Peace through strength
Mingling with the masters of the military-industrial complex.
HOBNOBBING WITH THE NATIONAL SECURITY ELITE at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California. I find myself drinking a beer next to the Director of the National Security Agency and constantly saying excuse me after bumping into defense contractors.
I spot Senator Lindsey Graham and text my wife that he’s two feet away. Strangely, an alert hits my phone from Google Photos, reminding me where I was exactly 18 years earlier: loading up the Humvee before another patrol in Afghanistan. In the frame, Doc P. and G. are hunkered down in the back of a thin-skinned truck before we head outside the wire into the mountain snow.
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I take a selfie. Now out of camouflage and unblemished by the windblown dust of Khost Province, I’m wearing a suit jacket and tie as I mingle with the masters of the military-industrial complex.
It’s easy to spot the generals and admirals, always followed by six or seven people as they walk past. Aides of generals, aides of aides, uniformed drivers, and people holding papers of vital national interest. Marines and soldiers in uniform. Marines and soldiers in suits. Sailors of the Year flown in from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Junior ROTC guards holding the door open while saying, “good evening, sir.” Air Force officers looking at me suspiciously. Civilian public relations types and think tankers. Karl Rove. And was that a Space Force guy?
We are gathered here to close out 2022 and talk about the trials and tribulations of the national security establishment. The humiliating U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 punched a hole through the heart of the military and veteran world. At the top, perhaps a brief period of soul-searching occurred: What does the United States do now? What is our role in the world? Do we look inward and become more isolated?
Those questions will persist. But Feb. 24, 2022, largely ended such debate for most people in this room, now sipping whiskey and wine underneath the plane that spirited President Ronald Reagan around the world to bring a message of peace through strength. Russia’s rapid blitzkrieg into Ukraine earlier this year has morphed into a modern-day version of the Soviet nightmare in Afghanistan. And the defense establishment of the western world once again sees triumph over Moscow on the horizon.
Next year? A couple of years from now? It’s hard to say. But there is one thing everyone knows: The Russians hope this war ends soon so they can go home. The Ukrainians hope this war ends soon because they are home.
Here in the California hills, it’s obvious what needs to be done for those on the frontlines 6,000 miles away: Kyiv needs more guns. More ammo. Air defenses. Advanced drones. Specifically, Gray Eagles. Send them Gray Eagles, one senator urges repeatedly. Faster. The spring counteroffensive is coming. Ukraine needs anything and everything the west can give.
“Ukraine is spending the money really well,” says Congressman Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “That’s why they are winning.”
Meanwhile, the American defense industrial base struggles to keep up with demand. One executive warns that we’ve burned through five years of our Javelin stockpile and 13 years of Stinger missiles. Thirteen. Russia, fortunately, has burned through much of its own stocks.
“Certainly, we all would like to have greater stockpiles than we had in the last several years,” says Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, noting efforts within NATO to encourage European partners to up their capacity for making bullets, bombs, and missiles. “We shouldn’t have to do this by ourselves.”
For some reason, Wormuth dodges when a reporter asks whether the U.S. wants Ukraine to win. It’s quite obvious that most western officials would love that. Why else are they providing Kyiv with billions of dollars in weapons and training? I imagine her saying, of course, we want Ukraine to beat Russia! We’ve been working on that ever since Moscow sent “little green men” into the country in 2014 and seized Crimea and the Donbas in gross violation of international law.
Instead, Wormuth says this:
“I think what the U.S. wants to do is to put the Ukrainians in the strongest possible position to be able to defend their sovereignty and be able to engage with the Russians from a position of strength…”
“Given what is at stake in Ukraine, not just for the Ukrainians but for NATO and for the entire free world, it’s in our interests to give them what they need to defend their territory and push the Russians out.”
And so the fight continues; Ukrainian defenders seize and hold land daily. Crimea is next in their sights.
