In Flynn’s own words: “Yet, the alliance exists, and we’ve already dithered for many years.
The war is on. We face a working coalition that extends from Nprth Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. We are under attack, not only from nation states, but also from al Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS, and countless other terrorist groups. Suffice to say, the same sort of cooperation binds together jihadis, Communists, and garden-variety tyrants.

Flynn isn’t an antidote to Hilary Clinton; they’re equals in madness.

#19 Comment By A. G. Phillbin On July 12, 2016 @ 11:50 pm

I wouldn’t even now bet on Trump being the Republican nominee — the Republican establishment may well prefer to be trounced rather than elect Trump. Look for them to give Trump the kind of “support” a rope gives a hanged man, or to change the rules so they can select another nominee, or a combination of both. Paul Ryan has been making noises about allowing delegates to vote their conscience on the 1st ballot, allowing nervous Trump delegates to jump ship. All it would take is a meeting of GOP Rules Committee, which happens just before the convention. And this is a senator who has “endorsed” Trump, even if he has also called him a “racist.”

#20 Comment By Dakarian On July 13, 2016 @ 12:33 am

from sglover:
“Maintaining a wobbly status quo. You’ll see no grand visions of anything from HRC”

Sadly I think that IS what’s expected. Similar to how Trump voters don’t see him so much as doing great things as much as “80% chance of failure is better than 100%”, Hillary voters see it as more “keeping the plane slightly tilted down being better than blowing the plane up with dynamite.”

Both sides aren’t seeing their candidate as being great. They just see the other side as an absolute disaster.

I’ll be honest, given what the GOP was giving up as alternatives and assuming that Sanders didn’t have a chance in hades, Trump/Hillary was, to me, the best outcome out of the primaries. I don’t support Trump but I’d take him over Rubio or Bush.

Though note that at this point 8 years ago, I was saying “oh, Obama vs McCain. Either way, I’m happy.” Then the general election campaign kicked in and I stopped being happy over the latter :/

Sort of worried I’ll see the same here, and if the rumors about Trump’s shift are true, then I think that’s exactly what I’ll be seeing.

#21 Comment By Agent76 On October 13, 2016 @ 10:35 am

Dec 18, 2015 Donald Trump Is The Establishment Candidate

While his rise in the polls is attributed to his challenging the establishment and the political status quo, let’s look at the many ways Donald Trump, when it comes to his political positions, represents that very same status quo. From the Fed, to war, to civil liberties, the “anti-establishment”? Trump takes no positions not already endorsed by the establishment.

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