There has never been a shortage of faintheartedness in the Pentagon. But the Biden administration’s Defense Department has honed timidity into an art form. Case in point, a recently leaked memorandum from the Air Mobility Command’s (AMC) leader, four-star General Mike Minihan, to his troops urging them to act like warriors. This has drawn disapproval from the Pentagon pros. You might think, “But doesn’t the Department of Defense want our warfighters to be warriors?” Well, apparently not.
The kerfuffle began when General Minihan encouraged his subordinate air force commanders to take readiness seriously. He believes the forcing function for his directive is a conflict with China as soon as 2025. Unfortunately, before the Feb. 1 memo was dispatched, it was leaked to NBC News. “Minihan writes that AMC built a solid foundation for readiness in 2022 but needs to go faster in the new year … the general expects to ‘drive readiness, integration, and agility for ourselves and the Joint Force to deter, and if required, defeat China’ in the coming years,” Nicholas Slayton reported in an article for Task & Purpose, which included the full text of the memo.
General Challenges Pentagon Party Line
Unfortunately, all too often the Pentagon’s official response to those within its ranks warning of the China threat is to minimize the peril the People’s Republic of China (PRC) represents. “These comments are not representative of the department’s view on China,” a nameless defense official said in an email, as disclosed in Air & Space Forces Magazine. Additionally, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Patrick Ryder responded with the Defense Department party line that China is the “pacing challenge” for the US military. As Liberty Nation has reported, a “pacing challenge” is a euphemism used to not ruffle the PRC’s feathers. Nonetheless, the AMC commander’s job is to recognize the danger Beijing presents in the Indo-Pacific and be prepared to address that threat. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board got it right when it told readers:
“Honesty is not the default policy in Washington these days, so the political and media classes were jolted this weekend by the leak of a private warning by a U.S. general telling his troops to prepare for a possible war with China over Taiwan in two years. Imagine: A warrior telling his troops to be ready for war.”
The general’s message to the AMC commanders expressed a legitimate sense of urgency. If the language seemed uncharacteristically blunt, war is not an intellectual exercise. General Minihan has a daunting challenge militarily and culturally.
Militarily, AMC faces the obstacle of distance in the Pacific in facing the People’s Liberation Army, naval, and air forces. The critically needed logistics to execute a winning strategy will tax every bit of the mobility capability of the United States and its allies and partners. The challenge is not trivial, and the current capacity is probably insufficient. The number of US Air Force C-17s, C-130s, and C-5s to deliver cargo and the air-refueling aircraft to keep the flow going is finite and not likely to increase anytime soon.
Minihan’s two-page directive to his subordinates was refreshingly brief, simple, clear, and direct, with specific goals and a timeframe to accomplish. He was neither obtuse nor equivocal in the Commander’s intent, and importantly he described the desired end. Nowadays identifying an objective and what it will look like is almost nonexistent in typically bloated military orders.
Culturally, the general has a different problem from most combat-oriented units. The AMC’s day-to-day airlift missions appear more like those of a commercial airline. Yet, the violence of combat comes quickly, and Minihan wants his “airline” crews to be ready to mete out devastating consequences to the enemy in a very hostile environment. Well does he remember that 110 US cargo aircraft were lost in the Vietnam War.
Since World War II, Americans have not seen a whole-of-country demand for resources, people, and resolve. But if Minihan is correct, and China is the immediate existential menace, Americans will face such a demand. The general is trying to get his command ready. Maybe the Pentagon should consider doing the same.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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