…in early March, Breedlove, who declined to comment for this article, told a group of Washington reporters that Russia had “upped the ante” in Ukraine with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense [units and] battalions of artillery.” The situation, Breedlove said, “is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”
The problem with the Breedlove report, according to a senior civilian Pentagon adviser, was that it wasn’t true. “I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about,” he told me. That comment echoed statements coming from Berlin, where advisers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel characterized Breedlove’s comments as “dangerous propaganda.”
And the difference between the present situation and the Civil War example below is profound — Russia isn’t attacking the US or any European country. But the US and many European countries view themselves as at war with and practically under siege from Russia. That pathological and rabid Western worldview is of extreme danger to the entire earth, due to the weapons of mass destruction they have at their fingertips, the powerful positions they hold, and the men and women under their command.
Top brass profess to be really worried about Putin. But a growing group of dissenters say they’re overreacting to get a bigger share of the defense budget.
By Mark Perry
May 12, 2016
During the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, a unit of Robert E. Lee’s army rolled up some artillery pieces and began shelling the headquarters of Union commander Ulysses S. Grant. When one of his officers pleaded that Grant move, insisting that he knew exactly what Lee was going to do, Grant, normally a taciturn man, lost his temper: “Oh, I am heartily tired of hearing about what Lee is going to do,” he said. “Some of you always seem to think he is going to turn a double somersault, and land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. Go back to your command and try to think what we are going to do ourselves, instead of what Lee is going to do.”
The story was recalled to me a few weeks ago by a senior Pentagon officer in citing the April 5 testimony of Army leaders before a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee. The panel delivered a grim warning about the future of the U.S. armed forces: Unless the Army budget was increased, allowing both for more men and more materiel, members of the panel said, the United States was in danger of being “outranged and outgunned” in the next war and, in particular, in a confrontation with Russia. Vladimir Putin’s military, the panel averred, had outstripped the U.S. in modern weapons capabilities. And the Army’s shrinking size meant that “the Army of the future will be too small to secure the nation.” It was a sobering assessment delivered by four of the most respected officers in the Army—including Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, his service’s leading intellectual. The claim is the prevailing view among senior Army officers, who fear that Army readiness and modernization programs are being weakened by successive cuts to the U.S. defense budget.
But not everyone was buying it.
“This is the ‘Chicken-Little, sky-is-falling’ set in the Army,” the senior Pentagon officer said. “These guys want us to believe the Russians are 10 feet tall. There’s a simpler explanation: The Army is looking for a purpose, and a bigger chunk of the budget. And the best way to get that is to paint the Russians as being able to land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. What a crock.”
The Army panel’s assessment of the Russian danger was reinforced by an article that appeared in these pages two days later. The article reported on an expansive study that McMaster has ordered to collect the lessons of Ukraine. It paraphrased Army leaders and military experts who warn the Russian-backed rebel army has been using “surprisingly lethal tanks” and artillery as well as “swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles” to run roughshod over Ukrainian nationalists. While the reporting about the Army study made headlines in the major media, a large number in the military’s influential retired community, including former senior Army officers, rolled their eyes.
“That’s news to me,” one of these highly respected officers told me. “Swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles? Surprisingly lethal tanks? How come this is the first we’ve heard of it?”
The fight over the Army panel’s testimony is the latest example of a deepening feud in the military community over how to respond to shrinking budget numbers. At issue is the military’s strategic future: Facing cuts, will the Army opt to modernize its weapons’ arsenal, or defer modernization in favor of increased numbers of soldiers? On April 5, the Army’s top brass made its choice clear: It wants to do both, and Russia’s the reason. But a growing chorus of military voices says that demand is both backward and dangerously close-minded—that those same senior military officers have not only failed to understand the lessons of Afghanistan and Iraq and embrace service reform, they are inflating foreign threats to win a bigger slice of the defense budget.