New Short-Term Spending Bill Would Continue to Hamper the Military

Lawmakers are discussing the possibility of passing yet another continuing resolution on Jan. 19 to keep the government from shutting down.

If another continuing resolution comes to fruition, it will be the fourth one since the fiscal year started back on Oct. 1. As of now, we have already passed more than one-quarter of the fiscal year, but the federal government has been unable to agree on appropriations allocation and has instead relied on temporary measures.

These resolutions are specially damaging to how the Department of Defense operates and defends the nation. This would come at a time when our forces are under considerable stress.

In recent years, our military has suffered substantial deterioration. As described by Heritage Foundation senior fellow Dakota Wood, “It’s too small for its workload, underfunded to repair and replace equipment that is rapidly wearing out, and ill-served by obsolescent infrastructure at its ports, bases, and airfields.”

Continuing resolutions come with a prohibition against the department starting new programs or changing the production quantity of ongoing programs. The department identified close to 75 weapons programs that suffer delays owing to the prohibition on new starts.

Furthermore, operating under a continuing resolution affects 40 programs owing to the inability to change production quantities.

As the Congressional Research Service points out, the Department of Defense “faces unique challenges operating under a [continuing resolution] while providing the military forces needed to deter war and defend the country.”

In order to address these problems, it is possible for the Defense Department to ask Congress to include specific language in the next continuing resolution—referred to as “anomalies”—to ameliorate these problems. Congress tends to prefer “clean” continuing resolutions, since anomalies start to encroach on legislative prerogatives or program oversight.

Thus, the best way to address these issues is through the appropriation of the defense budget. A defense budget based on the National Defense Authorization Act, passed with strong bipartisan support and signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 12, is the best basis for the defense budget.

This indicates that there is broad agreement that our military needs more resources and that the government is willing to authorize these resources.

The missing key is agreeing on actually allocating the resources that Congress thinks are necessary for our nation’s defense. The Budget Control Act caps are still in place and prevent lawmaker from spending what the National Defense Authorization Act prescribed.

Congress has been unable to overcome the current political discussions on the federal budget, and thus our nation’s defense and the U.S. military are left dangling while negotiations focus on extraneous issues.

As long as this indecision and continuing resolutions are the norm, Congress will continue to create uncertainties and prevent long-term planning.

Another continuing resolution would create further inefficiencies in the Department of Defense, ensuring that defense dollars will not go as far as they could.

Congress and the American people agree that we need to invest more in defense. It’s time to either pepper a new continuing resolution with all the defense anomalies required, or let the National Defense Authorization Act guide the department’s budget for 2018.

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Pentagon’s Decision to Keep Cluster Bombs Preserves Military Readiness, Lethality

The Pentagon drew sharp but unwarranted criticism earlier this month following its decision to indefinitely delay compliance with a ban on certain kinds of legacy cluster bombs.

Cluster bombs remain an important tool in the arsenal for U.S. forces, as they are effective at targeting light armor, massed infantry, and parked aircraft. We should not deny our forces the use of this capability until we have an adequate substitute.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty, prohibits the use or stockpiling of this weapon. Significantly, Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran have not ratified the treaty.

The George W. Bush administration, recognizing the continuing importance of cluster munitions to U.S. defense needs, also refused to sign the treaty, but set a deadline of 2018 for the U.S. to move to cluster munitions with a very high degree of reliability.

This policy sought to eliminate cluster bombs whose sub-munitions detonate less than 99 percent of the time. This reduces the risk that unexploded ordnance poses to noncombatants.

The Pentagon has cluster munitions that meet this degree of reliability?the Sensor Fuzed Weapon, for example?but its large stockpiles of legacy cluster munitions would be useless at the 2018 deadline as legacy munitions do not meet that standard.

Though the 2018 deadline was set 10 years ago, the Obama administration showed no urgency in developing adequate replacements.

Today, those replacements are still under development. The military therefore took the only viable course of action by delaying the ban and keeping this weapon, while continuing to work toward developing new munitions that pose no risk of leaving any unexploded ordnance.

Rather than recognize the military’s decision as a reasonable approach to maintaining readiness while it continues to upgrade its arsenal, media outlets and politicians have lambasted this decision as “unbelievable,” in the words of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

This issue has risen in prominence due to recent allegations that U.S.-made cluster bombs, bought by Saudi Arabia, caused significant civilian casualties in Yemen.

