Salvo 02.06.2024 6 minutes

Draining the Pentagon Swamp

US Pentagon at sunset

Restoring pride in the military will require a massive effort.

Time to wipe the slate clean. 

The American military needs to be brought to heel; it is time for our generals with their chests full of unearned medals to remember their place in the constitutional order. 

The president alone is the commander-in-chief—not the secretary of defense, not Congress, and certainly not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The revelation that Mark Milley usurped the Constitution by seizing control of the nation’s nuclear weapons after the 2020 election shows just how defiant and mutinous the military establishment has become.

To make matters worse, public interest groups and lawmakers are busily working behind the scenes to put pressure on the military to defy orders in a potential second Trump Administration. This internal opposition from both the military and intelligence agencies combines with what global elites are already plotting at Davos and elsewhere, to say nothing of foreign adversaries like Communist China and Iran, which are all preparing to undermine the next Trump Administration and, by extension, America’s power and influence on the world stage.

The need for a patriotic military, one that is steadfastly devoted to the principles of America First and actively supports, rather than subverts, the office of the commander-in-chief, is greater than it has ever been. The institutional rot, however, will not be fixed without dramatic reforms, given that the military has been afflicted by the same maladies that have afflicted society in general.

First, there is the problem of systematic financial corruption. The Fat Leonard scandal stretched all the way to the highest levels of the U.S. Navy, including senior leaders within NCIS, the entity responsible for prosecuting bribery and corruption. The recent case of Janet Yamanaka Mello, a civilian contractor who was able to bilk $100 million from the Army over the span of seven years, shows that the Pentagon desperately needs additional oversight.

Second, there is the problem of insufferable wokeness. Unable to win wars abroad or take care of its affairs at home, America’s military has turned to embracing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The Pentagon has waded into the culture wars on the side of the radical Left, pouring money and resources into virtue signaling its dedication to woke causes. 

This turn is pervasive throughout the senior ranks. In 2022, an Army colonel was caught posting photos of himself in “pup play” fetish gear and having homosexual relations with subordinates. This is not only perverted; it is against regulations. At the same time, there has been a flood of officers coming out as transgender across the services, including a suicidal major who was featured by Army Public Affairs. 

There is also, of course, the case of Rachel Levine, the four-star officer in charge of the nation’s Uniformed Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Levine, a medical doctor, was born a man, married a woman, had children, and then decided at the age of 54 to present himself to the world as a fully-paid up woman. Admiral Levine has become the official face of the Democratic Party’s commitment to elevating and celebrating trans identity.

This commitment to wokeness, the failures of America’s decades-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the strict COVID vaccine mandate have suppressed recruiting. But the military’s anti-white rhetoric—spotlighted when General Mark Milley testified about his desire to understand the roots of “white rage”—has had a real and devastating effect. In 2018, the Army recruited 44,000 whites into the service. In 2023, the number of new white recruits had fallen to just 25,000, a nearly 45 percent drop over five years.

Considering that the vast majority of American combat veterans in our history—over 95 percent—have been white men, it should deeply concern our leadership class that this demographic is turning away from military service.

Considering the remarkable and numerous crises that have gripped our military for the last two decades and beyond, it is time for a decisive shift in policy and strategy. 

Donald Trump should stay away from hiring military insiders to positions of prominence. Broadly speaking, anyone who has reached the rank of general has been fully institutionalized. These generals have been promoted because they are loyal to the bureaucracy—not to the American republic. 

Defense contractors are out for the same reason. These mercenary types seek only to line their own pockets. Many have enriched themselves on our disastrous wars in the Middle East and cannot be trusted to do what is necessary to get our military back on track. 

It is also important to exclude foreign policy experts from deep within the establishment. The longer their career, the less trustworthy they are. This clique has engaged Americans in multiple conflicts having little to do with national self-defense. Anyone with any kind of affiliation with Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, for instance, should be automatically disqualified from giving advice on American foreign policy. The same goes for anyone who has been close to Fred or Robert Kagan or their wives, Kimberly Kagan and Victoria Nuland, the four of whom have exercised undue influence on American foreign policy for the last quarter century.

At the highest foreign policy and strategic level, America needs to reverse course on our interventionist stance abroad. We need to get out of Ukraine and establish normal relations with the Russian regime. America does not need bases abutting Russia in Eastern Europe. Ukraine has no business being in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Biden and NATO functionaries who have fueled the war in Ukraine have the blood of hundreds of thousands on their hands.

NATO, to be blunt, has no reason to exist. The Soviet Union has been gone for 35 years. Putin, while many things, is no communist, nor is he a significant threat to American interests. Peaceful diplomacy through negotiation, not brutal war, is the answer. A simple American and NATO commitment to stay out of Ukraine would have saved enormous quantities of blood and treasure. 

At the strategic and tactical level, America needs to reduce unnecessary bloat in the armed forces. We can save the taxpayers billions of dollars by reducing the military to a more manageable peacetime size and shutting down unnecessary bases abroad. America has no need to stage troops at Incirlik in Turkey, for instance. 

Instead of focusing on distant threats on the Asian landmass, the United States should focus its resources on sharply reducing illegal immigration across our southern border. The U.S.-Mexico border should be militarized. Troops should be deployed along the border and all necessary funds directed to constructing the rest of the border wall. Every military aged male who illegally crosses our borders is a violent felon, and potential domestic terrorist threat. These individuals can be treated as unlawful combatants and partisans who have waived all the rights of the Geneva Convention that apply to uniformed combatants. The government under Trump therefore will have full discretion to use military tribunals to punish drug dealers and human traffickers who cross our borders. 

The flow of fentanyl into America is a form of chemical warfare that kills a hundred thousand Americans per year and should be treated as such. One way to reduce this flow of chemical weapons into our country is to raise the stakes of trafficking. The cartels hide behind our laws and abuse them, but the president has the unilateral power to sharply reduce this crisis.

Moreover, laws that punish employers for hiring illegals and sharp crackdowns on document forgery would also cause a significant portion of our already existing population of 30 million to 45 million illegals to self-deport.

Donald Trump will face enormous pushback within the military and defense bureaucracy in response to his attempts to enforce the law and American sovereignty in his second term. Upon re-election Trump should utilize the executive removal power on a sweeping basis, which includes Schedule F reform to make all administrative offices fireable on the president’s orders. As chief executive, he should have the power to remove any lower officers and executive personnel.

No bureaucrat, from generals on down, has any right to a federal office. Through their representatives, the voters—not the D.C. blob—sets policy in a democracy. 

By appointing the right subordinates, directing the Pentagon away from intervention abroad to actual national defense, and excising misbehaving bureaucrats, Donald Trump can restore the American military establishment to its former glory. 

It is time to make America, and our military, great again.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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