Active-duty Marine Capt. Joshua Waddell has written an op-ed arguing that Russia has utterly embarrassed the U.S. in Syria and Ukraine, while only maintaining a military budget a fraction of the Pentagon’s total budget.
Contained within a dynamite piece on the divergence between the “depressive stagnation” found in the supporting Pentagon establishment, as opposed to the dynamism of the operating ground forces, Waddell argued in the Marine Corps Gazette that it’s time for senior military officers to accept that the U.S. has by any objective standard lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has been embarrassed by Russia.
Waddell pointed to self-delusion as the cause of the growing divide between Pentagon bureaucrats and ground forces.
“Let us first begin with the fundamental underpinnings of this delusion: our measures of performance and effectiveness in recent wars,” Waddell said. “It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Objective analysis of the U.S. military’s effectiveness in these wars can only conclude that we were unable to translate tactical victory into operational and strategic success.”
Waddell noted that he’s come to the conclusion only as a result of hard self-reflection and taking stock of the United States’ military might matched against its actual track record of achieving political objectives in the Middle East, compared to Russia.
“We allow ourselves to look at our impressive defense budget and expensive systems and throw around hyperbole about the United States having the greatest military in the world. How, then, have we been bested by malnourished and undereducated men with antiquated and improvised weaponry whilst spending trillions of dollars in national treasure and costing the lives of thousands of servicemen and hundreds of thousands of civilians?” Waddell added, referring to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to Waddell, the answer is because the Pentagon has lost sight of measures of effectiveness and instead has become obsessed with pushing large budgets and building advanced technology, while refusing to take into account the fact that an M1A1 tank can be trivially defeated using a $20 explosive projectile and a gigantic aircraft carrier can be disabled by a “swarming missile barrage.”
In comparison, to the U.S., Waddell noted that Russia is effectively using its $42 billion dollar military budget to achieve political objectives. The entire Russian military budget amounts to less than half the figure allocated to the U.S. Navy.
This effectiveness seems to be borne out in Russia’s intervention into Syria, in which Moscow aggressively moved in and reversed the rapid decline of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and forced U.S.-backed rebel forces into submission. Russia also successfully seized Crimea in 2014.
As John Hannah stated in an op-ed for Foreign Policy last September, “Russia is today unquestionably the dominant player in the Syrian crisis, the most significant international conflict of our time.”
“Based on the frequency with which Middle Eastern leaders are trekking to Moscow rather than Washington for consultations, it’s an assessment that could increasingly apply beyond Syria to the broader region as well,” Hannah added.
For Waddell, bureaucrats desperately need to reform the stale weapons and gear acquisition system, launch a Marine Corps audit to identify unnecessary duplication of effort among contractors and give more competitive pay to highly talented Marines, among other reform suggestions offered.
With these reforms, the supporting establishment have a chance of getting back on track, Waddell said.
“Our supporting establishment’s leaders should execute aggressive and invasive leadership throughout their organizations to ensure the same fighting spirit we find in our forward deployed Marines exists in the hallways of the Pentagon and in Quantico,” Waddell said.
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