In April of this year, Sens. Feinstein and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act to bind the Defense Department to the 1 percent maximum failure rate for cluster bomb detonation. It is also intended to put the U.S. on the path toward compliance with the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

This is a short-sighted approach. The Feinstein-Leahy bill, like the Convention on Cluster Munitions, would impose a stringent standard for cluster munitions on the military and would leave the United States without cluster munitions until new munitions can be developed and fielded.

Furthermore, it ignores the important steps already taken by the U.S. government and military leadership to address humanitarian concerns about cluster bombs.

With respect to Yemen, the Obama administration halted U.S. supplies of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, which faced international pressure for its targeting practices.

The reality is that even cluster munitions with miniscule failure rates can inflict civilian casualties if used improperly. Thus, even when the Pentagon has only cluster munitions with a 99 percent activation rate, there is still no assurance that the munitions will be used in accord with the laws of war.

Beyond that, most critiques of the Pentagon’s compromise policy ignore the fact that it now requires new purchases of cluster munitions to either have a less than 1 percent failure rate, or have self-destruct mechanisms that will be triggered after firing.

The Pentagon’s new policy has not, therefore, departed from the original goal of designing safer and more reliable cluster munitions. The policy rightly allows the U.S. military to maintain the capabilities necessary to counter masses of conventional forces should a future wartime scenario require it.

This is a prudent and defensible approach. The United States has used cluster munitions sparingly in recent decades, but they could be vital in a military situation involving large concentrations of conventional forces.

It would be reckless to destroy a valuable and well-established asset before its replacement is deployed.

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What I Learned From a Wartime Christmas Eve

KYIV, Ukraine—The first time I ever saw a war, it was on Christmas Eve in 2009. At the time, I was a green Air Force special operations pilot on my first deployment to Afghanistan.

I had already been in country for a few weeks, flying mostly day missions. Easy stuff, like surveillance and reconnaissance sorties, which typically meant orbiting ad infinitum over a target while on autopilot.

A U.S. Air Force A-10 “Warthog” pilot during an exercise in Estonia. (Photos: Nolan Peterson/The Daily Signal)

I’d usually bring an energy drink in the boot pocket of my tan flight suit as a pick-me-up before landing. During the missions, which lasted for hours, I’d munch on sandwiches I’d picked up from the chow hall before takeoff.

Truly, up to that point, the flying I had done over Afghanistan wasn’t much different than training missions back at Hurlburt Field, Florida, where I was stationed at the time. Except for the mountains, of course, and the ever-present, nebulous idea that the enemy was down in the ether of those patchwork brown and tan fields and stair-stepped plots of vertiginous earth.

Aboard a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan.

Also, the body armor vest and loaded pistol on my chest and the M-4 carbine stashed behind my seat reminded me in no uncertain terms that this was something more serious than a training mission.

Still, I hadn’t seen the war yet. Not really. I had to tell myself that it was down there. I had no other evidence of it.

As I said, my first true combat mission was on Christmas Eve. I had been broken in with the easy missions, and for this first combat operation I was paired with an older, more experienced pilot as my aircraft commander. For the sake of discretion, I’m not going to publish his name, since he’s still on active duty.

But I will say that he had been an A-10 “Warthog” attack pilot before joining Air Force Special Operations Command, and he knew a lot about war.

The author with his mother during his freshman year at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

I remember as we stepped to the aircraft at Bagram Air Base at dusk with the distant Hindu Kush mountains painted purple in the dim light of the setting sun, the aircraft commander looked back to me and smiled.

“Awesome, isn’t it?” he said.

It was, I said.

Merry Christmas

That night, we would provide overwatch for a special operations team that was going to helicopter in and assault a compound where a Taliban leader was supposedly holed up. Capture or kill. That was the mission.

Soon, it was night and we were watching the target compound through our high-tech sensors.  We radioed what we were supposed to say, and did other things in the meantime.

Many young U.S. soldiers have grown up after Sept. 11, 2001.

All of the sudden, we heard the dreaded acronym, “TIC,” on the radio.

Troops in contact.

An American ground unit was taking fire miles away from where we were. The voice of the JTAC (the soldier who directs combat aircraft actions from the battlefield) down in the firefight came through the radio with a lot of background noise.

