Friday, September 16, 2022

Fullbore Friday

A pivot of history around a man.

For over two decades the American military occupied a foreign country on the other side of the planet, supporting an oppressive local government that was mostly known for its anti-democratic habits and corruption.

Over the two decades of occupation, thousands of Americans and her allies who also contributed forces died in order to keep a clear threat to global peace contained.

During the previous presidential election in the USA, the candidate who won made repeated statements that he planned to withdraw all American forces from that country. Two decades were long enough, and he was insistent that he was a man of his word.

The new president carefully placed reliable political operatives in to national security positions who he could rely on, and to the professional intelligence and military community, it was clear what was going on

…politicizing the intelligence process. the CIA an attitude that the withdrawal policy presented dangerous risks. But he felt that, …the risk of withdrawal was not alarming. … the policy represented a political decision. Administration decision makers understood the risks involved and had judged them to be acceptable.

Are you thinking of the events of the first year of the Biden Administration that resulted in the greatest national humiliation since the Vietnam War?

Well, you would be forgiven is so – but no, we are talking about one of the more undertold stories of the Cold War and the Carter Administration – one the usual suspects in the civ/mil fetish world either don’t know about or won’t talk about.

For those who don’t remember, in hindsight (and even more so at the moment), the apex of global political and military power of the Soviet Union was somewhere between 1975 and 1985. American military ability and confidence – especially in our Army - were at its post-WWII nadir.

In that background, here’s the background.

Jimmy Carter's decision to withdraw ground troops from South Korea goes back at least to January, 1975, and the earliest days of his campaign for President. His original idea was to pull out all U.S. forces - ground and air - and to negotiate assurances from China and the Soviet Union that North Korea would not invade the south.

The origins and evolution of Carter's ideas are of unusual importance because his campaign stand has been translated directly into U.S. policy with a minimum of official review. In order to avoid a battle within the government, a National Security Council study leading to the U.S. withdrawal plan did not question whether American ground troops should be removed but focused instead on how many should be removed.

As sent to the White House in mid-March, the council's Presidential Review Memorandum 13 acknowledged that there are differences of opinion about the troop withdrawal policy and that the impact of it is difficult to predict. At the explicit instruction of Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, however, the State-Defense-Central Intelligence Agency study accepted as its promise Carter's previous announced conclusion that the troops should be taken out.

It is amazing how some bad ideas and unmoored assumptions just keep showing up in some circles;

Administration officials have emphasized that the Carter plan would leave American air forces in‐place and that there would be a continued strong American naval presence in the Sea of Japan to assist South” Korea in the event of an invasion. American troops in Korea represent about 30 percent of United States forward‐deployed forces in the western Pacific, which number ‘about 127,000.

Did the senior uniformed leadership have concerns?
Many Army officers in Korea as well as at the Pentagon (view) that the withdrawal of American ground troops in South Korea would upset the military balance there and provoke North Korea to plan another invasion of the South, as occurred 25 years ago.
But did they do anything? People matter. One man can matter. History and the lives of millions can rest on the decisions of one person - and how they define duty vs. self-interest.

The following story has a few angles. One angle is an echo of warnings I have put out before; if you wear the uniform, do not get comfortable with the press - especially "traditional" press that works DC or are from hyper-political organizations. With very few exceptions, they are not your friend. They have a job. You are not just a source, you are part of their building of their personal brand. 

You may think you are on background, but ... perhaps not. There are questions if this spark was a case of a reporter or their editor deciding not to respect a background source, or a polite wink between parties - I have heard both, but we know the results, so let's focus on that.

On May 19th 1977, John Saar at the Washington Post had an article that would lead to the premature end of one of the US Army's most respected Generals and ... in the end, perhaps prevented the death of millions or even a third world war.

The third-ranking U.S. Army general in South Korea says that President Carter's plan to withdraw U.S. troops here in the next four to five years is a mistake that will end in war with North Korea.

"If we withdraw our ground forces on the schedule suggested it will lead to war," said Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub, chief of staff in the U.S. Forces Korea headquarters.

Singlaub said he and many other senior military officers challenge the wisdom of Carter's plan, and predicted that withdrawal of the war-ready 2d Infantry Division in that time frame would seriously weaken defenses in the South and encourage North Korean Peresident Kim II-sung to attack.

