There are times in history, where there is a roll call. Col. John Boyd noted, “That’s when you have to make a decision: to be or to do.” With sequestration threatening to leverage the full trillion in cuts against our increasingly papered tiger, the dissenting brass must recognize this roll call. Not every fight is at arms in the field, some are quiet battles at home whose only answer is a sacrifice of power.
Those who say that sequestration “won’t happen” and “isn’t a threat” are wrong. Like FDR’s preparations for the oncoming war, the Navy’s preparations indicate the worst. From cutting 3rd/4th quarter ship and aircraft maintenance to reducing the Persian Gulf carrier presence to one, in order to survive, the navy must put itself in more danger than any terrorist threat has. A candidate for SecDef has been nominated who thinks the DoD is still bloated after the first 500 billion dollars in cuts. While the defense department prepares for a second 500 billion in cuts, the debt ceiling deal spent 60% of the savings on the first round for pork projects. Meanwhile, the military is asked to support increased global drone operations, defend from two nations whose entire military is designed to counter the US way of war, and pivot towards Asia. Of course, the Middle East has a firm grip on that pivot-foot. The strategic policy is sound, but the whole-sale undermining of the force meant to do it is unconscionable.
The situation is a strategic-level version of the F-22 debacle. Superficially, the F-22 looked like the most deadly fighter in human history. In reality, the F-22 had a deep systemic flaw that eventually caused pilots to black out, putting their lives and the aircraft they were flying in danger. The problem was largely white-washed until Maj. Jeremy Gordon and Capt. Joshua Wilson took the message to the public. The pressure from civilian authority forced the Air Force to unwillingly face their problems and limit the operations of the F-22. The US Defense Establishment is that F-22; the pilot is breathing from a bad oxygen system and will black out unless something is done. Navy leadership has already attempted the route of the F-22 whistleblowers. ADM Gortney and VADM Copeman have discussed the hollowing of the force at length. Lt. Gen. James Kowalski has lamented the dangerous decrease in proficiency in what many recognize as an already aging airforce. Recently, Secretary Panetta has come out swinging, stating clearly that sequestration will make the US a “second rate power.” These are calls coming from the only branch of government to quietly accept not only the burden of America’s wars, but the lion’s share of her war on the debt. If these calls continue to fall upon deaf ears, like-minded leadership must accept the full burden of their command.
Resignation is the only option for strategic-level leadership that truly disagrees with sequestration; the time has come for a new Revolt of the Admirals. In 1949, the Navy faced another form of sequestration, in which the airforce would drain the expeditionary power of the military into a practically all-nuclear defense strategy. The cancellation of America’s first supercarrier, the USS UNITED STATES, was seen as a signal that America’s defense policy would entire Lemay-style nightmare. Left with only the option of massive nuclear-retaliation, defense policy would lose balance and the oath to defend the constitution become a paranoid atomic nightmare. In response, the Secretary of the Navy and a series of compatriot admirals resigned in protest. Eventually, this resulted in the partial refunding of carriers and the restoration of balance to defense thinking. Those who no longer feel able to execute their oath to defense the constitution cannot in good conscience remain in office.
This is not a slippery slope in which every officer can throw down his mantle. On the tactical and operational level, officers are asked to accomplish concrete tasks with their assets that are easier to assess. If one is ordered to take off in a jet without fuel, one merely does not take off. It is the job of the operational leadership to make do, to innovate, and to work around the limitations put in front of them to answer the call. It is the job of the high command to make sure those operations can culminate into that strategic thrust. When one is asked to deter Iran and secure the freedom of the seas in the gulf with a single carrier that is in the crosshairs of every coastal battery on the Iranian coast, there is no concrete way to show that is not being done and no physical limitation that can be noted as the cause for something so conceptual. When civilian authority habitually ignores the “bridge out” signs, resignation is the only way to show that the strategic-level tasking is untenable.
To resign is the ultimate recognition of civilian authority and the oath of office. To use one’s position to actively fight civilian authority, as General MacArthur did during Korea or RADM Gallery did during the Admiral’s Revolt is an appalling breach of the civilian trust. Those who would remain in office despite knowing the terrifying impact of sequestration should well remember, “I was just following orders,” is never an excuse. They cannot in good conscience lend the dignity of their office or their good word to such a program.
The roll call is not an easy burden of command. Leadership is no doubt heady, an intoxicating aroma that convinces many detractors that they can hold the line against sequestration with innovation, pragmatism, and wise words. The continued use of defense cuts to cover overheating civilian spending indicates otherwise. To defend the nation’s ability to defend itself, the roll call must be answered. To bear that burden of command, those who truly fear sequestration must take off the uniform they love; they must submit to civilian authority’s right to rob them of his ability to fulfill his oath. They must stop being; they must do.
LT Trautman/ Illegitimi non carborundum / LT Potemkin is an anonymous junior officer in the SWO community.