Kill the Department of Defense
[by Lynn C. Rees]
Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew bureaucracy: “You know, I’m a juggler, and I never let my right hand know what my left hand does.”
As in many aspects of FDR’s life, his wife’s uncle was a model. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, young hotshot Uncle Theodore proved chronically wearisome to his boss, veteran Massachusetts state Republican machine cog John Davis Long. When Long took a day off once, Uncle Theodore, liberated by the sudden vacuum of adult supervision, tried to start a war. Long countermanded Uncle Theodore’s orders but it was too late: Uncle Theodore had his war and it was splendid.
In 1913, to prevent regime uncertainty, newly elected Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) said, “Fine, you want a Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, I got your Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy right here.” Into the family sinecure went spunky 31 year old New York State Democratic Senator Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He immediately began his Long struggle against his boss, Raleigh, North Carolina News & Observer publisher Josephus Daniels. While Daniels focused on high-level issues like controlling every radio in America, FDR Uncle Theodored him by secretly lobbying Congress to build up U.S. naval strength to levels Daniels opposed. FDR even attempted to start his own splendid little war by mobilizing the U.S. Navy against unrestricted Hun submarine attacks in 1917.
Direct adult supervision in the schoolmarmish form of Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) thwarted him. There would be no Roosevelt family shenanigans on his watch: Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) sided with the Army and reintroduced conscription rather than let Uncle Theodore ride Rough Riders II to a second bid for a third term. He also kept FDR in the Navy Department and out of uniform to prevent his own Roosevelt from showboating. He couldn’t stop every FDR attempt to emulate Uncle Theodore: as Uncle Theodore was able to turn Rough Riders I into the Republican vice presidential nomination in 1900, twenty years later FDR turned his Assistant Secretary exploits into the Democratic vice presidential nomination.
That attempt failed due to public weariness with Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed). In Wilson (mhbbc), FDR had one extreme example of presidential management: Wilson (mhbbc) was a dictatorial micro-manager who rarely delegate, micromanaged details, and even typed his own speeches. His madness for control killed his precious precious Versailles treaty in the U.S. Senate and nearly killed him with such a serious stroke that Mrs. Wilson became our first woman president.
FDR’s other example, the non-Wilson (mhbbc) opposite, was Silent Hand Will. While Uncle Theodores sought to move events by moving the world, William McKinley, Jr. let the world rotate to him. Like Tolstoy’s Marshal Kutuzov, he was a Taoist sage king: he did everything by doing nothing:
So a wise leader may say:
“I practice inaction, and the people look after themselves.”
But from the Sage it is so hard at any price to get a single word
That when his task is accomplished, his work done,
Throughout the country every one says: “It happened of its own accord”. (chap. 17, tr. Waley)
Brownian motion generated by Uncle Theodorish tumults brought opportunity to Silent Hand Will’s front porch without Silent Hand Will having to leave it. He moved events by not moving: McKinley did not go to the mountain. The mountain came to McKinley. International Anarchy assassinated McKinley out of fear: as a ruler who ruled without ruling, he was a living rebuke to their fantasy of governing without government. Their efforts were more than rewarded by Uncle Theodore’s make up bumper crop of frenetic governance after he succeeded the dead McKinley.
FDR blended Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) and Silent Hand Will: he micromanaged by doing nothing. FDR would appoint two competent yet ambitious men, a Harry Hines Woodring as a boss and a Louis A. Johnson as his Assistant. The Woodring and the Johnson would have beliefs that both fell within the range allowed by FDR’s coalition but differed enough that the two men came from opposite camps within FDR’s coalition. The Woodring and the Johnson would also be alpha males with rival ambitions. They would energetically pursue their agendas but couldn’t coordinate with each other out of mutual loathing. They would need an arbiter. And who would this disinterested arbiter be? Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Both the Woodring and the Johnson would seek Roosevelt’s support in their turf battle. They would both find a sympathetic listener who whispered pleasant but vague sweet nothings in their ears. Roosevelt would triangulate between them, bending this way and bending that way as the men and their respective political support networks waxed and waned. They would compete for his support by trying to out effective the other. While they were useful, they were kept. When they were done, they were tossed overboard with smiling yet ruthless efficiency. His right Woodring never knew what his left Johnson was doing.