He spoke in short bursts in between his measured, heavy breathing. Nevertheless, I remember feeling impressed by how calm his voice seemed, and how precisely he pronounced his words.

Other aircraft were already overhead, and an airstrike had been authorized.

U.S. warplanes launch from the flight deck of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier to support the air war against the Islamic State terror group.

 

The ridgeline where the battle was taking place was off to our right, and we were on the portion of our orbit that brought us closest to that spot when we heard the radio call from an American fighter jet.

The bomb had just been released.

The aircraft commander told me in which direction to look out my side window. At his suggestion, I flipped up my night-vision goggles to stare into the black night with my naked eyes, straining to make out the murky silhouettes of the mountains below.

Then, a flash and a glowing orange orb rose from the earth like a miniature sunrise.

I won’t pretend to remember exactly what was said on the radio at that instant, but it was something to the effect of: “The enemies are dead, the Americans are OK.”

I do remember one remark, however. I’ll never forget it.

“Merry Christmas,” someone said.

Later on that night, after a handful of Taliban militants escaped our target compound—“squirters,” as we called them—I helped the special operations team track them down. No Americans were wounded or killed on the mission.

The author during U.S. Air Force pilot training in 2007.

Markers

After returning to base, I relaxed in my bunk and wrote in my journal. I reflected on that night, reeling with its significance after all the years of training it had taken to be there in Afghanistan as a U.S. military pilot flying combat missions.

That night was the first time I had ever seen a weapon fired in anger. It was also the first time I had ever watched people die.

Admittedly, it had been a tepid first sip of the combat experience. My life had never been in danger, and I had only seen war from afar, listening on the radio as some of the most lethal warriors in human history—American fighter pilots and special operations troops—killed their enemies.

Across Eastern Europe, American military forces are deployed as a deterrence against Russian military aggression.

Still, I had contributed, albeit microscopically, to the war effort. More importantly, I had been useful.

Every Christmas Eve thereafter, I’ve thought about that night in Afghanistan. Especially as my wartime experiences, both as a pilot and a war correspondent, have accumulated over the years, becoming a recurrent constant in my life.

Holidays, after all, are perennial markers of time’s passage through which we can take stock of how little or how much life has changed each intervening year.

The U.S. military has been engaged in nonstop combat operations since 2001.

For that reason, this Christmas it doesn’t escape me that U.S. troops are still deployed in Afghanistan, as well as myriad other combat zones around the world.

U.S. troops are also conducting training missions in places like Eastern Europe and South Korea, providing a valuable deterrent against military aggression from countries like Russia and North Korea.

For U.S. military personnel, such deployments are no longer an interruption of normal life, but a predictable part of it. A recurrent marker of the passage of time as perpetual as the holidays are.

Active-duty U.S. military troops of my generation have spent their adult lives rotating between combat zone deployments. For their part, many of the younger troops can’t remember a world before Sept. 11, 2001.

Forever War

The last time the United States celebrated a true peacetime Christmas was the year 2000.

At that time, I was halfway through my freshman year at the U.S. Air Force Academy, on leave for the holidays in my hometown of Sarasota, Florida.

I remember how proud I was when I stepped off the airplane in my uniform and saw my family waiting for me at the end of the jet bridge, as you could still do in those days.

The author prior to a mission in Afghanistan as a U.S. Air Force special operations pilot.

I was just 18 years old and slowly adjusting to military life. Yet, to be fair, going to war was never part of the picture. For me, like many of us in the military just prior to 9/11, I seriously wondered whether my country would ever go to war again.

Nine months later we knew for certain that we would.

And every year after that, we’ve had troops deployed in war zones for the holidays.

The last time the United States celebrated a true peacetime Christmas was the year 2000.

These days, I have all the respect in the world for the young American men and women who volunteer for military service. They know exactly what they’re getting into.

I also wonder, as we near the 17th Christmas after Sept. 11, 2001, if America will ever celebrate another peacetime Christmas in my lifetime.

It’s not called the forever war for nothing. But at some point, every individual soldier stops going to war, even if it’s still there.

At some point, each U.S. soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine will privately wonder—Have I done enough?

When is it right to go on living, even while the wars go on and on?

U.S. Army soldiers on a training exercise in Estonia in 2015.

A Reason to Celebrate

People often ask me about the difficulties of writing about war. They want to know if it’s hard to remain upbeat after seeing so many terrible things.

