Monday, March 29, 2021

On Suez: You Can't Buy Training Like This

At last, our great mercantilist nightmare has ended (almost, kind of). 

The mammoth cargo ship blocking one of the world’s most vital maritime arteries was wrenched from the shoreline and finally set free on Monday, raising hopes that traffic could soon resume in the Suez Canal and limit the economic fallout of the disruption.

Salvage teams, working on land and water for five days and nights, were ultimately assisted by forces more powerful than any machine rushed to the scene: the moon and the tides.

The ship was ultimately set free at around 3 p.m., according to shipping officials. Horns blared in celebration as images emerged on social media of the once stuck ship on the move.

When I refer to "training" in the title, I'm not talking about all the efforts afloat and ashore to get EVER GIVEN out of the way, but of the opportunity for navalists and mercantilists to review the good points of the Maritime Gods of the Copybook Headings when it comes to choke points.

The Suez Canal handles around 12% of global trade, making it an essential point of passage. Each day of blockage disrupts more than $9 billion worth of goods, according to Lloyd’s List, which translates to about $400 million per hour.

Some ship operators have already decided to re-route their vessels, anticipating that the Ever Given won’t be dislodged soon. Sending ships around the Cape of Good Hope adds more than a week of sailing, while also increasing costs.

Our planet if full of these choke points that by being open to all, keep houses warm and bellies full throughout the world. They do not stay open on their own. Manmade accidents like what happened with EVER GIVEN or even natural disasters will happen now and then ... but the real danger comes from a hostile power or entity blocking free passage. That is one of many reasons you have a navy.

Where are these places? A quick way to start looking at the globe's maritime choke points is to look at the British Empire at its height.

They knew. 


Sunday, March 28, 2021

Focus DOD, Focus – with Thomas Spoehr on Midrats

Can a military organization suffer from attention deficit disorder? There are very few moments in time – the mid-1990s was a rare one – where a nation’s national security apparatus has the luxury and white space to get distracted and complacent. 2021 is not one of those times.

With a new leadership team in place in DOD, are we sure they are focused on the important challenges of China, North Korea, Iran, and Russia?

What are the top distractions that those concerned with the proper stewardship of our nation’s defense need to make sure don’t entice away time, money, and effort?

With his recent article, Don’t Let the Department of Defense Become the Department of Distraction, as a starting point for our conversation, our guest this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern will be Thomas Spoehr, Lieutenant General, USA (Ret.).

Thomas is the director of The Heritage Foundation's Center for National Defense where he is responsible for supervising research on matters involving U.S. national defense. He is an expert on national defense policy and strategy, and has testified before the U.S. Congress on defense strategy, budgets and equipment modernization. His articles and commentary have been published widely in both civilian and military media and he is often called upon to provide expert commentary and analysis.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology from the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, a Masters of Arts in Public Administration from Webster University in St. Louis, MO, and a Master of Arts in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, PA.

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. You can find us on almost all your most popular podcast aggregators as well.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Kafka and the Corps

It is time to return to a topic no one likes. It is one of the most damning of the military service and its leaders; the abuse of Command Investigation and the Inspector General process.

Sadly, they often degrade to the lowest motivation from one or two of the players involved. If not properly led and managed, they can quickly devolve in to Star Chamber, Kafkaesque nightmare that no one gets out of alive.

The more I've seen of them, the firmer I hold that no one can survive one intact. If you dig enough, you will run in to something or someone that can give an investigating body enough to destroy in a day what took decades to build.

I give to you another example, this time from the USMC. 

If you read this like I do, you come away with more questions coming out than going in.

Time to take a snapshot via Todd South Marine Corps Times.

You've had a full and successful career and are set up for Major Command;

Following multiple combat deployments after 9/11, by early 2017 Mann had been asked to take over 25th Marine Regiment ― one of only two infantry regiments in the Marine Corps Reserve.

The colonel had accepted the job, overseeing more than 4,500 Marines spread across 23 sites in 11 states and overseas, knowing it would be a different kind of assignment.

A tough but important job - a crown jewel for our best ... and two months after taking over;

...he learned about two equal opportunity complaints from a Marine sergeant in the headquarters company administrative section, which predated his tenure.

We have a NCO, been there a few years, who has a couple of EO complaints already under their belt.

The first of those EO complaints, in August 2016, coincided with a command climate in which Marines claimed there was hostile work environment and that the section, “unhealthy and rife with conflict.”

Look at that again. Having picked apart a few Command Climate Surveys, you cannot automatically assume that those at the top are the ones responsible for creating a section "rife with conflict" - they are responsible for fixing it, but may not have created it. Hard to tell, but the rest of the story may flesh that out.

Though the Marine sergeant’s supervisors listed in those previous complaints had since left the unit, he nevertheless counseled leadership within the section and said he was clear with his expectations.

The EO complaints and the climate survey may not be directly related, but in any event, we have people who "were" the issue who were now gone. That should clear the problem if that were it, right?

Better yet, Col. Mann did exactly the right thing out of Leadership 101. How will that work out?

Remember though, this isn't a happy story.

By late summer, the same Marine sergeant in headquarters company who had made two previously resolved EO complaints before Mann took over, was serving on limited-service status at a civilian doctor’s direction.

The Marine had suffered a health-sensitive medical incident that put the Marine on limited status.

Air conditioning wasn’t working at the time at the Fort Devens, Massachusetts, site of the admin section’s office.

The command allowed the Marine sergeant to wear physical training gear instead of the Marine’s uniform to work. They put portable air conditioners in the office and had previously allowed the Marine to work at an air conditioned site closer to the Marine’s residence, which was out of state.

If you served on active duty long enough, you should be at the point in this story where you can feel what is going.

On July 26, 2017, regimental Sgt. Maj. James Boutin told the Marine sergeant that the Marine needed to be wearing the uniform of the day while on duty. The Marine was in physical training gear instead. At the time of the brief interaction, Boutin did not know that the Marine was under medical orders.

Who could ever think that Sgt. Maj Boutin did anything substantially wrong here? 

Then, after having difficulties tracking down the Marine during duty hours, headquarters staff visited the Marine’s residence on Aug 1, 2017.

Time to make a couple of assumptions here. Like all assumptions, they could be wrong, but you have to make them with what you have at hand. "The Sergeant" in question here is your Mk1-Mod0 administrative burden ... and "The Sergeant" was UA.

[Editorial Note: at the point in the article it is clear that some post-modern journalistic decision was made to spot-weld a new grammatical structure that is as obvious as it is clunky; all steps are being made not to make a gender specific reference to "The Sergeant." No "he" or "she" or any other pronoun used to describe people for centuries since Chaucer. From here on out, I am going to refer to "The Sergeant" as T.S.]

The sergeant’s officer-in-charge, “decided independently to override a medical chit and recall the sergeant to duty, exceeding his authority, and misrepresenting his decision as the commanding officer (Mann’s) decision,” according to a subsequent investigation. The officer sent enlisted Marines to the sergeant’s residence to instruct the sergeant to return to work.

