US Marine captain writes stinging op-ed: 'We lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan'

An active-duty US Marine captain has written a stinging op-ed for the Marine Corps Gazette, going through all the problems he sees with the Department of Defence and the Marine Corps, in addition to the recent failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The biggest problem, writes Capt. Joshua Waddell, is “self-delusion.”

“Let us first begin with the fundamental underpinnings of this delusion: our measures of performance and effectiveness in recent wars,” he writes. “It is time that we, as professional military officers, accept the fact that we lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The active-duty infantry officer, who served with and lost Marines under his command with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines in Afghanistan, didn’t come to this conclusion lightly. Instead, he wrote, it took several years for him to accept that fact, with the ultimate goal of improving the system.

A case in point he mentions is a comparison of the US military to other adversaries.

The Pentagon’s budget dwarfs the next 10 countries combined. The Army and Marine Corps are arguably the best-trained fighting forces in the world. And the Air Force has the most-high tech aircraft and weaponry, while the Navy maintains nearly 20 aircraft carriers, far more than adversaries like Russia and China that only have one each.

These stats should make the US military unstoppable, but the budgets, talk of being the best in the world, and other claims don’t square with measures of effectiveness, Waddell writes.

“How, then, have we been bested by malnourished and undereducated men with antiquated and improvised weaponry whilst spending trillions of dollars in national treasure and costing the lives of thousands of servicemen and hundreds of thousands of civilians?” he asks.

Waddell continues:

“For example: a multi-billion dollar aircraft carrier that can be bested by a few million dollars in the form of a swarming missile barrage or a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) capable of rendering its flight deck unusable does not retain its dollar value in real terms. Neither does the M1A1 tank, which is defeated by $20 worth of household items and scrap metal rendered into an explosively-formed projectile. The Joint Improvised Threat Defeat Organisation has a library full of examples like these, and that is without touching the weaponised return on investment in terms of industrial output and capability development currently being employed by our conventional adversaries.”

His article isn’t just critiques. Waddell goes on to offer a number of solutions to get the military out of the “business-as-usual” mindset that looks good in PowerPoint briefs but doesn’t translate to success on the ground.

While military leaders typically complain to Congress that constrained budgets have a “crippling effect” on the military, Waddell argues that the military should be working more efficiently with the money it already has. An example he gives of a nation already doing this — to great effect — is Russia.

Moscow’s military budget is around $52 billion versus Washington’s proposed budget of $528 billion. And yet, with far less money, Russia has been a consistent thorn-in-the-side of the US in Syria, Ukraine, and now, Afghanistan. That’s not to mention Moscow’s success in cyber warfare.

“This is the same Russian military whom the RAND Corporation has estimated would be unstoppable in an initial conventional conflict in the Baltic States,” Waddell writes. “Even against the combined might of the NATO forces stationed there. Given the generous funding the American people have bequeathed us to provide for the common defence, is it so unreasonable to seek an efficient frontier of that resource’s utility?”

Waddell’s critique includes a call to fix inefficiencies between warfighters and the DoD in getting the gear they need, as some ultimately have to buy things they need out of their own pockets since it doesn’t get there before they deploy. Then he calls for an audit of the Corps’ to see whether there is duplication of efforts among contractors.

“There is no reason we should be paying twice for the same work or, as is often the case, paying government personnel for work that they have instead outsourced to more capable contractors for tasks within the government worker’s job description. I would be willing to bet that a savvy staff officer with access to these position and billet descriptions as well as contracting line items could save the Marine Corps millions of dollars by simply hitting Control+F (find all) on his keyboard, querying key tasks, and counting redundancies.”

It’s not clear how much an effect this op-ed might have on seeing changes made. The Marine Corps Gazette is read mostly by senior Marine leadership, so it will definitely be seen, but whether that translates to actually taking this captain’s advice in an institution that is resistant to change remains to be seen.

“I have watched Marines charge headlong into enemy fire and breach enemy defences with the enemy’s own captured IEDs in order to engage in close combat,” Waddel writes. “This same fighting spirit from which we draw so much pride must be replicated by our senior leaders in leading comprehensive reform of our Corps’ capabilities and in creating a supporting establishment truly capable of fostering innovation.”

Read the entire thing at the Marine Corps Gazette >

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