Truthfully, the answer is yes, sometimes it’s tough. It’s hard to care about the normal, trivial problems of life after witnessing how much people suffer in war.

Sometimes, when the holidays roll around, and the wars go on and on, I wonder what’s worth celebrating.

Sailors line up for a meal aboard the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier.

But I also remember something else I’ve learned over the years from my wartime experiences. War brings out the most beautiful parts of humanity, too. In war, you see instances of total selflessness, of men and women willing to sacrifice everything for invisible ideas like freedom and justice, or to protect their families and their comrades. Sometimes, to protect people they’ve never even met.

Perhaps, in the end, war is as perennial as any holiday and always will be.

But so too are other things, like hope, love, and the unending willingness of good people to stand up against evil.

This Christmas, like any other, that’s something to celebrate.

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Remembering Gen. Edward Rowny

A charter member of the “Greatest Generation”—that stoic cohort of Americans who faced down the Great Depression and defeated fascism, Japanese imperialism and communism—left us this week.

Edward L. Rowny, known as the “scholar general,” passed away peacefully Sunday, we learned from his family. He played a part in all of the aforementioned events during his long 100-year life.

The life of this longtime Heritage friend was too rich in achievements to be allowed to pass without celebration.

Gen. Rowny commanded troops in World War II, the Pacific, Korea and Vietnam. Then, after he “retired,” he advised presidents from Nixon to George H.W. Bush.

Gen. Rowny, a West Point graduate, saw action in Italy during World War II, when he chased German troops up Italy’s western coast in 1944. After VE-Day, he went to Japan to help finish the job there.

Five years later, as an assistant to Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the 1950-1953 Korean War, Gen. Rowny helped plan the brilliant American landing at Inchon, a port on the western side of the peninsula, while communist North Korea expected the American troops to try to invade Seoul.

Later, he helped tens of thousands of North Koreans escape their tyrannical regime and flee to the South.

In Vietnam, Gen. Rowny pioneered the use of helicopters in the fight against the Viet Cong.

His understanding of field realities made him realize that the best way to avoid war is to be prepared for it. That led him to retire from the Army in 1979 in protest against President Jimmy Carter’s signing of the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) II Treaty on limiting nuclear weapons with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

The Senate’s subsequent refusal to ratify the pact wasn’t all due to Gen. Rowny’s lobbying efforts (the Soviets helped by invading Afghanistan), but he helped pave the way by making the case that it amounted to unilateral disarmament.

That earned him being called “a hard-line arms-control adviser” in The Washington Post’s obituary this week. We’re sure that he approved of the moniker.

The Post’s obituary recalled Gen. Rowny’s impatience with Carter’s rush to negotiate, captured in his quote to the Associated Press: “My problem is that the Soviets come from a country that has a lot of patience and plays chess,” he told the Associated Press in 1982. “I come from a country that has a lot of quarters and plays Pac-Man.”

President Ronald Reagan rewarded Gen. Rowny by making him the chief negotiator on strategic nuclear arms, and later, with the rank of ambassador, as his special adviser on arms control.

Like many members of the Greatest Generation, Gen. Rowny was of immigrant stock—in his case, Poland—and managed to honor the country of his ancestors while maintaining his devotion to the destiny of his own country.

In fact, it was a perfect balance. Former Time magazine correspondent Strobe Talbott wrote of Gen. Rowny: “He liked to remind people, including the Soviets, that he was of Polish descent; the implication was that he had a considerable dose of anti-Russianism in his blood.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Unelected Judge Is Overriding Trump’s Transgender Military Policy

Do you remember voting for Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in last year’s presidential election? Neither does anyone else. But somehow the local district judge thinks she should be able to do President Donald Trump’s job.

In another ruling that not only exposes her incredible liberal bent, but the bigger battle with the out-of-control judiciary, Kollar-Kotelly is turning down the administration’s request for more time in dealing with the military’s transgender question.

Instead, she’s holding the new administration to the old one’s radicalism, insisting that the Defense Department open its doors to people confused about their gender as early as Jan. 1.

Back in October, the U.S. District Court judge for the District of Columbia made it clear that she’s no fan of the Constitution’s separation of powers, unilaterally ordering the president to stand down in his push to return the military to good order. She single-handedly blocked Trump’s efforts to stop people who identify as transgender from serving in the military, despite the reams of research showing its negative effects on troop morale, readiness, and resources.

