President Donald Trump should beware of his military advisors—especially retired Marine Corps General and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and U.S. Army officer and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. They are advising him to that persist in pointless, unwinnable, and budget-breaking wars to advance the parochial interests of the military-industrial complex against which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned. Following their advice will cripple or destroy Mr. Trump’s presidency
The military mind is schooled in the art of killing, i.e., annihilating the enemy, simpliciter. Thus, Secretary of Defense Mattis remarked on CBS’ Face the Nation last May that he would pursue “annihilation tactics” to destroy the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Yet he readily conceded he could discern no light at the end of the tunnel. The war to annihilate ISIS could endure for decades or more—longer than World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined!
In his book ''Mission with Le May,'' published in 1965, United States Air Force General Curtis Le May wrote of the North Vietnamese, ''My solution to the problem would be to tell them frankly that they've got to draw in their horns and stop their aggression or we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Ages.'' The United States proceeded to drop more bombs on Vietnam than on all of our World War II enemies combined. But we lost. On January 3, 1972, President Ricard M. Nixon wrote the following note to national security advisor Henry Kissinger: “K. We have had 10 years of total control of the air in Laos and V.Nam. The result = Zilch. There is something wrong with the strategy of the Air Force.”
On November 21, 1967, General William Westmoreland declared in a National Press Club speech that he could see “light at the end of the tunnel” in the Vietnam War; and, that victory “lies within our grasp.” Two months later came the 1968 North Vietnamese-Viet Cong Tet Offensive and the dispelling of General Westmoreland’s grand illusion. He nevertheless sought an additional 206,000 troops—a 40 percent increase—to prolong a failed strategy.
National security advisor McMaster fatuously asserts in his book Dereliction of Duty that the Vietnam War “was lost in Washington, D.C., even before Americans assumed sole responsibility for the fighting in 1965 and before they realized the country was at war; indeed, even before the first American units were deployed.” In truth, the war was first lost at the Paris Peace Conference by President Woodrow Wilson in refusing to meet with Ho Chi Minh pleading for Vietnamese self-determination from French colonial rule in accord with Wilson’s Fourteen Points. The following statistics speak volumes. The number of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong military personnel who gave their lives for self-determination in the Vietnam War approximated 1.1 million. The number of United States military personnel who gave their lives to defeat Vietnamese nationalism was 58,220.
General Douglas MacArthur was clueless about war in all its complex moods and tenses in Korea. On October 15, 1950, he assured President Truman that China would never enter the Korean war as his forces approached the Yalu River border. He was off by 1.5 million Chinese soldiers. General MacArthur also insisted that nuclear war would be the answer to the Korean conflict. In an interview with Jim G. Lucas and Bob Considine on 25 January 1954, posthumously published in 1964, MacArthur elaborated:
“Of all the campaigns of my life, 20 major ones to be exact, [Korea was] the one I felt most sure of was the one I was deprived of waging. I could have won the war in Korea in a maximum of 10 days.... I would have dropped between 30 and 50 atomic bombs on his air bases and other depots strung across the neck of Manchuria.... It was my plan as our amphibious forces moved south to spread behind us—from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea—a belt of radioactive cobalt. It could have been spread from wagons, carts, trucks and planes.... For at least 60 years there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the north. The enemy could not have marched across that radiated belt."
Retired Admiral John Kirby commented last month, “You cannot kill your way out of a terrorism problem.” But military expertise lies only in killing. Generals and admirals are unschooled in the histories of foreign countries, political cultures, constitutions, separation of powers, due process and a general theory of man required to end conflicts on terms and conditions optimal for the United States.
Last month before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary Mattis conceded that despite 16 years of fighting and hemorrhaging trillions of dollars, “We are not winning in Afghanistan right now.” In other words, the retired Marine Corps General knows no more about winning the Afghan war than General Westmoreland knew about winning the Vietnam War.
In sum, Mr. Trump will pay a steep political price if fails to treat advice from his military advisors cum granis saltus.