Mann, though unaware of the incident at the time, told Marine Corps Times that while the incident was handled poorly, the Marine was never denied medical care and all medical chits were honored.

From what I can tell, T.S. was never authorized to work from home ... so ... yeah, UA ... and while not perfect in 20/20 hindsight, what was done on balance was fully inside the lines.

So, you know where this is going, right?

The next day, Aug. 2, 2017, the Marine sergeant reported for duty, was counseled and then made a “for your eyes only” request mast to Whitman, commanding general of 4th Marine Division.

...and there we go.

The Aug. 4, 2017, request mast launched a command investigation, ordered by Whitman. Due to the nature of the request, Mann was not aware at this point of either the incident that had triggered the request nor the request itself.

See a pattern?

The subsequent investigation placed blame on the actions of the sergeant’s immediate supervisors and “did not recommend any adverse action be taken” against Mann, according to both the original 2017 investigation and a recent ruling by the Department of Navy Board for Correction of Naval Records.

That is an important point  ... in hindsight ... but that is not what happened.

Mann and Boutin said that Whitman didn’t hold them at fault for the incident would follow the recommendations of the investigating officer, which included counseling of the Marines directly involved and further education and training on EO and medical issues for members of the staff.

But on Oct. 4, 2017, Whitman returned from his talk with McMillian and told the three Marines they were fired.

“I was asked to clear my office space, put on my civilian gear and that was it,” Mann said. “I never put on a uniform again except for my retirement in 2019.”

There you go. Lt. Gen McMillian, USMC. There's your player.

I've seen some take their experience in the Star Chamber lying down ... others, no.

Mann disputed his subsequent adverse fitness report, which dropped him from the very top of the promotion pile to the lowest possible category of “unsatisfactory” for promotion.

The colonel filed multiple rebuttals to the three-star’s decision, all were rebuffed.

Mann countered McMillian’s reasoning directly in his rebuttals.

“Fundamental fairness suggests that a board selected regimental commander be relieved for actual facts that create a clear understanding of the senior commander’s loss of confidence ― I do not feel that has occurred in this instance,” Mann wrote.

The relief was based on the command investigation out of the request mast, McMillian wrote in his fitness report remarks to Mann.

Yet the investigating officer “never directed that (Mann) be a subject of the investigation or that my performance regarding the incident at hand be specifically investigated,” Mann wrote in his rebuttal to McMillan’s fitrep remarks.

Because of the nature of the request mast, Mann didn’t know what had happened involving the sergeant until he was being fired. He essentially reconstructed the event after the fact as he was fighting for his career.

“The Investigating Officer’s exhaustive investigation does not contain a single finding, opinion or recommendation specific to my performance, actions, conducts or decisions as the Commanding Officer; nor does it suggest dereliction or neglect on my part,” Mann wrote.

McMillian stated that the investigation itself was enough reason to consider Mann’s conduct as commander.

In his response to Mann’s rebuttal, McMillian rejected Mann’s reasoning and reiterates that, “the Commander is responsible and accountable for all things the command does and fails to do.”

True. Command is command ... but ... still amazing.

Let's check in with Sergeant Major Moutin.

The fired sergeant major, Boutin, filed a 22-page rebuttal to the report but told Marine Corps Times in March that it had gone nowhere.

“It devastated me,” Boutin said. “It devastated my family. I have dedicated my entire life to the Marine Corps.”

During nearly 30 years, Boutin had served his entire time as an infantryman, seeing five combat tours, and never having had any bad paperwork, he says.

This is what his Corp did for him;

The sergeant major stands by his interaction with the Marine sergeant. The sergeant was not in the assigned uniform of the day and he corrected the situation by telling the sergeant to wear the appropriate uniform, though Boutin was unaware of the Marine sergeant’s medical condition or limited work status at the time.

He was not involved directly in the subsequent house visit. But he was fired, along with the personnel officer and Mann because he was part of leadership, he said.

Boutin had envisioned completing a full 30-year career before saying goodbye to the Corps.

“I didn’t even get a handshake on the way out the door,” Boutin said.

Read the whole thing. I took a lot of pull quotes, but there is a lot more to the story. 

I would offer that there is a lot to this story beyond what is in the article, specifically in two areas.

T.S. and the 3-star decision tree. 

Those are the two stories.

At the end of the day though, as is usually the case in situations like this; how do you get your name back?  

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Why Not Just Festoon the Entire NCR with Razorwire?

It amazes me how willing people in power are to undermine the nation they serve just because they get the vapors over even the most miniscule possible threat.

We need better leaders; stronger leaders; more confident leaders.

You think the fence they erected this winter around the Capitol was overkill? 

Wait until you see what they plan for the water.

Details over at USNIBlog.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Terrible 20s Get Crunchy

Thinking and planning are easy. Words can have flexible meaning and an artful planner can devise all sorts of trap doors, detours, and branches to allow their ideas a certain degree of flexibility.

Math, however, is hard. Budgets are even harder. They are math with personality.

We have reviewed the challenges of what we’ve come to call “The Terrible 20s” for over a decade. Now that we find ourselves here, what does this upcoming decade hold now that we no longer see the 20s dimly through the haze, but can see its details in sharp relief?

The first step in solving a problem is to admit it. That is easy for individuals as it only takes one entity to take the step – it is much more difficult for institutions. Sometimes it can be impossible for government institutions. 

We’ve chronicled the myriad of challenges faced by our Navy and others raised the alarm for years, getting traction now and then, seeming to simply scream in to the void the rest of the time. We may be getting some traction.

I offer to you a document that everyone here needs to take time to read sooner more than later, The 2020s Tri-Service Modernization Crunch by Mackenzie Eaglen and Hallie Coyne from the American Enterprise Institute.

At just 73 pages, it is easily digested, but let me get a few pull quotes for you to ponder ahead of time.

The opening two paragraphs of the Executive Summary take no prisoners and puts decision makers on report. Just solid.

President Joe Biden’s new administration and the 117th Congress must respond to a uniquely difficult political and fiscal environment; as part ofthis mandate, they will be charged with addressing the enduring mismatch of US defense strategy and resources, which contributes to ongoing supply and demand imbalances regarding requests for forces by combatant commanders. Since these challenges have been growing unchecked for years, the coming decade looms large as the US military is facing a massive spending spike to pay for modernization bills across the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Army that have been ignored, deferred, or inadequately considered. Although this was foreseen and forewarned, insufficient action has been taken. Resolution requires political courage, persistence, innovation, risk, and resources.

Fleets of ships, aircraft, vehicles, and other equipment are reaching the end of their service lives, hitting the edge of their upgrade limits, and losing combat relevance. As great-power competition accelerates, the United States is offering a free and open window of opportunity and advantage to its adversaries. Unless policymakers take concrete steps now, defense leaders will continue America’s sleepwalk into strategic insolvency and its consequences. The aptly named “Terrible 20s” have arrived.

…and yes, our “Terrible 20s” has officially broken in to the general lexicon.

...there is no easy way out of this fiscal bind for the US military. Rather, now is the time for effective mitigation strategies, urgent worst-case scenario planning, hard choices, and political leadership.