The Family Research Council’s Peter Sprigg, who calculated that taxpayers would be staring down a $3.7 billion tab for President Barack Obama’s social engineering, could only shake his head at the court’s activism.

“The reason for this policy is not because the president or Defense Department doesn’t like transgender people. It’s because they have a unique medical condition which makes them [ineligible] for military service because they have limited deployability.”

Asked point-blank, almost 60 percent of active-duty military held a negative opinion of the decision to allow troops who label themselves as transgender to serve openly. More telling, more than half of that group said the policy change was having a terrible effect on military morale. In other words, it was unpopular, unproductive, and unreasonably expensive.

Is it any wonder that one year after Obama changed the policy, Trump changed it back? Like most Americans, he understands that the military’s job is to fight and win wars—not pander to a political agenda that weakens national security.

The president’s primary task is protecting Americans. Yet now we’re watching activist courts do everything from curb the executive branch’s power to telling the commander in chief how to run the military. And without the barest form of accountability to the same people who elected Trump.

“This type of judicial activism gives the court a self-conferred ‘veto’ of any presidential decision concerning the military the court simply thinks is unlawful,” the Family Research Council’s Travis Weber warns. “That’s not the way our constitutional order works.”

Not to mention, Trump has access to information, data, and intelligence reports that Kollar-Kotelly never will. If he thinks Obama’s policy will undermine national security, then it’s within his rights to declare as much.

Fortunately, the battle is far from over. Justice Department officials are already plotting their next move. “We disagree with the Court’s ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps.” One of which, Politico reports, is requesting an emergency stay on the ruling.

“Without this relief, the military will be forced to implement a significant change to its standards for the composition of the armed forces before it decides how to resolve this issue,” the government’s attorneys argue. “As military leadership has explained, this timetable will place extraordinary burdens on our armed forces and may harm military readiness.”

Trump understands better than anyone the threat this poses to our nation, and he told me as much Monday during our meeting at the White House. He isn’t backing down because one judge has decided to push a radical political agenda that has no basis in law.

This was originally published in Tony Perkins’ Washington Update, which is written with the aid of Family Research Council senior writers.

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Rebuilding the Military Comes With a Price Tag. But the Price of Waiting Is Higher.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will cost an additional $295 billion over the next four years to execute President Donald Trump’s plans to rebuild the military.

Their calculation was done by comparing the current Budget Control Act defense caps with the Trump budget outline. Those budget caps, established in 2011, limit how much Congress may appropriate for defense and non-defense discretionary spending through 2021, regardless of need or strategy.

The analysis of the Congressional Budget Office is based on information published by the administration on its budget request as well as public statements from the White House.

It is common for defense budget requests to include a projection of the administration’s plans for the five or 10 years. But it is also common for the first budget of a new administration to omit these plans, as was the case with the 2018 budget.

While the Congressional Budget Office’s calculation gives some preliminary data on the administration’s defense trajectory, it is not the whole picture.

The administration is currently working to craft both its National Security Strategy and its National Defense Strategy. These documents will likely be released in the near future and will, undoubtedly, have budgetary implications in the next four years.

Since 2015, The Heritage Foundation’s Index of U.S. Military Strength has documented the current state of our military. When looking over all recent editions of the Index, deteriorating readiness is the main theme that emerges. Every service has experienced deteriorated readiness.

This deterioration accelerated when the Budget Control Act disproportionately targeted the defense budget for reductions, amounting to over 40 percent of all cuts that were planned under the law. A heavy price tag.

A better approach would be for lawmakers to put in place a single cap for all spending priorities, both defense and non-defense.

Regardless of the actual cost, defending our nation is the most important function of the federal government and one of the main reasons it was created in the first place. Defense should not take a backseat to frivolous domestic programs that have no constitutional basis, like government-sponsored beer festivals.

The current erosion of military readiness is similar to a car that needs an oil change. Every day you delay the oil change, you are further eroding your engine. It might keep running for a while longer, but it will eventually grind to a halt. And in the meantime, it will make some warning noises.

In the case of the military, these warning noises are the training accidents that have taken the lives of some of our service members, as well as the two ship accidents this past year.

We need to start rebuilding our military in 2018. Delaying will only make the price tag higher.

