Sometimes, calling the five-sided Pentagon the “puzzle palace” makes perfect sense. Though the name purports to describe the maze of hallways that traverses the Department of Defense, on occasion the tag explains the state of military decision-making.
The Defense Department has its own year in review, which is all happy-face.
Here’s my retrospective — six examples from the last twelve months that make one wonder if those providing for the common defense are using common sense.
#6. Arming the “Moderate” Syrian Opposition
This has looked like a Keystone Kops short from day one. The Defense Department estimated training about 60 fighters at a cost of about $10 million per fighter. In October, the Pentagon announced it was suspending the program. “I was not satisfied with the early efforts,” declared Defense Secretary Ash Carter — this might rank as the understatement of the year. Since everything was going so well, Obama signed a bill in November authorizing $800 million for training rebels next year.
#5. Crash Diet in Afghanistan
Remember all those ads on how to lose weight without diet or exercise? That’s what U.S. defense policy sounds like sometimes, particularly in Afghanistan where the administration has shorted the size of the force again and again, and promised everything would be cool. In October, the president reversed his decision to bring the troop levels to zero by the end of the year. But while something is better than nothing, the brutal facts are that the future of the country is now in jeopardy. There are even new al Qaeda training camps popping up in the country.
#4. Death on the Homefront
In July, five U.S. service members were killed in a terrorist attack on a recruiting station in Tennessee. While the deaths themselves were tragic enough, the incident raised legitimate questions over whether the U.S. military was taking appropriate measures to protect the force at home, including permitting service members to bring personal firearms to work and be armed on duty.
#3. Going SOF in the Middle East
Maybe the boys in the Pentagon watched The Green Berets (1968) once too often. Or maybe tactics are being dictated from the White House. Either way, the decision to pour more Special Operations Forces (SOF) into the conflict in Syria and Iraq seemed more like an attempt to just do something rather than a strategy that will actually accomplish something. The recent gain by the Iraqi military in taking Ramadi is, of course, good news. But Ramadi is not Gettysburg. There is a lot of fighting left and it’s way too soon to be sure if 2016 will see a decline in ISIS equal to the terrorist group’s dramatic rise in 2015.
#2. Cooking the Books on Intelligence
Remember all the angst over claims about manufacturing intelligence to justify the Iraq war? The story even made a hit movie. Well, where is the anger now? According to the Washington Post, there is an “expanding internal Pentagon investigation of Centcom, as Central Command is known, where analysts say that supervisors revised conclusions to mask some of the American military’s failures in training Iraqi troops and beating back the Islamic State. The analysts say supervisors were particularly eager to paint a more optimistic picture of America’s role in the conflict than was warranted.”
#1. The Pentagon Tries to Poison the World
In a very bad old movie, a general tries to intentionally contaminate the planet with a deadly disease. In a case of life imitating art, America’s modern military generals inadvertently tried the same tactic. Earlier this year, the Army acknowledged it had accidentally been shipping live anthrax to facilities worldwide. In response, a Defense Department official said the Pentagon would look into “what steps should be taken to fix those problems…” Great idea.
This list is not intended to denigrate the service and sacrifice of the millions of men and women who watch over America every day at home and abroad, with a passion to protect us.
The U.S. military rightly remains one of the most respected of American institutions — our armed forces are as professional as they come. But let’s be honest, over the last year, the stewardship of the service has had its share of missteps.
Beyond these pratfalls, there are serious concerns over whether our current armed forces are adequate for the tasks we have given them. That’s something that ought to be considered with great seriousness in 2016.