The men who followed FDR were less effective. As adherents of the cult of Frederick Winslow Taylor, a faith-based approach FDR had opposed from the beginning of his career, they drew a map and saw territory where FDR saw territory and drew a map. Where FDR understood that politics is the division of power and shaped government in ways that allowed the internecine feuding of the inevitable private fiefdoms and tribes arising in any human institution be channeled into salutary channels, his successors committed four major fallacies of politics:
- the appeal to virtue: if we only get the right people people in there, politics will be banished through virtue
- the appeal to Führerprinzip: if we only get the right leader in there, politics will be banished through leadership
- the appeal to de-duplication: if we only eliminate duplicate efforts, politics will be banished by reducing multiple competing centers to one harmonious center
- the appeal to boxes and straight lines: if we only have the right boxes connected by the right lines, politics will be banished by rational compartmentalization and proper channels
So they folded the old Navy and War Departments coupled with an independent Air Force liberated from the Army into one organization under a single Secretary of Defense. This allowed the services to continue their age old war of land vs. sea vs. air as before but now they had enough consolidated interest to band together as needed to shield their parochial turf battles from from outside meddlers. It created a single bottleneck so fragile that William “Not Refrigerator” Perry, acting under the broader Clinton-era policy of expanding the funding base of the Democratic Party by recartelizing American business under the guise of naive free market ideology, could force consolidation on the military industrial complex. The result, as with Clinton-era cartelization in other sectors, was the rise of too-big-to-fail defense contractors who needed assured rents in the form of too-big-to-fail procurement programs to stay afloat. It also distorted the strategic configuration of power as the political need to keep a united front against outside intervention meant that organic capabilities like close air support were moved to alien hosts to keep the peace between services and branches.
The Department of Defense should be abolished. Gouverneur “the Constitution was written by the fingers, which write this letter” Morris had a subtle, though characteristically un-American perspective on aristocracy which, by analogy, explains why:
His commitment to republicanism for America was complete, though it was not made without qualms. As he put it, “In adopting a republican form of government. I not only took it as a man does his wife, for better for worse, but what few men do with their wives. I took it knowing all its bad qualities.” The worst of these, in his view, was the tendency of republics to degenerate into “Democracy, that disease of which all Republics have perished, except those which have been overturned by foreign force.”
His distrust of democracy was shared by many if not most of the Framers, but it was of a substantially different variety from that expressed by such delegates to the Convention as Edmund Randolph and George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. He thought the people fickle, governed by their feelings and prejudices, “not to be reasoned out of their Notions.” “Expect heroism from a sheep, charity from a wolf, and music from a crow, and perhaps you may not be disappointed”; but it was futile to expect reason from the people. “Those who court the People have a very capricious Mistress. A Mistress which may be gained by Sacrifices, but she cannot be so held for she is insatiable.” He told Lafayette in June of 1789 that he was “opposed to the Democracy from Regard to Liberty,” and that the revolutionists were “going Headlong to Destruction.” Lafayette responded “that he is sensible his Party are mad, and tells them so, but is not the less determined to die with them.” That kind of attachment, combined with what Morris witnessed during the next three years. made him appreciate Americans more than he had before: in a letter to Rufus King, he referred to “the People or rather the Populace. a Thing which thank God is unknown in America.” He also maintained, in a speech written for Louis XVI that was never delivered, that “History informs us, that, both in ancient and modem times, the leaders of popular Assemblies have been bought by foreign powers, and that thus nations un-conquerable by arms, have become the victims of seduction.”
It was susceptibility to being “bought” that especially concerned Morris about popular participation in government. More than a decade after the Constitution had been established, he wrote that “the strongest aristocratic feature in our political organization is that, which democrats are most attached to, the right of universal suffrage. This takes from men of moderate fortune their proper weight; and will, in process of time. give undue influence to those of great wealth.” He had elaborated this idea in the Philadelphia Convention. Speaking in support of his own motion to have a freehold requirement for voters, he said, “Give the votes to people who have no property. and they will sell them to the rich who will be able to buy them.” At that time, he declared, nine-tenths of the white adult males were freeholders, but the “time is not distant when this Country will abound with mechanics & manufacturers who will receive their bread from their employers.” Such people could not be “faithful Guardians of liberty” or a “barrier agst. aristocracy,” for they could not be regarded as having a “will of their own.”
On the other hand. he was equally chary of aristocrats and plutocrats, though many doubted the sincerity of his protestations in that regard. After all, he was an aristocrat himself, having been born into an old landed family, and while he did not inherit the bulk of the estate, he became quite wealthy through his own endeavors. Besides, as Washington candidly pointed out to him in explaining why some Senators had opposed his appointment as minister, his “habit of expression, indicated a hauteaur disgusting to those who happen to differ from you in sentiment,” and they considered him “as a favourer of Aristocracy” in France. Morris thought talk of the “natural equality of mankind” was absurd. and regarding that great bugbear of arch-republicans, luxury, he said that “it is not so bad a thing as it is often supposed to be,” and, indeed, “there is a less proportion of rogues in coaches than out of them.” Even so, his distrust of aristocracy was deeply felt; it may have stemmed from his reaction to the hypocrisy and opportunism of the Tory DeLancey family connection in exploiting the rabble of New York on the eve of the Revolution.