100% unalloyed truth. We have run out of time for more pet theories and CONOPS running on pixie dust and unicorn poop. 

The martial branch of the Gods of the Copybook Headings has joined the chat;

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,

They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;

They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;

So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.


As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,

And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

It would be rude if I didn’t take a moment on behalf of the Front Porch (you regulars know that you are part of CDR Salamander as much as I am) to thank the authors for the hat tip;

In 2016, popular military blogger and Navy Cmdr. CDR Salamander (ret.) coined the phrase “Terrible 20s” to describe the modernization challenges before the US military this coming decade. He offered an ominous overview of the next 10 years as “that horrible mix of debt bombs, recapitalizing our SSBN [ballistic missile submarines] fleet, and the need to replace and modernize legacy aircraft, ships, and the concepts that designed them.”2 It is a bracing and accurate summary of the following analysis. In this case, the first step in addressing the problem is reminding the policymakers that it exists. The second step—incumbent on leaders in Congress, at the Pentagon, and in the White House—is being honest about the consequences. The third is generating the willpower and spending the political capital to pay for it. *

That last part cuts to the bone. Since the dawn of the Age of Transformationalism 20 years ago and through the socio-political posturing of the tenure of Mullen, Roughead, and others - how much political and institutional capital have we poured down rabbit holes for reasons of vanity or personal picayune projects? 

This is such a powerful report, but to avoid falling in to a long blog post, let’s fast forward on to the Navy section for a bit before I send you along to read the whole thing.

Of all the services, Navy leadership usually best articulates the severity of its approaching crunch. The sea services possess significant advantages in both an analytical and legislative context. Armed with long-range shipbuilding forecasting, a dedicated congressional naval caucus, and a 355-ship goal enshrined in executive and legislative policy, Navy leadership began sending up flares about the modernization crunch years ago. Annually, the CBO also sounds the alarm.

If the Navy received the same average annual amount of funding (in constant dollars) for ship construction in each of the next 30 years that it has received over the past three decades, the service would not be able to afford its 2020 shipbuilding plan. . . . CBO’s estimate of $31.0 billion per year for the full cost of the plan is almost double the $16.0 billion the Navy has received in annual appropriations, on average, over the past 30 years for all activities funded by its shipbuilding account.

This unified effort delivered results, or at least generated awareness, in the past.

True. With receptive ears, after a few FY, a new administration can move the needle in a positive direction if they so wish. One  example, see what happened when Trump took over from Obama;

What about the Biden Administration?

In the Navy’s case, its short-term 2020s procurement crunch centers on shipbuilding, partly because the Navy’s aviation modernization is largely wrapping up, relatively speaking. After dropping to only 271 battle-force ships in 2015,152 the smallest Navy since World War II, the service is challenged by the twofold task of replacing its aging submarine and destroyer fleet while procuring enough ships to work toward the 355-ship goal set in its 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA) and confirmed by the Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy and the FY18 NDAA.

This is a known unknown, hopefully they will ignore the petty, “Trump was for it, so we can’t be” reflex.

GAO and others have expressed concern about the poor state of the Navy’s four remaining shipyards. 161 After years of underinvestment, it is unclear if the shipbuilding industrial base, already struggling to maintain the Navy’s current force, could keep up with the demands of a larger fleet.162 These issues make the 355-ship goal appear largely unrealistic and put the Navy at risk of creating a hollow force of poorly maintained and undermanned ships. Meanwhile, the Chinese navy has been expanding both its size and its shipbuilding capacity, growing its navy by over 27 percent and its commercial shipbuilding by 60 percent from 2007 to 2017, now far surpassing American industrial capability with no signs of slowing.

This is what I worry about the most today. We have so many “must do” areas overdue at the same time. We are here because of 20-years of failure to have a proper understanding to stewardship that requires hard work now so others later will harvest the rewards later. Instead, we chased short term talking points and the petty praise of the moment. 

As we’ve discussed here and over on Midrats, this maintenance leg of our maritime power – it absolutely cannot be ignored any more. I would rather have money put to this than building more ships. Easily.

If we desire to be a serious power on a global scale, we have to retain our place as the premier maritime power. We cannot be a global power without one. This decade is starting with China on the brink of being able to push us off. If we don’t start to act with vigor and purpose, we will end the decade as the secondary power at sea.

We won’t like what the world looks like after that, and neither will the world.

Decline is a choice. It does not have to turn out that way. It is in our control.

* - NB: "The Terrible 20s" was actually coined in a post about SSBN(X) in 2010.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Extremism Training: the One Eyed Horse

For those no longer on active duty or civilian employee of DOD, you haven’t had a chance yet to received your “extremism training.” Thanks to the Salamander underground, we now have a copy for everyone.

On a scale of 1 to 10 where a “1” is a solid, well done presentation, and a “10” is an intellectually sloppy, ham-fisted, neo-zampolit led struggle session, I will give this a 6 … edging towards a 7.

It was a huge lost opportunity. Officially, this was in response to the storming of the Capitol on 06 JAN. For those who did not catch my comments at the time, you can read them here and here. There would not have been a standdown without that event, but a broader net was thrown, which is understandable. 

Here is the rub; for most of the American public – which is reflected in the broad sweep of DOD uniformed and civilian personnel – the lived experience of extremist activity over the last year was not limited to the events of January. 

In their hometowns and that of family and friends, for months they saw Federal court houses attacked, police stations burned, entire cities shut down, businesses destroyed, people raped and murdered in lawless areas, and even “autonomous zones” set up in major cities – including Washington DC - with armed groups enforcing their diktats. These were politically driven just like as the attack on the capitol … but you don’t see that in the training, anywhere. This was an intentional oversight and mistake

By not reflecting the reality of political violence as experienced by all servicemembers and only focusing on one part of it, it validates the opinion of those who claim DOD has become politicized. Combined with such things as the Chief of Naval Operations endorsing the writing of an anti-American, sectarian, and hyper-political writer such as Kendi, it undermines the entire Chain of Command’s attempt to maintain a standing of a non-political, neutral, and broad visioned organization. 

This is another own goal and lost opportunity. By not speaking  to the full reality, we opened the door for bad actors to exploit the laughably obvious gap.

Some troops have drawn equivalencies between the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and last year's protests for racial justice during recent stand-downs to address extremism, worrying the military's top enlisted leader.

In a Thursday briefing with reporters at the Pentagon, Ramón "CZ" Colón-López, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that some troops have asked, when the Jan. 6 riot is brought up, "How come you're not looking at the situation that was going on in Seattle prior to that?"

He said that is one example of the mindset many military leaders are encountering, and he is "concerned about the way that some people are looking at the current environment."

"This is coming from every echelon that we're talking to," he added.

Colón-López said the confusion some younger troops have expressed shows why the training sessions on extremism are needed.

No, they are not confused – you are blinkered. By refusing to try to understand their concerns and directly address them, you are failing as a leader. 

Read it all folks.

