Guest post by Matthew Newgent and Glen Whitner
Matt and Glen are both former West Point officers from the Class of 1996. Glen spent 28 months over three combat deployments in Iraq both as an enlisted infantry scout and later as a logistics officer. He achieved the rank of Major. Matt enlisted as a linguist in Army Intelligence and later was an engineer officer. He graduated from the US Army Ranger School and achieved the rank of Captain.
When Matt was a combat engineer officer in the 20th Engineer Brigade (Airborne) at Ft. Bragg, NC, he was temporarily attached to the 1st Brigade of the famed 82nd Airborne Division for a massive mock-war exercise, where Colonel (at the time) Lloyd Austin commanded the 1/82nd. It was an honor even to be temporarily attached to the 82nd. The exercise took place at the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), Ft. Polk, LA, where they conducted a massive airborne insertion into the training area. The climax of the exercise was the battle to liberate the town of Shugart Gordan from opposing force (OPFOR) insurgents. The OPFOR consisted of hundreds of real-world actors who had roles from shoppers, to spies, to enemy infantry. OPFOR gear included armored vehicles, non-conventional weapons, and even the Russian Hind-D helicopter (like in the movie Red Dawn).
One of the regular JRTC cadre said the brigades that go to JRTC often fail to liberate Shugart Gordan to complete the mission. However, the 1/82nd typically successfully liberated the town and completed the mission. During the after-action review (AAR) with Col Austin and several dozen officers and senior NCOs, Matt had the opportunity to see Col Austin in action. To paint a picture, the man was huge at 6’2” and built like an NFL football player. He was intimidating, commanded the attention of everyone in the room, and looked like he could knock you out or kill you with one punch. He was an articulate, tactically competent infantry officer and a West Point graduate. He was the commander you feared and respected--and you were glad he was your commander. Albeit an exercise, he did lead the 1/82nd to a victory, where other combat units had typically failed. In the words of a former soldier and officer, “Colonel Austin was the man!”
Based on Austin’s education, training, experience, and career of service to our country across many continents, he seemed like an excellent choice for Secretary of Defense for any presidential administration. In fact, the Senate gave a strong bi-partisan nod in its 93-2 decision for Austin to become Biden’s SECDEF. As West Point Graduates ourselves, we were hopeful for our national defense when Biden nominated Austin as the SECDEF and the Senate confirmed him.
So why the failure in Afghanistan and in other areas of military leadership? The culprit is the teaching of anti-American Critical Race Theory (CRT), Forced Vaccinations, and politically correct (PC) speech, or the disease of worrying of potentially hurting feelings rather than concern about winning wars. With Austin’s experience, command of the greatest military in world history, and access to more 3-letter intelligence organizations than you can shake three alphabets at, there should have been no surprise about what to expect from the Taliban. At worst, it appears like this failure was planned. At best, this seems like gross incompetence. Austin was supposed to be the competent man-of-character and strength we depended on to stand in the gap. We expected Austin to stand up against a president who, let’s not kid ourselves, does not possess the presence of mind necessary to function as President or have a conversation without stammering incoherently. The SECDEF’s actions have been disastrous, not only on our military readiness and efficiency, but, to a greater degree, the reputation and integrity of our nation’s armed forces. Consequently, other nations will think twice before accepting our word that we will help and protect them.
Whether it’s Biden or Austin leading our armed forces, the CRT “education”, the sensitivity training, and the extreme pro-LGBTQ+ stance are in fact social engineering, which is distracting and damaging to our armed forces. Our military should be focusing on preparing for war and defeating our enemies. The training under Biden and Austin is moving our military forces in the direction of becoming leftist, divided, anti-American, and ineffective. What we are seeing now in Afghanistan is the fruit of such training and their leadership.
Leadership, or lack thereof, has been the crucial difference in the Middle East in the last 20 years after 9/11 when fighting the enemy and withdrawing our troops. For example, Obama’s 2011 failed withdrawal of U.S. troops led to the formation of ISIS (1) and a massive refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. When initially asked about the formation of ISIS in its early stages, Obama referred to ISIS as “the JV team.” However, the Islamic caliphate with its videos of beheadings and other executions proved to be not as “JV” as Obama presumed it to be. Consequently, by May, 2015, ISIS occupied approximately one third of Iraq and approximately one half of Syria (2). Two months later, July of the same year, Obama addressed the nation and said, "This is not simply a military effort," and added later, "Ideologies are not defeated by guns. They're defeated with better ideas” (3). Obama’s failure led to a refuge crisis of mass proportions. Due to ISIS, over 13 million Syrians (4) and over 3 million Iraqis (5) were displaced, and millions of refuges were resettled in Europe.