His feelings were revealed in comments about the aristocracies in England, Poland, and France. Traveling in England with his friend John Penn, he was shown the elegant, mansion-like stables of the Duke of Clarence and was told that “this Prince” was allowed £12,000 a year by the British government. Morris responded “that the Effects of monarchic Government are wonderful when from the Force of the Term Loyalty a Man must take Bread from the Mouths of his own Children to bestow the Means of Luxury and Dissipation upon those of another.” As to Poland, he observed that that country had recently established a hereditary (in place of elective) monarchy, enfranchised its peasants, and given the towns a share in government: “These are the great Means of destroying pernicious Aristocracy.” And as to France, though he thought abolishing the nobility had been a grave mistake, inasmuch as it destroyed the balance of power. he nonetheless had contempt for most of the aristocrats. They were “burning with the lust of vengeance” and hoped with the support of foreign armies to “re-establish that species of despotism most suited to their own cupidity.” They were, to Morris, simply a necessary evil.
Thus it is easy to understand the rather outré reasoning he used in the Convention to justify his advocacy of a Senate that would not represent states, would receive no salaries, would be appointed by the President, and would serve for life. ‘It will then do wrong, it will be said. He believed so; He hoped so. The Rich will strive to establish their dominion & enslave the rest. They always did. They always will. The proper security ag[ain]st them is to form them into a separate interest.” The democracy would thereby be able to recognize and “controul” the aristocracy, and the aristocracy the democracy. But, “Let the rich mix with the poor and in a Commercial Country, they will establish an Oligarchy.”
Adopting the Progressive Era-esque naive reductionism that the authors of the National Security Act of 1947 did resulted in taking what pre-1947 were discernibly visible separate interests and consolidated them into one indiscernibly invisible single interest. What were once clearly feuding fiefdoms are now one internally squabbling Leviathan. What was one a diversified procurement base is now a narrow necrotic oligopoly of de facto state owned companies. It is more fitting with the spirit of republican institutions to return to pre-1947 practice. A more politically rational national defense structure, one that throws sunshine on inter-service squabbling rarely seen since 1947, could resemble the following:
- War Department – led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of War who commands all military forces in event of a declaration of war. Oh yes, you don’t wage a long war without a clear congressional declaration of war. You don’t go to peace without a clear congressional declaration of peace. And you don’t appoint a the commanding general unless you declare war. Before that, it’s all colonels.
- Department of the Army – led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of the Army, fights for dollars for the U.S. Army
- Department of the Navy – led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of the Navy, fights for dollars for the U.S. Navy and commands its continuous efforts to deny the seas to foreign commerce. They have some nukes.
- Department of the Marines – led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of the Marines, fights for dollars for the U.S. Marine Corps. Also handles all land-based tactical air support following the Safranski Plan. Shields land-based tactical airpower from Fighter Mafia depredations with glamorous dress uniforms. They have some nukes.
- Starfleet Command – led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of the Navy, seeks out new life and new strategic air power targets in Douhet’s name. They have some nukes.
- Treasury Department – they run the Coast Guard
- Department of the Militia – led by a cabinet level civilian Secretary of the Militia, fights for dollars for state militias
Only through open feuding between the armed services, without opportunities to make intradepartmental peace treaties in house, can a diversified military-industrial base supported by feuding patronage networks be contemplated, let alone partially realized. As was said by FDR and as it was said of old, in the greatest strategic library of all time:
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:— Matthew 6:3 , King James Version
August 13th, 2013 at 5:20 pm
LOL: “Shields land-based tactical airpower from Fighter Mafia depredations with glamorous dress uniforms”!
August 13th, 2013 at 5:52 pm
Splendid, simply splendid!
“…may his bones be crushed…”
August 14th, 2013 at 5:21 pm
I have never seen Kutuzov compared to William McKinley before. A new angle.
Breaking up the DoD and encouraging even more intense inter-deparment conflict is not what most rationalistic people would consider a good idea. But there would be benefits.
August 14th, 2013 at 6:32 pm
Most “rationalism” is irrational naive scientism that implicitly accepts that exhaustive central planning will work with the right virtue, Führerprinzip, de-duplication, and boxes and straight lines (among other elements).
Inter-service rivalry exists. For the first 157 years of the republic, it took place without the fig leaf of Progressive Era “rational bureaucracy” and somehow we survived. Since 1947 it’s taken place under the fig leaf. Inter-service rivalry doesn’t seem any less intense since pre-1947. It seems less productive. Under the fig leaf, it is certainly more obfuscated.
Removing the fig leaf is not guaranteed to lead to any more or any less politics then is already there. Once congealed, the cartelized defense oligopoly may prove to have the same cockroach resiliency as the cartelized financial cancer. But it would be more clearly labeled for what it is instead of being pushed into back rooms in the name of a false zombified consensus.
August 14th, 2013 at 6:38 pm
McKinley and Coolidge resemble the sage kings of the Taoists more than I’d considered. It reminded me of Tolstoy’s framing of Kutuzov as the living Tao of Russia as demonstrated by Kutuzov sleeping through the councils of war before Austerlitz. The hyper-frenetic governance of the 20C is very Corsican in its aggression.