Speaking of the Salamander Underground, I’ve had some fun interactions on the topic with a few of you who have gone through the training. I am happy to hear that you made the most of it. Some of the young’uns even threw a spanner in the works and had a facilitator or two get flustered by asking very fair questions about the unbalanced presentation. BZ. Keep it up, you’ll have more opportunities in the years to come.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

A March Madness Midrats

The Navy wants to talk some more about unmanned systems, the unknown war we have been fighting for years along the bleeding edge of Islam in Africa seems to be going nowhere we want it to go, China decides to let the mask slip at last, in the mandated extremism training The Pentagon realized the military reflects the nation it serves and not the readers of The Washington Post ... and we still don't have any Service Secretaries nominated.

This week produced more news than can be covered in one Midrats, but we're going to try.

This Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern come join us for a Midrats free for all.

Open topic, open chat, open phones.

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, March 19, 2021

Fullbore Friday

Zeebrugge. If you have been there or to its inner city Brugges you know what a beautiful and peaceful place it is - as most all of Belgium is today. 

In 1918 though, Belgium was a nightmarish slaughterhouse where the bodies of millions were blended into the beaten earth - where like Okinawa and Iwo Jima over a quarter century later - the living earth would move with a blanketed mass of maggots.

In one of history's subtle hints she will give you early if you wish to listen, Britain found herself on the edge of starvation due to a threat few understood or even knew of at the beginning of the war - the submarine. Something new, unexpected and decisive needed to be done.
By 1918, the Great War had entered a decisive phase. While Russia had been knocked out of the war, its place had been taken by the United States, which now provided a fresh pool of manpower and industrial capacity to the Allied cause. The transfer of these resources however was threatened by the continuing war at sea and the U-Boat menace that also threatened Britain's link with the continent. The early advance by the German Army in 1914 had meant that the Belgian ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge had been overrun and with the expansion of the port facilities, the Germans were in a position to threaten the very lifeline that supplied the Allied armies in France. The two ports were connected by a canal network with the city of Brugges that also gave access to the open sea. Brugges in turn, was connected to Germany by the railway network and partially completed U-Boats were shipped from Germany, to be finished at Brugges and then make their way to the open sea by means of the canal system. The canals formed a triangle and inside this, the Germans had built a series of airfields from which they conducted air raids on Britain and fortified the entire length of the coast with light and heavy artillery batteries. The Royal Navy did not attempt to bombard these ports until 12 May 1917 when it bombarded Zeebrugge in order to put the lock system out of action and used a smoke screen to hinder German observation. While the bombard failed in its task, the Germans stepped up defensive measures and as the war progressed, the front line drew ever closer to Ostend, bringing it within range of the Royal Marine heavy howitzer battery in France, forcing the Germans to transfer many of its facilities to Zeebrugge.

One of the objectives for the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) was the expulsion of the Germans from Flanders and to capture the ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend. The battle however failed to achieve the intended breakthrough and so any attempt to expel the Germans from these ports or to deny them the use of these facilities meant that any future attempt would have to made from the sea. The mounting losses in the war at sea caused the Royal Navy to look at the problem. A suggestion by Admiral Keyes that the ports might be blocked by sinking a ship in the entrance was initially rejected but as the war dragged on, the Royal Navy returned to the idea and it was decided that it might be done with the use of several ships, although the exact position would have to be chosen with care so that it would not be possible to get around the ships or to dredge around them to create additional channels and their bottoms would have to be blown to sink them as quickly as possible and prevent drifting.
So, as it is often done in this line of work, the word went out. Volunteer for a mission you have no idea about - odds are you won't come back. You will be trained quickly, sloppily with a pick-up team. You execute.
As the ships were approaching the entrance to the port, some protection would be afforded (in the case of Zeebrugge) by the Mole, which extended in an arc across the entrance to the channel. It was over a mile in length and some 100 yards wide, having extensive storage facilities and hangers for seaplanes. A railway connected the Mole to the shore and was used to transfer men, equipment and stores. As the planning for the operation got underway, a special Royal Marine battalion (mainly volunteer) was formed in February 1918 to eliminate the battery that was situated at the end of the Mole and would threaten the block ships as they approached the canal. Lt Col F E Chichester was appointed to command the battalion but was succeeded by Major B N Elliott. The battalion consisted of a headquarters, a machinegun section, a mortar section, three rifle companies and medical support staff. The troops were to be conveyed to Zeebrugge in HMS Vindictive, assisted by the Iris and the Daffodil, two Mersey ferry boats that had been provided for this operation. Once they had reached Zeebrugge, Daffodil was to push Vindictive against the Mole until she could be secured and disembark the troops. The ships were modified for this task. Special ramps were fitted to Vindictive so that the storming parties could reach the Mole, while Iris and Daffodil had been fitted with ladders to that their parties could climb up onto the Mole. Vindictive was strengthened and armoured against the storm of fire she would receive and additional armament fitted so she could support the troops as the moved onto the Mole.

By April 1918, the preparations for the raid had been completed, the men trained for their tasks and the shipping collected for the operation. Three block ships were to be sunk in the Zeebrugge canal entrance, HMS Thetis, HMS Intrepid and HMS Iphegenia. The first time the force sailed, 11 April 1918, the weather conditions changed as they neared Zeebrugge, which forced a postponement, but on the eve of St George's Day, 22 April 1918 the force sailed and during the passage, Admiral Keyes signalled "St George for England". Commander Carpenter on the Vindictive replied, "May we give the dragon's tail a damned good twist." By 23.20 on 22 April, the monitors had opened fire on Zeebrugge. Twenty minutes later, the motor launches that had accompanied the force began to make the smoke screen. One minute after midnight, St George's Day, Vindictive arrived alongside the Mole after which Daffodil arrived alongside her to push her against the Mole. By this point the smoke screen had begun to lift and the defensive fire was intense. In the approach to the Mole, many of the ramps fitted to Vindictive were damaged and only two could be used to allow the storming parties to disembark on the Mole. The ladders fitted to Iris were damaged as well and so the troops had to transfer to Vindictive to land. Once on top of the Mole, they had to endure intense German machinegun fire in order to get to the battery and while they failed to knock it out, they prevented it from firing on the blocking ships and so succeeded in their mission, something for which they suffered heavy casualties for.

The distraction caused by the motor launches and Royal Marines enabled the block ships to approach the canal entrance without too much difficulty. Thetis ran into problems when one of its propellers got caught in a net, forcing her to collide with the bank. She had to be sunk some distance from the entrance but performed admirable work in helping to direct the remaining two ships into the canal entrance itself. Both Intrepid and Iphigenia were able to be sunk in the correct positions, thus blocking the canal. Two submarines, C1 and C3 were packed with explosives and rammed into the viaduct, demolishing it, thus isolating the Mole from the shore. The crews from the submarines and the block ships were picked up by the motor launches despite heavy fire from the German batteries. By 00.50 on 23 April the recall had sounded and by 01.00 the survivors were all aboard. A quarter of an hour later, Vindictive had cleared the protection of the Mole and was undergoing intensive fire from the Germans but managed to come through it. The raid on Ostend at the same time proved to be a failure but another attempt was tried the next month and Vindictive was used as a block ship in that operation. The Royal Marines had been on the Mole for just an hour and the force had displayed such courage and devotion to duty that it gave great encouragement to the Allied forces at such a dark hour in the war. The 4th Royal Marine Battalion was awarded two Victoria Crosses with another six being awarded for the action at Zeebrugge and three being awarded for the actions at Ostend. At Deal, on 26 April 1918, a ballot was held as to who should receive the awards, with Captain Bamford and Sergeant Finch winning. In order that the gallantry of the battalion would be remembered, it was decided that no other marine battalion should be named the 4th.
In a day where entire nations ponder abandoning the battle against an existential threat to their very existence due to a number of casualties suffered at Zeebrugge in a matter of minutes, it can make you wonder if we can even try to understand what these men did and why. We can try. That is what the study of history is. That is why what we have done to the study of history from elementary school through college and as adults is a crime in itself and a shame on our culture.