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With More Investment, Our Missile Defense System Could Be Truly Dependable

Thirty-three minutes. That’s all the time we’d have to respond to an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile from anywhere in the world.

Roughly half an hour to avert disaster—if we’re lucky.

Sure, that isn’t the most cheerful thought to entertain, especially at Christmas time. But with all the saber-rattling coming from North Korea these days, not to mention other global hot spots, we don’t have the luxury to pretend this threat doesn’t exist.

A successful nuclear strike would carry an unthinkable toll. The bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945 had an explosive yield of 15 kilotons of TNT. North Korea’s nuclear test in October? Two hundred fifty kilotons.

According to the documentary film “33 Minutes,” the Sept. 11 attacks resulted in 3,000 deaths and $80 billion in damage. A nuclear bomb dropped on Manhattan would cause hundreds of thousands of casualties, and trillions in damage.

That’s not the only way a nuclear bomb could be used against the U.S., however. An electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, is another likely method of attack. In this case, a nuclear bomb isn’t dropped on the targeted area, but detonated hundreds of miles above it. This would emit a wide-ranging burst of electromagnetic radiation.

Goodbye, electric grid. Nearly everything powered by electricity, from telephones, internet service, and electric power, to car batteries and airplane controls, would be disrupted or permanently damaged. And not just in one city, but across the continental United States. In a flash, we’d be set back more than a century.

But wait, you may be thinking. You said we’d have 33 minutes to respond. We could counteract such an attack, right? Stop it from happening?

If you’re thinking of missile defense, you’re right. We do have a way of responding, and we could stop a missile with a missile. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the missile defense system we have isn’t as comprehensive and well-developed as it could and should be at this stage. We have a revolver, when we could have an automatic rifle.

Nearly 35 years ago, President Ronald Reagan first called for a way to render the threat of ballistic missiles “impotent and obsolete.” Yet today, thanks in part to opposition from those who consider missile defense both unworkable and destabilizing, we have only one system capable of shooting down long-range ballistic missiles headed for the U.S. homeland: the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system.

We can do better, though. The GMD system is the only system we have capable of intercepting an intercontinental ballistic missile in the mid-course phase of its flight.

With a system that includes sea- and space-based interceptors, we could target intercontinental ballistic missiles earlier in their flight—during the boost or ascent phase, when they’re traveling more slowly and are easier to hit.

Now’s the time, as the Trump administration conducts its own missile defense review, to reverse the cutbacks that occurred under the Obama administration. Defending ourselves on the cheap is unwise. With the right budgetary priorities, we can ensure that we get more than one shot at destroying an incoming missile.

North Korea, after all, isn’t the only threat (as if it wasn’t enough). Iran has a large ballistic missile arsenal and an active nuclear program, and it remains a dogged opponent of U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Then there’s our old Cold War nemesis, Russia. Thirty years ago, it signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the U.S.

But “Russia has violated the treaty at least twice,” writes defense expert Michaela Dodge. “The U.S. government’s 2017 report identifies a Russian ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile 3N-14 that can potentially carry a nuclear warhead.”

President Donald Trump has called the tax-cut bill before Congress “a big, beautiful Christmas present” for the U.S. With the work of the administration’s ballistic-missile defense review coming shortly thereafter, what better way to follow up this gift than to make 2018 the year when we finally get serious about protecting ourselves?

This article originally appeared in The Washington Times.

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Our Special Operations Forces Are Stretched Too Far

America is rightly proud of the incredibly capable and effective special operations forces that serve as the literal point of our military spear. The Army Rangers, Army Special Forces (Green Berets), Navy SEALs, Special Operations Aviation, and other elements are the best in the world.

No mission is too tough for these spectacular men and women, it seems. The question today is, do we love them too much?

Special operations forces, known in the military as SOF, led the way into Afghanistan and Iraq, and continue to play a leading role in both those theaters of conflict. They also fought a shadow war around the world in chasing down high-value terrorist targets outside the main areas of war.

As large-scale operations wound down, these forces returned to other tasks, at which they also excel.

They scattered around the world in over 80 countries (most of which are not terribly glamorous or safe) to train allied and partner militaries. The goal: giving those nations their own capabilities to fight the ever-metastasizing threats from al Qaeda, the Islamic State or ISIS, and other adversaries.

The 2011 strike in Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden and the recent loss of four of these brave warriors in Niger are stark reminders of the dangers of all these missions.