Obama’s reference to “not simply a military effort” is a screen for his inadequate application of force and his restrictive rules of engagement (ROE) for U.S. and coalition forces, which denied U.S. soldiers and our allies the freedom of action needed to do what they were trained to do -- fight and win the nation’s wars. Why did Obama apply inadequate force and require restrictive ROE? That’s an important question for another day.
When President Trump became president in January of 2017, he did things differently than did Obama in dealing with ISIS. President Trump used less restrictive ROE and, working with our allies, used massive force and power to bring the “generational struggle” of ISIS to its knees six months after becoming POTUS. Six months. How many US deaths? Zero. That is how a true leader gets it done.
As former Army officers, we can tell you that defeating an enemy in six months with zero deaths when the previous leader said it would take 20 years is a military achievement of historic proportions. It’s no wonder U.S. Troops love President Trump.
Here are some takeaways -- Leadership matters, especially when fighting and winning our nation’s wars. While ideas are important, you don’t use “better ideas” as a primary weapon to defeat barbaric religious zealots.
President Trump’s success in northern Iraq and Syria against ISIS was not isolated. By October of 2020, Trump led the U.S. in yet another successful campaign against a different terrorist group in another country -- the Taliban in Afghanistan. After pushing back the Taliban, President Trump negotiated a treaty with the leaders of the medieval movement for peace in Afghanistan and set up a successful plan for withdrawal of U.S. armed forces. The withdrawal plan had conditions based on the activities of the enemy (6). This means that if the conditions were not right for withdrawal, there was to be a pause in the execution of the withdrawal. If the conditions required more troops, more troops would be sent to prevent destabilization, as in the chaos we are seeing today. Executing a successful withdrawal is a complex operation, but not a new concept. Well-known examples are Japan, Germany, and Korea. In all cases, nearly all troops were withdrawn, and a U.S. contingency force remained.
When Biden came to office in January 2021, he quickly eschewed or scrapped many of Trumps successful policies and program -- the Keystone Pipeline, the Southern Border wall, the agreement with the Government of Mexico, and apparently the Afghanistan withdrawal plan. Rather than building effective policies to strengthen our military, Biden and SECDEF Austin chose to introduce and endorse CRT in our nation’s service academies and in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. SECDEF Austin literally stood down the entire U.S. Military to teach CRT, which in fact is Marxist propaganda. Imagine being in a combat zone on a lone outpost in Afghanistan. A helicopter comes in, reveals your position, and a guy comes out to give you a PowerPoint presentation about white privilege. If you are a veteran and reading this, you probably have a few choice words for this kind of “training”…
We grew up in an Army where the drill sergeants told you that the only colors you needed to know are red, white, blue, and Army green, which set the tone for the unit. Consequently, the most important judgement you made about a fellow soldier was if he would cover your six in a fight. Contrarily, CRT creates victim and oppressor classes. Because the young soldiers and officers respect their trainers, they take the CRT victim-oppressor characterization of our society to heart, which has created massive riffs and discord in military units and lowered morale.
Here are a few thoughts on Afghanistan. The Afghanistan conflict was doomed at the beginning when President George W. Bush basically declared a war against all terrorist in the world and started what is essentially nation building. All terrorists cannot be wiped off the face of the earth, but terrorists can be kept at bay. In a war against terror, as in any war, objectives need to be specific, coalitions needs to be built, the force and power need to be extreme, and the duration needs to be short. The Allies did it when the U.S. entered WWII, we did it in the first Gulf War in 1990-1991 against Saddam Hussein, and President Trump did it against ISIS in 2017.
Another reason nation building did not work in Afghanistan is the country is not a unified people, but a collection of separate ethnic groups and tribes without a single national identity. For centuries, they have been bound together simply by whoever is the strongest or most brutal leader. Instead of destroying the enemy, we attempted to overlay our American values and beliefs on top of an Afghani problem. Enough of the Afghani people have not demonstrated a strong enough desire to fight for the type of freedom that we are blessed to possess in the United States.
Bear with us here on this. Leadership, being a man, and freedom are things that can’t be granted. They have to be earned. On leadership. The lowest form of leadership, according to Dr. John Maxell, is positional leadership: someone is the “leader” because they are in the position of the leader. Company commander, wing commander, squad leader, it’s all the same. The position or rank lasts a short time before a leader either fails or proves himself.
On manhood. The great Denis Prager has shared many pearls of wisdom. One is that a boy becomes a man when he decides to become a man, not when he turns 18. A 15-year-old boy whose father died in a car accident steps up to protect and support his mother and siblings: this is a man. A 25-year-old male living with his parents and not diligently searching for a job: this is not a man.
On freedom. When you give the lives of over 4,000 of your own sons and daughters, spend $2.3 trillion (6) on infrastructure and cutting-edge military equipment (including Blackhawk helicopters, thousands of up-armored vehicles, hundreds of thousands of weapons, millions of rounds of ammunition, and much more), you train them for nearly 20 years and build them a 300,000-man army, then they give up against a smaller, lesser-equipped armed force with barely a shot fired, what does that tell you about a nation’s desire for freedom?