And in the end;
Much was made of the raid. Keyes was knighted, and 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded. The Germans, however, made a new channel round the two ships, and within two days their submarines were able to transit Zeebrugge. Destroyers were able to do so by mid-May.
Did it make a difference? Of course it did. Did the pundits of the day nit-pic it to death? No, they understood that war from the Strategic to the Tactical is a dark room you step in to. No, it has only been nit-pic'd once the pundits were safely behind the wall of freedom that those who bled built.

First posted NOV08.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Diversity Thursday

As everyone here is probably aware ... the drivers of sectarianism, division, and strife think they have the wind at their back and are on the march.

There were some minor victories here and there for those who desire unity, equality, and a just society based on individual character - but make no mistake, the forces of division are on the march again.

Those who desire to move to a point of unity for the citizens in our little experiment is self governance have for too long given the benefit of the doubt to people we should not have. We have let people slowly back away from the vision of a unified nation as best outlined by MLK over half a century ago, and now we find ourselves re-segregating along sectarian lines.  

We have allowed our institutions of higher learning and government - from the Ivy League to the CNO's office - create cells that instead of doing what is good and just - ensuring equality under the law and fair treatment - are working to promote division and establish parallel structures to steer people in to easily controlled and manipulated segments based on something at its base both useless, and beyond their control; their race and ethnicity.

Though there are a few well meaning people in this line of work, on balance this is done for the most base of reasons; power and money.

Too many hills have been surrendered to the diversity industry by people who hoped well meaning people who had good ideas meant well. 

They don't. 

In the cost benefit analysis, those hills were "not worth fighting for." Now the forces of division own much of the high ground and have those who desire unity surrounded. 

People forgot the basics; if you hold the high ground and someone is willing to fight you for it - it is worth fighting for. You may not know what plans they have for it - but they do. Once you figure it out after they have it, getting that ground back will be harder than it would be to defend it in the first place.

Stand up and fight sectarianism whenever you can. When you can't, slow roll it. Embarrass it. Make it responsible to its own internal contradictions. Use the same tools it does, but use them to push back.

If you don't, such hate producing structures as below will multiply and multiply, further fracturing our polyglot nation.

We are better than this. If we desire a better future for our posterity, we will work to reject this

Columbia University is planning to hold six additional graduation ceremonies for students according to their race and other aspects of how they identify.

The New York City school's website details graduation ceremonies for Native, Asian, "Latinx" and Black students taking place for Columbia College, Columbia Engineering, General Studies and Barnard College at the end of April. Another dubbed "FLI Graduation" is for "first generation and/or low income community." The school also hosts a "Lavender" graduation for the "LGBTIAQ+ community."

Institutions of higher learning such as Columbia are where, in the legacy structure, this nation gets it's "leaders" from. When you look at what is going on here and other of our top institutions, you need to understand that these habits and world views will find their way in to our society writ large. 

It is time that we consider what kind of education graduates of such universities are getting today, regardless of what they may have produced in the past, and act accordingly.

If you have a stake in these institutions or others, it is time to stand up where you can, push back when you have the ability, and demand a better way.

Yes, they will call you names. Yes, they will impugn your character. That is how they got to where they are today. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

War Horse or Show Pony?

It is time to see what a few years of pressure on NATO nations to do better has done.

There is good news, but also some storms on the horizon.

I have graphs and pretty pictures over at USNIBlog.

Come on by and see where your favorite NATO nation lies on Salamander's Grid.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Did Some GOFO's Spouse Write This?

Let's hit a first principle out of the gate here: if  you are serving in the military for the money - get out.

Your nation does not need or want you here. Thank you for your service and enjoy your civilian career.

Now that this is out of the way, let's hit a topic in the Salamander Top-10: we have a glut of General Officers and Flag Officers in the US military. We have more than we know what to do with, so we keep making up jobs for them - bloating the tail while starving the teeth.

That bloat means that we have a lot of very talented people who are underemployed. Trust me on this, with one or two exceptions, take any 4-star right now, and there are a few dozen 3 or 4 stars, and perhaps a few 2-stars, who could take their job and do it just as well and perhaps better.

Every, single, one.

So, we have an excess supply and - in a static force - a static to slacking demand. 

With that in mind, check this out;

Military service members received a heralded 3% pay increase under the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, but this increase camouflaged the continued stagnation in general and flag officer pay stemming from provisions in the 2015 NDAA six years prior. That law limits the pay of generals and admirals (officers in pay grades O7 and above) to the Executive Level II salary level for civilians.  

This pay cap limits current and retirement pay of senior executives to $199,300. While that may sound like an impressive amount of money, these are executive leaders responsible for organizations larger than any of the companies whose chief executives earn, on average, $21.3 million. As a result of the cap, officers stop receiving pay raises at the two star rank. It’s a limit that discourages continued service and makes it harder to keep talent at the highest levels of the military.  

As of February, chief operating officer annual salaries in the United States averaged $447,971. That’s more than twice as much as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff earns. If the U.S. Army were a corporation, with its over 1 million active duty and reserve soldiers and 300,000 civilian employees, it would rank just behind Walmart in the size of its workforce. The compensation package for the chief operating officer of Walmart is almost $10 million, whereas, the Army Chief of Staff earns $199,300. For the three- and four-star officers who remain in the Army for 40 years, the cap creates a cumulative pay reduction of more than $1 million in earnings when compared to pay without the limitation.  

It is a military "service" and a calling - not a self-enriching career path.

I'm not sure how much of this comes from too many of our senior leaders being sent to Ivy League schools for a to mix it up with trust fund kids for a few weeks or months, or having them live for years with the rent-seeking rich in the DC metropolitan area ... but child please; they are not underpaid.

Especially when you consider their retirement packages ... no.

If any GOFO feel "underpaid" then by all means, leave. The door is right there. Feel free. No one is stopping you.

There are dozens of just as well qualified O6+ who can take your place. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Head West Old China

From our point of view from the other side of the Pacific, Americans tend to focus on the points of first resistance from the People's Republic of China - Taiwan, South China Sea, etc.

Is that really what China is worried about? Is she really building her huge Navy to challenge us somewhere west of Wake, or is she thinking of something else we are just too parochial to see?

