VIEWPOINT: Why are we chasing butterflies? Establishment Congressional Armed Services leadership has been derelict in its duties for a long time…and it doesn’t look like Gaetz will be any better

By Cris Dosev

Soldiers fire an M109A6 Paladin from a tactical assembly area support the start of the Iraqi security forces’ offensive in West Mosul, Iraq, Feb. 19, 2017. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Hull

Article 1, Section 8 in the Enumerated Powers of the U.S. Constitution clearly confers responsibility to provide for, maintain, govern and regulate land and naval forces to our elected Congress.

In repeated disclosures this past week, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry expects us to believe that the Committee has been unaware of our nation’s dismal and insufficient state of military readiness because less-than-forthright testimony was previously provided by military officials.

This is far from true.  Military leaders have been warning of the dangers posed by “Sequestration” defense budget cuts for some time.

As Captain Joseph R. John, Chairman, Combat Veterans for Congress, recently pointed out:

 

“The passage of Obama’s sequestration in 2012 by Republican and Democrat leaders in Congress gutted the U.S. Navy. Sequestration could never have diminished the size of the Navy’s Fleet to the pre-World War I number of ships if Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress hadn’t cooperated very closely with Obama to retain sequestration, each year, every year, for five years.”

Even more damning is testimony by the previous Committee Chairman, Congressman Buck McKeon, at a February 13, 2013 hearing titled Impacts of a Continuing Resolution and Sequestration on Defense.  In his opening remarks, McKeon details the Committee’s

“16 months of exhaustive examination of the pending damage from Sequestration… this self-inflicted wound is poised to cripple our military forces in just a few days.  As the military members of our panel noted, in a letter I received on January 14, ‘We are on the brink of creating a hollow force.’”

That same day, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, testified that,

“Unless we change course we will, without proper deliberation, dramatically reduce: our overseas presence; our ability to respond to crises; our efforts to counter terrorism and illicit trafficking; and our material readiness across the Navy.  Perhaps more disconcerting, we may irreversibly damage the military industrial base we depend on to build and maintain our ships and aircraft.”

Does any of this seem unclear?  Those generals and admirals who testified almost four years to the date before Chairman Thornberry’s recent remarks hid nothing and warned the Committee of what inevitably would come to pass if Sequestration wasn’t addressed.

Marines prepare to attach a concrete barrier to a CH-53E Super Stallion during helicopter load training at Arta Beach, Djibouti, Feb. 16, 2017. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon Maldonado

Tom Philpott’s February 18, 2017 Military Update article, Thornberry:  Politics hid crisis until now, published in PNJ.com, reiterates Chairman Thornberry’s attempt to scapegoat military officials and the previous administration for downplaying Sequestration’s potential damage;

“…because it was politically inconvenient to deal with it.”

Thornberry’s deflection, however, does not square with reality.  As Philpott accurately notes, service leaders have issued warnings and concerns “often” over the past decade.

According to Chairman Thornberry:

“No question there was tremendous political pressure on them [military officials] to basically downplay readiness concerns.” 

Again, this was simply not the case.

I am compelled to ask:  Are our adversaries paying closer attention to the House Armed Services briefings then do our committee members?

An Air Force B-52 Stratofortress refuels from a KC-135 Stratotanker to support Operation Inherent Resolve, Feb. 15, 2017. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan

Indeed, in response to the well-documented damage to our Armed Forces wrought by Sequestration, our adversaries have been emboldened. Through increasingly aggressive actions, they have clearly indicated that they are aware of our limitations; and our inability to project power and defend our national interests.

Sadly, it appears our enemies have a better understanding of our (lack of) military readiness than our own Congressional representatives.  How is it that the government arm tasked with this responsibility and given such authority has failed so miserably?

Below are highlights of Philpott’s article that address readiness concerns from each branch of the Armed Forces.  According to recent testimony:

 

Army:  Only three of 58 Brigade combat teams are fully ready and able to “fight tonight,” according to General Daniel B. Allyn, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. The Army can meet wartime requirements in defense planning only at “high military risk,” he reports.

Navy:  “Your Navy today is the smallest it’s been in 99 years,” per Admiral William F. Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations. Only 40% of combatant commander requests for naval forces are met, Moran points out. Some 62% of the legacy Hornet fighter/attack aircraft are out of service for major repair or maintenance. Without an immediate budget hike, Moran warns, “the Navy within a month will have to shut down some air wings.”

Air Force:  The average age of Air Force aircraft is 27 years. The Air Force is short 1,555 pilots and 3,400 aircraft maintainers. “We think it will take six to eight years to bring our readiness levels back where they need to be,” General Stephen W. Wilson, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, notes.

Marine Corps:  “Your Marine Corps,” reports General Glenn M. Walters, Assistant Commandant, “is insufficiently manned, trained and equipped across the depth of the force to operate in an ever-evolving operational environment… [We] risk steadily losing our competitive advantage against potential adversaries.” As one example, he says, Marine fighter pilots need 16 to 18 hours a month to maintain minimum requirements and perhaps 25 hours to be called proficient and able “to defeat the enemy in a near-peer fight.”  They get only 12-14 flight hours under current budgets.