Take the Kurds in northern Iraq. They were given far less arms by the U.S., and they did much of the fighting to push back ISIS after President Trump gave them the needed support. Glen spent one year deployed in Northern Iraq with Kurdish forces. From his own observation of their repeatedly fighting against great odds, it was very clear that the Kurds have an intense desire to free themselves from the oppression of Iraq and to have their own country of Kurdistan. The Kurdish people are willing and are paying the price to get that freedom.
Conversely, the Afghani army barely shot a round and allowed the Taliban to take over Afghanistan literally in a matter of days. Clearly, the Afghani people were not willing to pay the price in blood and a stiff spine required to have freedom, despite the cost of over 4,000 American lives, many more casualties, and trillions of dollars the U.S. paid to help them.
There are many problems, but Afghanistan is more of a symptom than the disease. The real problem is Biden is a feeble man and an ineffectual leader. In fact, in a quote attributed to President Obama, “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f… everything up” (we never thought we’d quote Obama.).” The rhyme of history shows that as long as Biden is in office, more will get “f… up” in the United States and around the world. This is why we needed someone to step in and where SECDEF Austin can make a difference.
But what happened to SECDEF Austin? Well, in the words of the first Delta Force Commander, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Gerald “Jerry” Boykin, “(Lloyd) lived next door to me at Ft. Bragg and he was a friend. I think Lloyd had a very distinguished career. I think that Lloyd was not prepared for the politics that he stepped into in Washington, and as far as I’m concerned Lloyd has compromised on issues that he knows are not in the best interest of our nation. And again, this I where I say when you take time away from the training and the preparation for winning wars and you go through stuff like CRT, you are wasting those soldiers’ time that they need to be ready to go prepare for war. And Lloyd Austin is advocating that and pushing that, and I think it’s a huge mistake, and I think he’s wrong about that, and I think he’s gotten caught up in the politics of Washington, and it’s had a negative effect on him” (8).
What would we recommend SECDEF Austin to do? Well, at West Point, we had the Cadet Honor Code: A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steel, nor tolerate those who do. We also have a saying in the Cadet Prayer, “… choose the harder right over the easier wrong.” In the context of leadership, when you make a mistake, admit the mistake, make it right, and move forward. It’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do.
Austin has a lot of power and authority as SECDEF. We see a few potential courses of action. Here are two.
Course of action one -- Austin resigns quietly. It would be in disgrace, but he will be able to live in retirement the rest of his life or perhaps be on the board of a multi-billion-dollar corporation. But, if he really wants to honor the roots of his education at West Point and his brilliant career, then he will choose the following harder right over the easier wrong, and fix our armed forces.
Course of action two: Tell the troops that he made some grave judgement errors, that he knows America and the troops demand the best. Show a substantial and strong commitment to right the ship. Some examples would be to direct all forces to immediately cease all teaching of CRT or anything related to CRT. Cancel all contracts involving teaching CRT. Make a required-reading list for officers that promotes patriotism and effective military leadership. Discourage books which create division (books not worth mentioning here!). Restore patriotic education to our service academies and educate our future leaders about how communism has destroyed nations and led to mass genocide, how communism creeps into societies, and how to identify and stop “communist creep.”
If he is directed to act in a way that weakens our military in any way, he should refuse, and initiate policies that only serve to strengthen our military and build American patriotism. If Biden fires Austin for taking steps to turn things around (which Biden may in fact do anyway), Austin would be redeemed and earn back the respect of many troops and officers. If Biden doesn’t fire Austin after making efforts to turn things around, then Austin as SECDEF would be good for our armed forces and for America.
Above all, SECDEF Austin should secure our Americans in Afghanistan and win our nation’s wars! Biden just sent several thousand troops to Afghanistan and, unfortunately, the Afghanistan conflict will continue to drag on. When it’s time again to execute an orderly withdrawal, Austin needs to execute it successfully.
What is the more likely course of action Austin will take? The easier one is submitting his resignation. The harder is to right the ship. The SECDEF is responsible for America’s armed forces and ensuring they have what they need to fight and win our nation’s wars. SECDEF Austin, if he chooses the harder right, will be known as the man who led us to win our nation’s wars again, who earned back the respect of our allies, healed the rift caused by the Marxist propaganda of CRT, and restored the honor of the U.S. Armed Forces. We are praying for SECDEF Austin to choose the harder right over the easier wrong.
God bless America, and God bless the Afghani people!
Matthew Newgent and Glen Whitner, along with Jason Mrocheck, are the three West Pointers who cofounded ConservativeEconomy.com, the free-speech alternative to Amazon. Please support them by shopping at ConservativeEconomy.com.
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