Did you notice that FranceUK, and even Germany have decided they need to head east of Suez to spend some time in the Indo-Pacific theater? 


As with most things, it is helpful to take a deep breath and ask yourself - what does the map say?

 h/t The Other Sal.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Facing Today's China, with Dean Cheng - on Midrats

While the rest of the world paused to focus on COVID-19 the last year, even though the pandemic started there, the People's Republic of China did not stop her long, steady push out to the world to take the place she feels she in entitled to.

From the border of India to South America and back to the Western Pacific, China feels the wind at her back.

Where is China signaling she will be be the greatest challenge to her neighbors and the global community?

Returning to Midrats this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern for the full hour will be our guest Dean Cheng.

Dean is the Senior Research Fellow for Chinese political and security affairs at the Asia Studies Center of The Heritage Foundation. He specializes in Chinese military and foreign policy, and has written extensively on Chinese military doctrine, technological implications of its space program, and “dual use” issues associated with China’s industrial and scientific infrastructure. He is the author of “Cyber Dragon: Inside China's Information Warfare and Cyber Operations.”

Before joining The Heritage Foundation, he was a senior analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded research and development center, and a senior analyst with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC, now Leidos), the Fortune 500 specialist in defense and homeland security. He has testified before Congress, spoken at the (American) National Defense University, US Air Force Academy, and the National Space Symposium, and been published in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

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. You can find us on almost all your most popular podcast aggregators as well.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Fullbore Friday

What are you willing to do to get your squadron mates home ... or at least a chance?

How far are you willing to push yourself and your equipment?

How well do you know the capabilities - written and unwritten - of your equipment?

Ponder Pardo's Push via Air and Space;

The air strike that March day in 1967 was on the ferociously well-defended Thai Nguyen steel mill, north of Hanoi, North Vietnam. One of the attacking U.S. Air Force McDonnell F-4C Phantoms was hit twice by anti-aircraft fire, and gas was streaming from the fuselage. Pilot Earl Aman and weapons systems officer Bob Houghton no longer had enough fuel to return to safe territory.

The airplane Bob Pardo and backseater Steve Wayne were flying wasn’t in much better shape: During the strike it also caught an anti-aircraft round and was leaking fuel, and the two weren’t even sure they could reach an airborne tanker to refuel for the flight back to their base in Thailand. “But I couldn’t see leaving a guy I’d just fought a battle with,” Pardo says, so he radioed Aman, “I’m gonna try to give you a push. Fly that thing as smooth as you’ve ever flown.”

Read it all for the awesome details, but here is where it ended; 

Pardo’s Push, as the feat became known, had lasted for about 20 minutes and carried both jets 80 miles—far enough for a safe rescue.

Pardo, Aman, and Houghton injured their backs punching out, and all four airmen had to move to evade an approaching group of Laotian communist militia. Later, the aviators were extracted from the jungle by rescue helicopter crews. “When we got to the club, man, we couldn’t buy a drink,” Pardo recalls. “We had a pretty good party until about midnight.

“The next day, Steve and I went back to war.” The target? The same steel mill north of Hanoi.

Nice simulation;

Thursday, March 11, 2021

What do you want your DEPSECDEF and Vice Chairman of the JCS doing?

Take a moment and think about all that is going on in the world from the South China Sea, to Afghanistan, to the Sahel, to the Russian near abroad.

Think about the challenges military members and their families face on a daily basis with record deployments, caring for kids in a COVID environment, take your pick.

I now want you to think about what you want the scarce time available in each mortal's 24-hr day invested in by the following people: Deputy Secretary of Defense; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; The Secretaries of the Military Departments, Military Service Chiefs, and the OSD Principal Staff Assistants.

What if we had it a weekly meeting called the Deputy's Workforce Council (DWC), to address the Department's people management, personnel policy, and total force requirements. 

You're thinking about what? Recruiting? Forward deployed units at proper strength & training? Family support? Housing? Work-life balance in the face of 11-month and double-pump deployments?

Don't be silly.

Topics the DWC shall examine will include, but shall not be limited to:

• Sexual Assault Prevention and Response

• Countering Extremism

• Transgender Issues

• Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

• Workforce Development and Talent Management

• · Professional Military Education

• Leveraging Technology in Support of Workforce Goals· 

Just so 'ya know.

You can read the full memo below;


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

...About Those Ports on the Taiwanese East Coast

Can you have a long war in Asia without putting a boot on the mainland?

Should we be thinking that through?

Have we looked at a map?

 h/t CMD

Tuesday, March 09, 2021

Do not act shocked ... do not avert your eyes ... look harder

We started the "Keeping and Eye on the Long Game" over a decade and a half ago. Many of you have been loyal members of the Front Porch since that time, so I know you are not surprised where 2021 finds us.

Look at it. Don't avert your eyes.

You ... yes you ... allowed this to happen because you elected the people you elected and promoted those you promoted. You allowed other priorities to creep in where maintaining the world's dominate navy should have been #1.

Sadly, many are either refusing to accept this fact or are acting as if it all of a sudden snuck up on them. Fire them all.

China was already in the midst of a shipbuilding spree like few the world has ever seen. In 2015, Xi undertook a sweeping project to turn the PLA into a world-class fighting force, the peer of the United States military. He had ordered investments in shipyards and technology that continue at pace today.

By at least one measurement, Xi's plan has worked. At some point between 2015 and today, China has assembled the world's largest naval force. And now it's working to make it formidable far from its shores.

In 2015, the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) had 255 battle force ships in its fleet, according to the US Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI).

As of the end of 2020, it had 360, over 60 more than the US Navy, according to an ONI forecast.

Four years from now, the PLAN will have 400 battle force ships, the ONI predicts.

Go back to 2000, and the numbers are even more stark.

"China's navy battle force has more than tripled in size in only two decades," read a December report by the leaders of the US Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.

I didn't make this another in the Long Game series by post title for a reason. We are here. You have the Long Game intersecting with another long term project here, The Terrible 20s.  

We did not get here by accident. This was by design via the natsec leadership - uniformed, civilian, elected and appointed - by both political parties. 

Again, it is a matter of "when" not "if" the communist Chinese will challenge us. When they do, it will mostly be - if we are smart about it - a naval and air war. If the results are less than victory for the USA, it will be a hard break on a phase of history that has been with us for decades.

There is not much time. Demand answers. Demand proper priorities. Demand action.

If not, then prepare yourself for a nation and a globe neither you nor your children will recognize. 

You think the people of 1913 were shocked by where they found themselves in 1933, you don't even what to imagine with two decades after a shift to a Sino-centric world would be like.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Western Way of War: Two Problems and Six Solutions

To start your week off right you should give our friend James Holmes's latest over at Real Clear Defense  a read, How to Overcome Weaknesses in the Western Way of Sea War.

He starts by setting up two distinguishing characteristics of how we prefer to start a war;

Chinese anti-access strategy envisions pummeling U.S. forces forward-deployed along the East Asian rimland while preventing the larger U.S. Pacific Fleet from reaching the battleground from its home ports in Hawaii or on the west coast in time to affect a war’s outcome.