What is China learning from this? Have a better plan for seizing Taiwan than the morons in Moscow, obviously. Should we worry about Beijing making a move? No, says Senator Joni Ernst. “We should be pounding the hell out of the Russians. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Ukraine’s mastery of the information and messaging space is being closely studied. And in Russia’s missiles and drones attacking civilian infrastructure, we can also discern a message: This is how Russia influences the populations it wishes to keep under its heel. The suicide drones and long-range missiles inflict physical damage and terror, but of far greater concern here is Moscow’s goal to break western will. The Ukrainians hold fast. Will their backers in the western world continue to do the same?
“This is no time to hold back on our resources or our resolve…” says Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “Let’s be clear: We will not be dragged into Putin's war. But we will stand with Ukraine as it fights to defend its citizens and its sovereignty. And we will stand strong with our NATO allies. And we will defend every inch of NATO territory.”
He pauses for a beat, and the room thunders with applause.
The US is considering a “dramatic expansion” of training for Ukrainian forces. As many as 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers a month can potentially be trained at a U.S. base in Germany on infantry maneuvers and artillery support. The training plan is currently under interagency review.
Northrup Grumman publicly revealed its B-21 Raider, the first new bomber fielded by the U.S. in 30 years. Built to replace the B-2 Spirit, the Raider is a stealth, long-range strategic bomber that can slip into enemy territory undetected to deliver conventional or nuclear weapons.
"It won't need to be based in-theater. It won't need logistical support to hold any target at risk," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the unveiling. “Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft. Even the most sophisticated air-defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky."
In other news, we're minus one Marine Corps F-35B in Japan for the time being.
Iranian assassination and kidnapping plots are raising alarms among western officials. Tehran has stepped up such efforts to target former American government officials and dissidents by “offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to jewel thieves, drug dealers and other criminals in murder-for-hire schemes,” officials told The Washington Post.
“I’m still shocked that the Islamic Republic has tried on two occasions to eliminate me, an American citizen, on U.S. soil. And not paid a price,” says Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, who lives in New York City.
“Evidently, no country in NATO, other than the US, has sufficient initial weapons stocks for warfighting or the industrial capacity to sustain large-scale operations,” according to RUSI analysts sharing lessons learned from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “This must be rectified if deterrence is to be credible and is equally a problem for the RAF and Royal Navy.”
Defense Secretary Austin has established the Office of Strategic Capital, essentially a Pentagon version of a venture capital firm, to invest in companies working on advanced technology vital to national security. “While existing offices rely on grants and contracts to deploy capital, OSC is investigating the use of non-acquisition-based tools, such as loans and loan guarantees,” the Pentagon says.
Two Navy ships recently played a game of warship chicken in San Diego Bay. Live-streaming video caught the USS Momsen and USS Harpers Ferry “headed straight toward each other before each ship turns left.” This was way too damn close.
The Defense Intelligence Agency wants to “take the lessons learned from the Russia-Ukraine crisis, particularly as it...relates to indications and warning, and apply that to China, China-Taiwan- type scenarios,” says a top official. “This is a warning problem of our lifetime.”
Poland has taken in the highest number of Ukrainian refugees of any European nation, with nearly 1.5 million people taken in. Germany has sheltered more than a million Ukrainians, according to CRS.
“Although many of the refugees have been welcomed, the willingness and capacity of European countries to host Ukrainian refugees over the long term is unclear.”
Edward Snowden has sworn allegiance to Russia and received a passport, according to his lawyer. Many assumed he had sworn an oath to Russia over a decade ago, but it’s nice to see that it’s now official.
"The former Director of Operations of the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) Office in Busan, South Korea, was sentenced today to five years in prison for his role in a bribery conspiracy and lying to federal investigators,” the Justice Department said on Dec. 2.
Xavier Monroy “used his position of influence as a public official…by steering over $3.3 million in husbanding services contracts for U.S. military ships to DK Marine,” a South Korea-based company that services and supplies ships.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is not so low-key urging Putin to negotiate and shut up about nukes. “Solving the Ukraine crisis through political means is in the best interest of Europe and the common interest of all countries in Eurasia,” Xi said after meeting European Council President Charles Michel in Beijing. He added that “it is necessary to avoid escalation and expansion of the crisis.”