As the bulk of the large, conventional parts of the military have returned home, the contribution of special operations forces actually has expanded. The Obama administration was a huge advocate of these forces. Their effectiveness and low profile/low cost operations made them the forces of  choice.

The problem now is that the same personnel who have been “running hard” since Sept. 12, 2001, are still running. Some members of special operations forces have 10, 12, or more deployments under their belts since the war on terror began. They are tired, and their families are on a razor’s edge.

The leaders of the military services and U.S. Special Operations Command have been sounding the cry for relief for quite a while. Despite that, the missions keep coming.

Remember, you can’t just expand special operations forces. It takes years to develop troops of the quality and character needed. The only answer is backing off the operational tempo.

The military is trying. Leadership has made numerous efforts to spread the burden of the continuous requirements.

Creation of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command allowed more high quality troops to be utilized. The Army recently set up a Security Force Assistance Brigade designed to take up some overseas training missions normally done by Green Berets. These are excellent if controversial innovations, but they are not enough.

One of U.S. Special Operations Command’s “SOF Truths” is that you cannot create special operations forces after the crisis begins. More care has to be given to the specific missions we task them with. Those of the highest priority should be filled, others may have to wait or go to other types of units.

Everyone wants the best troops to do their task. But some of these will have to be addressed by elements that are still qualified and capable, though not at the top tier of the special operations forces structure.

A note here is warranted. In a tragedy that played out in June in the West African country of Mali, two members of SEAL Team 6 are suspected of killing a Green Beret sergeant because he had discovered they were stealing cash from their operational budget and would not “join in.”

If accurate, this was not an artifact of overwork; it was a failure of character. If these allegations are true, no one should brush off this horrendous act and give the perpetrators any sort of pass.

The bottom line is this: We are at a point where the very best we have will begin to die, to break down psychologically, or to have their families implode at rates higher than occur already. It is not acceptable for our leaders to allow that to happen.

These “rough men [and women] who are willing to do violence on our behalf” have given their all for the American people, and still are. The very least their leaders at the Defense Department, at the White House, and in Congress must do is to ensure their skills and experience are deployed only when the mission is truly critical.

The current mission load of our special operations forces should be reviewed and scrubbed to remove all tasks that are not essential to the vital national interests of America. The time of looking the other way is over.

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Contra Activist Judges, Not Allowing Transgender Individuals to Join Military Is Not Illegal Discrimination

On Dec. 11, a federal lower court judge in Washington, D.C., refused to stay her earlier October 30 order blocking President Donald Trump’s August 25, 2017 directive regarding transgender military service. That directive, transmitted to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, put to a halt the Obama administration’s June 2016 plan to allow transgender individuals to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces, beginning in July 2017 (but put on hold until January 1, 2018 by Defense Secretary James Mattis).

If allowed to stand, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s decision – coupled with similar Nov.  21 and Dec. 11 holdings in separate case by federal judges in Maryland and Seattle – would have enormous negative consequences.

It would mean that effective Jan. 1, 2018, the U.S. armed services would have to begin admitting transgender individuals, subject to certain guidelines.  The armed services also (based on the ruling by the Maryland judge) would have to fund sex reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel – on the taxpayer’s dime.

As a legal matter, these federal court decisions are deficient. Judges have no business displacing the reasoned decision of the president, under his constitutional authority as commander-in-chief, to promote military readiness by establishing sound principles for eligibility to serve in the armed forces.

The lower court decisions acknowledge this presidential authority, but nevertheless claim that, by being prevented from serving in the military, transgender individuals would be denied “equal protection of the law” guaranteed by the Constitution.

But equal protection prohibits invidious discrimination based on immutable characteristics such as race – discrimination lacking any rational justification.  It does not apply to rationally based non-invidious differentiation among classes of individuals needed to advance national goals, such as a strong military.

Rules denying military service opportunities to individuals who have serious medical problems (for example, heart disease, chronic asthma, or cancer) are not invidious discrimination – they are fully rational efforts to promote well-run and effective military services.  Because individuals suffering from significant medical difficulties drive up costs and tend to impair combat effectiveness, it is perfectly rational to bar them from military recruitment.