The second aspect is this: Western maritime services fight in “systems” that depend heavily on the electromagnetic spectrum to pass information and instructions to the constituent parts of the system and back. 

He then offers up six solutions, these two got my head nodd'n the most;

 Second, we need to make geography our ally. The complex thing about maritime East Asia is that not just one home team but two—China and Japan—have taken the field. In fact, they have carried on a running series since about the seventh century. Japan has been on top since 1895, China wants to avenge past defeats, and the U.S.-Japan alliance wants to keep the streak going. Using Japanese geography in concert with sea power could let us give China a very bad day by bottling up naval and mercantile shipping within the first island chain, or preventing whatever happens to be outside the island chain from returning home. Sorting out the politics of island-chain warfare is of prime importance in the strategic competition, as is assuring our navies and air and ground forces can fight together in the near-shore domain. If successful we will make the U.S.-Japan alliance the dominant home team along the island chain.


Fifth, we should identify substitute hardware and methods in advance so that operators have a fallback in case a successful kinetic or non-kinetic assault fractures the system. This might, but need not, involve developing some sort of high-technology solution. It might involve reverting to older but time-proven methods. We might even see signal flags or flashing-light signals make a comeback in fleets riding the waves. To name one such reversion to past practice, the U.S. Navy has made a long-overdue course correction in recent years by reinstating celestial-navigation training at navy schoolhouses. By relearning how to navigate by the stars, we partly weaned our ships away from GPS, any savvy opponent’s prime target in wartime. Furthermore, newly developed weapons are designed to function in a degraded tactical setting. The logic behind such measures is straightforward. If we can’t find our way from point A to point B or detect, track, target, and engage enemy forces, we can accomplish little—even if the foe never shoots down one of our planes or sinks a ship. So developments such as these are all to the good.

There is a lot more to ponder ... so read up. It's only four pages, and well worth your time.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

The Navalist View from Singapore, with Blake Herzinger - on Midrats

If geography is destiny, then Singapore is a nation of destiny.

Sitting astride one of the world's most critical chokepoints, this polyglot island republic with a population of Denmark on a spot of land 1/4 the size of Rhode Island.

For her size, she has a modern, large, and capable navy and military - important for what has always been a rough neighborhood.

What makes Singapore's national security requirements unique, and what role does she play as the Indo-Pacific Theater becomes the center of global concern?

Returning to Midrats this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss this and more will be Blake Herzinger.

Blake is a Non-resident WSD-Handa Fellow with the Pacific Forum and President of the Singapore chapter of CIMSEC.

He studied political science at Brigham Young University before spending a decade in active service with the U.S. Navy as an intelligence officer. 

His analysis has been published in Foreign Policy, War on the Rocks, and The Diplomat, as well as the publications for the Lowy Institute and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He's lived in Singapore since 2013 and is a 2017 graduate of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Blake’s research focus is on security assistance dynamics, maritime security, and seapower. 

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Friday, March 05, 2021

Interim National Security Strategic Guidance: Unto the Wilderness

The Biden Administration is still filling out the mid and lower echelons of their national security and defense team, but the major players are in and the “people are policy” effect is kicking in. 

If you were paying attention to the 2020 election, you have a general idea where things are going, but it is always best to wait to see what is put out … because that is what good staff people do; wait for higher Direction and Guidance, and then form your actions to align with them. 

This week, everyone has something to chew on, President Biden’s Interim National Security Strategic Guidance

As I like to do with such documents, I look for larger themes through the use of words. Words matter – details matter – and you can find out a lot about priorities and themes by investigating them. 

Yes, you need to see what people do and not what they say … but what they say matters. When words and actions align, it can show a well-functioning and serious organization and give you more to work with if you are looking for clues to the future. When words and actions are not aligned, that disconnect can – depending on the aspects of the disconnect – tell you even more interesting things. 

So, before we pull some of the detailed observation from the guidance, look at the word count above. That is from the document … but that only gives you so much. 

We know that national security was a 3rd-tier concern in the 2020 election; 1st was former President Trump, and 2nd was domestic policy. What do the words used tell us? 

Wordcount time. 

As I am a navalist, let’s start there to see what focus three may be on the issues of our greatest concern: 
- Navy: 0 
- Maritime/Sea/Ocean: 0 
Huh, we see where this is going. What about the “hard” natsec challenges? 
- China: 15 
- Russia: 5 
- Iran: 4 
- Pacific: 3 
- North Korea: 2 
- NATO: 2 
Well. Everyone take out your JPME-1 notebook. 

In the DIME view of the domains of national power you have Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic. You can, rightfully, accept the new reality that Military is well back in the toolbox – something they tell us in the guidance and we’ll quote later. That leaves the other three. How do these, “soft” natsec challenges come out of the wordcount? 
- Economy/Economic: 42 
- Cyber: 16 - Diplomacy/Diplomatic: 13 
- Information/Disinformation: 6 
Regulars recall a story I’ve mentioned here and on Midrats a few times; ~2010 I had with Admiral Foggo. The one point I left with him was that the best thing the Navy could do was to send more line officers off to get their PhD in Economics. Don’t shunt them off to teach at USNA, put them on your major staffs. More than any other service, the Navy needs a smart understanding of Economics. 

Ha! Sal wins again. 

Now for the real depressing part. Look at the “hard” and “soft” word counts again, and then take a deep breath. 

Center yourself. 

Go get your emotional support animal as required … now brace. 

The Terrible 20s are here, and they are pissed. 

More than anything, this document makes it absolutely clear that not only are national security issues 3rd tier, the personnel, infrastructure, and power in DOD will be used to support, advance, and defend domestic political policy agenda items. Some of that is in the “Economy” count above, but these words make it clear; 
- Climate: 27 
- Equity/equitable (NB: this does not mean equality): 11 
- Diversity: 7 
- “Build back better:” 5 
- Racial/racism: 5 
- Inclusive: 4 
- Justice: 3 
Compare those numbers and you get the direction the wind is blowing. 

It is only a 24-page document, so you should really read it all, but let me pull a few items for your consideration. 

In the President’s introduction, he outlines what he sees as the “new crisis” that demand our attention; 
...the pandemic, nuclear proliferation, and the “fourth industrial revolution.
He also wants a,
 revitalization of … our democracy. 
This in an inwardly focused national security policy, underlined by this paragraph;
Achieving these goals rests on a core strategic proposition: The United States must renew its enduring advantages so that we can meet today’s challenges from a position of strength. We will build back better our economic foundations; reclaim our place in international institutions; lift up our values at home and speak out to defend them around the world; modernize our military capabilities, while leading first with diplomacy; and revitalize America’s unmatched network of alliances and partnerships.
In a strange disconnect, there is a bone thrown in the direction of the internationalists/interventionists/R2P crowd;
And as we do this work, we must also demonstrate clearly to the American people that leading the world isn’t an investment we make to feel good about ourselves. It’s how we ensure the American people are able to live in peace, security, and prosperity. It’s in our undeniable self-interest.
They’re not wrong. The American people still do not understand the value of the Libyan chaos or underwriting German security against the Russians while the Germans are planning to surrender their energy security to the Russians. 