“Thanks to a Ukrainian in occupied Kherson, we now know how Russian occupiers are using Telegram to surveil Ukrainians—and how dangerous its design flaws are,” writes Matt Tait, a former GCHQ information security specialist at:
“If you take away just one thing from this post, let it be this: Telegram is not safe to use as a chat or call app. It nearly cost Ihor his life. Ukrainians—and frankly everyone else too—should find another encrypted application for chats and calls. A good choice would be something like WhatsApp, but Apple’s iMessage or Signal are also good choices if your contacts are also using those.”
FBI Director Chris Wray is worried about China’s ability to control the TikTok recommendation algorithm, “which allows them to manipulate content, and if they want to, to use it for influence operations,” Wray said.
“All of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn’t share our values, and that has a mission that’s very much at odds with what’s in the best interests of the United States. That should concern us,” Wray said on Dec. 3.
According to a new WSJ report, negotiations between TikTok and the U.S. government have again been delayed.
The Army’s “Be All You Can Be” slogan is making a comeback. The familiar phrase from recruiting commercials of the 1980s and 1990s won out during audience testing and research of about 200 different taglines, according to Gen. Alex Fink, the Army’s chief of enterprise marketing.
“We're trying to establish a brand refresh that's going to last for a long time,” Fink said. “If we do this well, we think this could last for 15 to 20 years or more.”
Let’s hope so. The Army missed its recruiting goal by 15,000 soldiers in FY2022.
Meanwhile, the Navy will bring in sailors who score as little as 10 points on a 99 scale for the military entrance test. “Great,” was how one sailor responded to the news in a Navy Facebook group. “More fucking idiots to piss me off.”
Two Russian airbases far from the frontlines were attacked on Monday. Ukraine did not claim responsibility, but Moscow says long-range Ukrainian drones damaged at least two warplanes in the attack. Moscow responded with a mass strike against Ukraine with air and sea-launched missiles.
According to The Guardian: “If confirmed as a Ukrainian operation, the strike on the Engels airbase would be the most daring attack behind Russian lines to date. The airbase is a crucial site for Russian air force operations against Ukraine and for the country’s strategic nuclear forces. It has a nuclear weapons storage bunker with warheads that can be deployed on Russia’s long-range strategic bombers.”
Retired Australian Army General Mick Ryan has a great writeup inon what conclusions to draw.
"The first implication is that Ukraine clearly now has ability to undertake targeting at very long distances...This doesn’t mean at all that Ukraine is going to attack Moscow. But it will cause some sleepless nights in the capital."
“It is not, as some are sure to claim, an escalation. But it is a necessary political and military measure for Ukraine to limit the humanitarian harm of Russia’s brutal drone and missile attacks.”
The US and Australia are expanding military ties, notably increasing the "rotational presence of U.S. forces in Australia," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says. "That includes rotations of bomber task forces, fighters and future rotations of U.S. Navy and U.S. Army capabilities."
US Central Command says an Iranian patrol boat "attempted to blind the bridge" of a Navy warship in the Strait of Hormuz on Dec. 5 "by shining a spotlight.” The boat also “crossed within 150 yards” of the USS Lewis B. Puller and USS The Sullivans, which was “dangerously close, particularly at night.”
And finally, these are the 4,408 glorious pages we’ve all been waiting for: The House and Senate text of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2023 is hot off the presses.
“The $858 billion plan — which includes roughly $817 billion in Defense Department spending — also includes billions of dollars in additional funding to help the Pentagon cope with inflation and continue certain programs that the Biden administration had sought to cancel. The latest version of the bill comes as the U.S. aims to bolster critical munitions production and lessen the defense supply chain’s reliance on China,” writes Defense News, noting the bill could be signed into law before the end of the month and would increase the military budget by 8%.
You’re all caught up. On a supremely awesome personal note, I recently talked about military conspiracy theories on the podcast of comedian Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show. I hope you’ll check it out.
See you next week!
“I take a selfie. Now out of camouflage and unblemished by the windblown dust of Khost Province, I’m wearing a suit jacket and tie as I mingle with the masters of the military-industrial complex.”
What a beautiful and jarring paragraph. It reminds me of Matt Farwell’s AUSA essay.