These medical considerations apply directly to transgender individuals, who often must cope with serious physical and psychological problems.  As Heritage scholar Thomas Spoehr, a retired three star general, has explained, transgender individuals allowed into the military “would need medical treatments — hormone therapies and often surgeries and the accompanying recovery times — throughout the duration of their service.”  Moreover:

Some studies report that transgender individuals attempt suicide and experience psychological distress at rates many times the U.S. national average.  To be clear, this is self-reported data, not data gleaned from rigorously controlled, clinical tests.  But at this time, these survey results are the best available data. It would be both irresponsible and immoral to place such individuals in a position where they are exposed to the additional extraordinary stresses and pressures of the battlefield.

In short, admitting transgender individuals into the armed forces, even with the best of intentions, is highly problematic. As Trump’s August 25 directive explained, the Obama administration “failed to identify a sufficient basis to conclude that terminating the [Defense and Homeland Security] Departments’ longstanding policy and practice [regarding transgender service] would not hinder military effectiveness and lethality, disrupt unit cohesion, or tax military resources[.]”  Thus, Trump concluded that “there remain meaningful concerns that further study is needed to ensure that continued implementation of last year’s policy change would not have those negative effects.”

Heritage Foundation scholars have detailed the problems service by transgender individuals poses for military preparedness here and here.

Summing up their concerns in a July 25 announcement, Heritage analysts Spoehr, director of the Center for National Defense; Emilie Kao, director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society; and Ryan Anderson, senior research fellow in DeVos Center, stated:

At a time when growing foreign threats are stretching our military’s resources, our priority should be on maintaining military readiness and directing taxpayer funds towards mission-critical purposes. Respecting the dignity of all people does not mean subjecting taxpayers to the tremendous medical costs of sex reassignment and allowing the enlistment of individuals whose resilience to the rigors of combat is uncertain.

Let us hope that the federal courts of appeal – and, if necessary, the Supreme Court – expeditiously reverse the lower court decisions and make it clear that the president has full authority to establish the terms, if any, under which transgender individuals are given (or denied) the opportunity to serve in the United States armed forces.

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Russia Has Repeatedly Flouted This Missile Treaty. It’s Time to Scrap It.

Thirty years ago Friday, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The treaty was unprecedented. For the first time in the history of nuclear arms control, it actually eliminated an entire class of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles with ranges between 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

But the good news didn’t last. Russia has been violating the treaty for nearly a decade now, and the United States is nowhere close to bringing Moscow back into compliance with the treaty’s terms.

So, as the treaty turns 30 years old, it’s clear that its day has come and gone. An agreement that only one side upholds is not worth the paper it is written on. It’s time to terminate the treaty.

Russia has violated the treaty at least twice. The U.S. government’s 2017 report identifies a Russian ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile 3N-14 that can potentially carry a nuclear warhead.

More recently, Christopher Ford, special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation on the United States National Security Council staff, identified another Russian missile that violates terms of the treaty: the 9M729. This means that Russia’s violations are growing in magnitude.

According to public accounts, Russia violated the treaty as early as 2008 by testing a missile within the prohibited range. The Obama administration took its time to publicize its concern over the test, in part because it did not want to upset the political process in negotiating the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

We now know that Russia has been deploying these missiles in violation of the treaty. Russia’s actions clearly show that Moscow is not interested in maintaining the treaty nor in keeping a productive arms control relationship with the United States.

Russia’s violations should not come as a surprise. Moscow remains in violation of many other arms control agreements, including the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Helsinki Final Act, and the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives.

Ignoring these violations undermines U.S. and allied security and poorly serves U.S. nonproliferation goals around the world.

Helpfully, Congress has exercised strong leadership on the treaty violation issue.

The fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act directs the Pentagon to establish an intermediate-range conventional ground-launched cruise missile program to counter the Russian threat. It proposes to implement targeted sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations involved in Russia’s intermediate-range nuclear forces program.

There is substantial precedent for this kind of targeted sanction against Russian officials, such as with the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which sanctions individuals involved in human rights abuses.

The United States’ NATO partners, in particular, are even more vulnerable to intermediate-range missiles. A comprehensive layered ballistic missile defense program ought to be a part of the response to Russia’s violations. NATO members can also take additional steps to bolster their conventional and nuclear preparedness in response to Russian defiance.

Russia’s violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty are an opportunity to show U.S. leadership and resolve. Standing up to Russia in the face of continued pressures to look the other way serve neither U.S. interests nor global security.

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