Unfortunately, the above confirms the very same results long predicted by military leaders’ unheeded warnings during previous Armed Services Committee hearings.

So again, I am compelled to ask:  What have you been doing for the past two years, Chairman Thornberry? And more to the point, what has Republican leadership of the Committee been doing the past six years?

Two pilots assigned to the 96th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron takeoff to execute air operations to support Operation Inherent Resolve, Feb. 13, 2017. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jordan Castelan

Hypothetically, had Hillary Clinton been elected President, would it have taken another four to eight years for these concerns, these inadequacies on the part of the oversight of the Congress to be revealed to us…is the Democratic Party really that all-powerful?  This is the question.

The answer is obvious. Congress has the responsibility and the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has the obligation to the American people to fulfill their duties to protect this nation steadfastly and diligently.  Tragically, our elected leaders, including Republican ones, have instead been derelict in those duties…and now they want to blame anybody but the guy in the mirror.

President Trump, in his inaugural speech, addressed the problems of Washington policy makers working for their own benefit rather than for the people they pledged to serve:

For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed.  The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories; their triumphs have not been your triumphs; and while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.  That all changes — starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you.”

 – Inaugural speech of President Donald J. Trump, Jan. 20, 2017.

Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Texas)

The above applies twice as much when it comes to Congress’ neglect in ensuring military readiness, because it’s a matter of life and death. Our sons and daughters voluntarily hazard life and limb with an expectation that the people responsible for the support of their efforts are diligently carrying out their fundamental duties to “provide and maintain” the Armed Forces.

Trump supporters and voters have given the President the task of “draining the swamp” in Washington DC.  If elected officials’ longtime indifference to the concerns of military leaders is any indication, there are a whole lot of Congressional chair warmers who’ve become far too comfortable in that swamp, and need to responsibly relinquish control and go home.

Of the 34 Republican and 30 Democratic members of the House Armed Services Committee, only a minority have any kind of operational or combat military experience. Civilian control of the military is an essential construct of our governmental system, but civilians with little or no actual experience in military affairs tend to lack basic perspective, vis a vis military planning for our Republic during times of peril.

When we accept representatives and leaders with little or no experience in fields that require expertise, and evidently aren’t interested in the advice of those who have it, we fail.

Establishment politicians like to chase offices, titles, and chairmanships for personal prestige, access, and opportunity. Their constituents are routinely deceived by their rhetoric.  As we all know, they’ll say anything to get re-elected.

Unfortunately, there are real-time consequences.  Our adversaries pay close attention to actions of ineffectual leaders.  And at the end of the day, like those consequences, accountability rolls downhill to the citizen. Elected officials’ failures are our failures.

Chairman Thornberry’s Congressional website says he believes protecting our country is the first function of the federal government. He states that he is committed to ensuring that the United States has a military capability and agility to protect the nation and our interests around the world. As Chairman, it notes, he is

“committed to long-term reform of the Department of Defense — common sense reform that will help ensure the American taxpayer gets good value for the money being spent and that the country gets the security it needs to keep people safe.”

If that’s the case, Chairman, please explain yourself and the dismal performance of the last six years of Republican leadership of the House Armed Services Committee, which allowed Sequestration to gut our military.

Unfortunately for local citizens, in what appears to be a classic case of “more of the same;” this past week our newly minted District One Representative and member of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Matt Gaetz, in a conference call town hall, asked for constituent attitudes towards the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education, and getting the U.S. out of the UN.

Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Florida)

Compared to the real problems facing this country, these topics are butterflies…and Mr. Gaetz still needs a poll to figure out if they matter.

Is it asking too much to expect elected officials to determine the most important priorities on their own?  If they can’t figure something that basic out without polling, what kind of leadership are they going to provide during the coming, very real national security crises?

Congressman Gaetz’s fiery rhetoric about “hand-wringers and bed-wetters” on the campaign trail seems to have morphed into a comfortable slumber party with the very same people he formerly so eviscerated.

If Mr. Gaetz had an ounce of courage, or basic awareness of national priorities, he would already have demanded answers from House Armed Services leadership and an explanation for Chairman Mac Thornberry’s deceitful remarks.

Our nation is in peril.  Our service Chiefs and retired flag officers have been making this abundantly clear for the past six years to anybody who’d listen.

And our Congressman is skipping through a meadow, chasing EPA butterflies.

Chairman Thornberry and Congressman Matt Gaetz need to focus on real pressing issues and stop distracting, deflecting and grandstanding.

Establishment Republican leadership has fundamentally failed to provide the security that they claim is the first and most important duty of the Congress. For the sake of our nation we must demand that Congress do its job.

Lead, follow or get out of the way. This in part is why Donald J. Trump is our new President. The swamp needs draining now!

 

Cris Dosev, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, served as an Intruder bombardier/navigator during Desert Storm.  Dosev ran for the District 1 Congressional seat as a Republican in 2016.  He owns and operates a small business, and describes himself as a family-man, Gator, grateful resident of Pensacola and the Northwest Florida Panhandle, and humble Christian devoted to God, country, and family. 

Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry (R-Texas) serves as Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. The Armed Services Committee has the responsibility to oversee the Pentagon, all military services, and all Department of Defense agencies, including their budgets and policies.

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