Trump’s Defense Picks Are Already at War… With Each Other

President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense-designate, Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis, and his National Security Adviser appointment, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, don’t like each other. (Takes seat, grabs popcorn, sits back to enjoy the show…)


It’s another kind of fight, one that also gets the halls of the Pentagon buzzing.

It’s playing out in the pages of The Washington Post, that old broadsheet where inside-the-Beltway power struggles both ignite and fester.

And if you listen carefully, it’s going to color the confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, retired Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis.

Meanwhile, did you know that the Department of Defense (DoD), on behalf of us taxpayers, is about to embark on a $128 billion upgrade of our nuclear submarine fleet?

Sordid things like political turf wars excite the political press, particularly those who ply their trade in Washington, D.C.

Consequential stuff like multibillion-dollar weapons procurement processes usually plays out in trade publications such as Breaking Defense.

It’s easier to cover turf wars than policy disputes — and it sells more newspapers and/or premium subscriptions to online content.

It’s another kind of fight, one that also gets the halls of the Pentagon buzzing.

For all this talk of “fake news” disseminated via social media sites such as Facebook, it’s the “professionals” on serious beats who manage to muck up the rhythms of democracy more so than transparently manufactured propaganda, be it cooked up by Russian spies or creative sh*t-stirrers.

The former actually take themselves seriously, and we used to as well — at least to some extent.

That was until the soap opera became more compelling editorial content than the serious business of responsible governance (yes, I appreciate the oxymoron potential here) and getting and maintaining “access” trumped investigating and reporting “information.”

At the same time, while the Post’s January 6 story led with the emerging conflict between Gen. Mattis and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s incoming National Security Adviser, the deeper read reveals serious disagreements about who’ll play key supporting roles in the Pentagon.

And those disagreements could very well affect every American.

The Mattis-Flynn conflict is about controlling the appointments of DoD undersecretaries, including who will run defense intelligence operations.

Intelligence (or lack thereof) and who controlled (or manipulated) it was the elixir that conjured the second Persian Gulf War.

We’re still coping with the consequences of that disaster, some of us who lost loved ones or still have family members deployed in the theater more acutely than others.

Look, we like to be titillated by drama, especially in high places such as the Pentagon.

And I have to admit: I shared that story with buddies of mine who are currently on active duty or retired but now working for DoD contractors, seeking comments and/or insights.

That’s how I know tongues were wagging late last week inside the five-sided fortress on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

The Mattis-Flynn conflict is about controlling the appointments of DoD undersecretaries, including who will run defense intelligence operations.

But what about that $128 billion sub program?

As Breaking Defense reports:

Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall just approved the Navy’s top-priority program, the Columbia-class nuclear missile submarine, to start detailed design work and engineering. Known in Pentagonese as a Milestone B decision, Undersecretary Kendall’s OK lets the Navy spend the $773 million Congress voted for the program in last month’s Continuing Resolution. The projected procurement cost is $96 billion for 12 submarines; the cost of the whole program, including R&D, is $128 billion.

Although the raw numbers are high, and there are the ever-present challenges of staying on budget and staying on schedule, Breaking Defense describes what’s actually an innovative approach to a major defense procurement that may actually result in cost efficiencies, rather than overruns.

And it’s in support of a legitimately critical effort to replace the Navy’s 14 Ohio-class submarines.

While we’re on the topic of Russia and its global dealings, both covert and overt, shouldn’t we be more concerned about its growing nuclear arsenal than its computer hackers?

This is one of the threats the Columbia-class subs will address.

Here’s Terrell Jermaine Starr of Foxtrot Alpha:

Just a few weeks ago, Russia tested a nuclear-capable drone submarine that could be used against U.S. bases and ports. “Kanyon,” the Pentagon’s code name for the drone, will reportedly carry megaton-class warheads, the largest nukes in existence. And while it’s not exactly a new idea, Russia looks to be plowing ahead with it.