The unusual situation of serving generals, openly differing with the President's declared policy arises on the eve to talk to implement that policy.

...  "The question asked after U.S. setbacks in China and Vietnam was, 'Did the military people in the know express themselves loudly and clearly enough that the decision-makers understood?' We want to make sure." he added. "If the decision is made we will execute it with enthusiasm and a high level of professional skill."

The apprehensions voiced by Singlaub are enchoed to some degree by many, if not all U.S. military leaders in South Korean. "No one understands why they are being pulled out," said a well-informed American source. "Carter says that withdrawal won't endanger South Korean security or upset the military balance. Out military people say that would be a miracle. They think it can't be done."

The impact professionally did not take long. Three days later;
President Carter yesterday fired Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub as U.S. chief of staff in South Korea for telling The Washington Post last week that Carter's plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Korea is a mistake that will lead to war.

Defense Secretary Harold Brown announced Singlaub's dismissal as chief of staff less than an hour after Singlaub, in uniform, met for 30 minutes with the President. Carter was described Thursday as distressed and angered by Singlaub's remarks.

Brown accompanied Singlaub to the meeting. In a statement issued from the Pentagon afterward, Brown said, "Public statements by Gen. Singlaub inconsistent with announced national security policy have made it very difficult for him to carry out the duties of his present assignment in Korea.

"I have, therefore, recommended to the President that Gen. Singlaub e reassigned, and with the President's concurrence I have directed the secretary of the Army to take action to that effect."
...and there goes a 35-year career. But...Singlaub knew what he was doing. History has proven his professional sacrifice as being the right move. A 2018 paper by Eric B. Setzekorn in the Army War College Parameters titled, Policy Revolt: Army Opposition to the Korea Withdrawal Plan gives Singlaub and others a good review;
By publicly opposing the plan as part of a Fabian strategy, senior Army leaders gained public support of their position and the president suspended the planned withdrawal.
Although Army leaders were clearly manipulative and pushed the boundaries of professional ethics, they effectively halted a deeply flawed withdrawal policy. Viewed from a distance of forty years, President Carter’s politicized policy process and shortsighted mentality of reducing deterrence capabilities on the Korean Peninsula were clearly dangerous. Singlaub and Vessey, as the subject matter experts on the American military role in South Korea, should have been consulted. Yet the generals’ actions led to a more comprehensive debate of American security policy in Korea. As the case of the aborted Korean withdrawal highlights, Army leaders can successfully challenge presidential policies. But the question is should they?
That is a great question - and one that will always in the American context get a reply, "It depends."

And so is a long introduction to a recognition that earlier this year, General Singlaub was called home one last time;
John K. Singlaub, a two-star general with a record of wartime derring-do who resigned from the Army in 1978 after openly criticizing President Jimmy Carter’s defense policy, and who later battled communism as a private citizen by funneling weapons and money to rightist insurgents around the world, died Jan. 29 at his home in Franklin, Tenn. He was 100.

A long live. An impactful life. If you read his full bio - one hell of a life. I don't know if there is a statue to him in South Korea somewhere, but there probably should be. Just look at 2022 South Korea. It did not get the opportunity to grow in to one of the most highly successful and developed nations on this planet in isolation or by accident. 

How would Singlaub want to be remembered? I don't know, but I'll take a guess;



John K. Singlaub was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in November 1943. As part of JEDBURGH Team JAMES, he jumped into France on 11 August 1944 to arm and direct the French resistance. Sent to China, as the commander of the PIGEON Mission, he jumped onto Hainan Island on 27 August 1945 to rescue Dutch and Australian Prisoners of War. As one of a handful of Special Operations Branch personnel retained the Strategic Services Unit (successor to the OSS), Singlaub stayed in China to report on the Civil War. Singlaub was again involved in special operations when he was an instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia and helped to establish the Ranger Training Center in 1950. He then had two tours in Korea, including one with the Central Intelligence Agency’s Joint Advisory Commission, Korea (JACK). Singlaub returned to special operations in from 1966-1968, when he commanded a joint unconventional warfare command, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Studies and Observation Group (MACV-SOG). Retiring in 1978, Major General Singlaub has remained active in the Special Operations community and was recognized with the United States Special Operations Command’s (USSOCOM) Bull Simons award in 2011.


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