Good luck with that. 

The foreign aid lobby and the NGO rent seekers get a nod;
When we invest in the economic development of countries, we create new markets for our products and reduce the likelihood of instability, violence, and mass migrations.
We also have evidence that we have a large mass of people who have not learned anything from two decades in Afghanistan;
. When we defend equal rights of all people — of women and girls, LGBTQI individuals, indigenous communities, people with disabilities, and people of every ethnic background and religion — we help ensure that those rights are protected for our own children here in America.
“Build back better” – the Biden version of a campaign slogan like “Make American Great Again” – as outlined above, makes a few appearances in the document. It strives in places to want to return to some ill-defined point in the past where things were somehow better. Well, we don’t have a time machine, and the world advances in many places on its own agenda and in directions that may or may not be in our control … nor should be. 

That is a dangerous place to be. It sets up perverse incentives and unrealistic policy goals. This is the 3rd decade of the 21st Century, not the 1990s.
Diplomacy is back. Alliances are back. But we are not looking back.
If you have to say it … well. So, remember when I warned you this was mostly aligned with domestic policy agenda items?
We confront a global pandemic, a crushing economic downturn, a crisis of racial justice, and a deepening climate emergency. We face a world of rising nationalism, receding democracy, growing rivalry with China, Russia, and other authoritarian states, and a technological revolution that is reshaping every aspect of our lives. Ours is a time of unprecedented challenges, but also unmatched opportunity.
See what leads, then note what follows. Order defines precedence. Precedence established priorities. 

A final note; nothing here is “unprecedented.” It is hard to get more inwardly focused as this;
The United States must lead by the power of our example, and that will require hard work at home … to truly address systemic racism,
I am trying hard to find something that could be used in our competition against China … but as there is so little clarity and so much domestic play here, they can be used either way. One example was the use above of “racial justice.” Are we talking about domestic policy here – as we clearly do in other mentions of racial challenges – or could that be used concerning China’s treatment of Uighurs and Tibetans? 

What about the “digital authoritarianism” below, domestic or Chinese social credit system and censorship?
Together with our allies and partners, we can modernize the architecture of international cooperation for the challenges of this century, from cyber threats to climate change, corruption, and digital authoritarianism.
To further underline the desire to use the umbrella of national security to chase domestic policy shadows, note the first paragraph on page-9 under “Our National Security Priorities:
…we must redefine America’s economic interests in terms of working families’ livelihoods, rather than corporate profits or aggregate national wealth. That places an imperative on an economic recovery grounded in equitable and inclusive growth, as well as investments to encourage innovation, strengthen national competitiveness, produce good-paying jobs, rebuild American supply chains for critical goods, and expand opportunities for all Americans. And we must remain committed to realizing and defending the democratic values at the heart of the American way of life.
If I am looking for a hook to claw back defense dollars for domestic use and call it national security related, that paragraph gives me all I need. 

Right after that … and whoever snuck this is I want them to drop me a line so I can send them a Harry and David gift basket, is something actually useful and good;
At its root, ensuring our national security requires us to:
- Defend and nurture the underlying sources of American strength, including our people, our economy, our national defense, and our democracy at home;
- Promote a favorable distribution of power to deter and prevent adversaries from directly threatening the United States and our allies, inhibiting access to the global commons, or dominating key regions; and
- Lead and sustain a stable and open international system, underwritten by strong democratic alliances, partnerships, multilateral institutions, and rules.
First bullet is “America First.” Second is to keep China down. Third is promoting a rules based international order. 


Someone get me an endorsement letter to sign. Keep this, throw away the rest, and we’re good to go. 

This next goal will end in tears if the recent Yemen decision that emboldens Iranian proxies is any indication;
Our aim will be to de-escalate regional tensions and create space for people throughout the Middle East to realize their aspirations.
The order here is incorrect, but I am very happy Africa gets a mention;
We will help African nations combat the threats posed by climate change and violent extremism, and support their economic and political independence in the face of undue foreign influence.
The next line is cringe. So 1980s, so “with whom?”
We will head off costly arms races and re-establish our credibility as a leader in arms control.
China – whose defense budget just grew by 6.8% while ours is posed to fall, has zero to gain from this … and anything with Russia is meaningless because they are not a problem and will violate it anyway. 

We know … and this is smart.
…we will make smart and disciplined choices regarding our national defense and the responsible use of our military, while elevating diplomacy as our tool of first resort.
On page 14 is something that is just gobsmacking if you wonder if we are a learning institution. It is as if the mistakes of Rumsfeld and the Age of Transformationalism – that we still have not started to recover from – have been forgotten. As if no one remembers the lie of “throw away what you have now and will need to fight in 5 years for the promise of pixie dust powered unicorns bearing sharks with laser beams on their head tomorrow.” 

The people with this mindset keep popping up because no one holds them accountable for their errors.
…working with the Congress, shift our emphasis from unneeded legacy platforms and weapons systems to free up resources for investments in the cutting-edge technologies and capabilities that will determine our military and national security advantage in the future. … We will prioritize defense investments in climate resiliency and clean energy
Of course. The Great Green Fleet was such a success, let’s throw more rare funds down that onomastic rat hole. 

There is going to be a hell of a battle in this administration over Afghanistan. You can see the conflict in this document itself.
The United States should not, and will not, engage in “forever wars” that have cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars. We will work to responsibly end America’s longest war in Afghanistan while ensuring that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for terrorist attacks against the United States.
I will give credit to the writers. They make it clear that national security policy is a supporting entity to the supported effort; domestic policy agenda items;
…our trade and international economic policies must serve all Americans, not just the privileged few.
There is a great scene in Dr. Zhivogo where the Red Partisan commander is arguing about all he has done for the revolution and is reminded by the Commissar that once the war is over, everyone will be judged politically regardless of what they did in the war. Boy, is that clear here.
…our strength abroad requires the United States to build back better at home. A dynamic, inclusive, innovative national economy with a flourishing population is a critical American advantage that must be renewed. That starts by decisively responding to the public health and economic crises unleashed by COVID-19. Our national strategy—reinforced by the 12 initial executive actions issued by President Biden in his first two days in office—centers on restoring trust with the American people; mounting a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign; and mitigating disease spread through masking, testing, an expanded public health workforce, and better data.
It easy to ignore such documents or, in the wave of a cynical hand, dismiss them as meaningless – but that would be a mistake. Smart staffers try to align what they do with whatever direction and guidance they can find from those up the chain. This is that. 

Reality will change things, but for the first year of the administration, this is what we have to work with. Let me book mark this post with something to back up what we started with on the wordcounts. Why, you may ask, would such domestic issues be of such importance in a national security document? 

To understand it, you need to realize the world those appointed in the Biden Administration come from. What are their interests? What are their supporters concerned with? 

Where they can, the above will be reflected in all parts of our government under the control of the Executive Branch. You don’t have to agree with it, but it would be irresponsible not to recognize it and prepare accordingly.