The drone program, catchily enough, is called “Ocean Multipurpose System ‘Status-6.'”

Mark Schneider, a senior analyst with the National Institute for Public Policy, told The Washington Free Beacon that Status-6 is designed to kill civilians by massive blast and that such a weapon violates laws of armed conflict.

“The Status-6, a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed drone submarine, is the most irresponsible nuclear weapons program that Putin’s Russia has come up with,” he said.

Also important to keep in mind is that, as the Brookings Institute reported earlier this year, Russia is “procuring eight Borei-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), and is halfway through a 10-year program to build 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).”

So it looks like we’re heading for a new, 20th-century style, U.S.-Russia nuclear arms race.

While we’re on the topic of Russia and its global dealings both covert and overt, shouldn’t we be more concerned about its growing nuclear arsenal than its computer hackers?

Finally, what kind of cool tech will our military be using in the very near future?

As IEEE Spectrum’s Amy Nordrum reports, DoD is also living in the 21st century:

Every year, the U.S. Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office puts out a “Broad Agency Announcement” that describes technologies that it wishes it could purchase, but which don’t yet exist. It’s a sort of to-do list for technologists and engineers, and it can turbocharge research in these areas.

The agency issued its latest draft in November, and it includes some doozies. Among the items described are a wireless recharging station for drones in flight, a low-power mini-spy camera that can be worn on the body, and a portable scanner that can find tunnel entrances under a floor or behind walls.

None of these technologies are easy to create, and that’s the point. “I think it is very challenging and that’s usually what the BAAs are geared for,” says Albert Titus, a biomedical engineer at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “When you read them the first time, it’s kind of, ‘Oh, my, my.'”

As a whole, the list speaks to the tech priorities of a U.S. military faced with new demands in both its counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts, says Dylan Lee Lehrke, senior analyst with IHS Jane’s. Today’s military officials want to gather as much intelligence as possible through technology, to reduce their use of force and target it more efficiently.

The goal is to create tech that acts as a “force multiplier, providing information that enables a limited number of forces to maintain situational awareness in large complex environments and allows them to act with precision,” according to Dylan Lee Lehrke, a senior analyst with IHS Jane’s.

As for the inside-the-Beltway mishegas, Mattis is going to be approved by the Senate.

He has solid support on Capitol Hill because he actually wants to populate the Pentagon with competent pros, whether or not they flew the “Never Trump” banner during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The key question is Flynn’s attempt to undermine the U.S. Intelligence Community and whether Trump continues to embolden him.

It’ll be a fascinating story.

But it may also have tragic consequences.


Get Smart

Shane Parrish of Farnam Street has a nice piece on leadership and society by way of a dual review of The Logic of Political Survival and its “CliffsNotes” version, The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics.

That latter book was written by two of the former’s four authors to simplify concepts and make a more readable volume of them.

It’s not so much the authors’ conclusions that enlighten; it’s the way they describe how leaders cultivate different power centers.

As Parrish writes, “Their idea is that governance — public or corporate — is driven by the self-interested effort of leaders to acquire and keep their power.

“Under this lens, all policy decisions are a play for the loyalty of key backers, whether it’s the inner circle in a dictatorship or a whole populace in a democracy.”

The relative size of three groups — the interchangeable “Nominal Selectorate,” the influential “Real Selectorate,” and the essential “Winning Coalition” — determine how a leader holds power.

According to The Dictator’s Handbook, “Our starting point is the realization that any leader worth her salt wants as much power as she can get, and to keep it for as long as possible. Managing the interchangeables, influentials, and essentials to that end is the act, art, and science of governing.”

Observes Parrish:

Much of political theory has focused on what justice and civic virtue looks like, without much evidence of the way things really work. But to change the world for the better, it is not enough to take a philosophical position. Wishful thinking has never been a wise starting point.

De Mesquita and Smith conclude that leaders shouldn’t be taken at face value on their motives.

Smart Investing,

David Dittman
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily

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