The Best Defense

On Tom's ranking of the SecDefs: A few words in defense of Laird and Johnson

By Lawrence Korb
Best Defense guest columnist

I think you unfairly overlooked Melvin Laird, who served as President Nixon's first secretary of defense during the latter years of the Vietnam War (1969-1973). As secretary, Laird had to not only manage the withdrawal of about 500,000 troops from Vietnam (two and a half times as many as from Iraq and Afghanistan combined), but also get the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support the plan. Laird also ended the draft and created the All-Volunteer Force, and developed the Total Force, which made the reserve components a strategic reserve for the first time by providing the Reserves with the equipment and training to be called up and deployed, as they have been in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Laird also re-armed the military on a defense budget that, in real terms, was $100 billion less than today's, even after the impact of the sequester caps, and with his deputy, David Packard, executed the "hi-lo mix," in which the services bought the somewhat less capable but much cheaper F-16 and F/A-18 jets, but fewer of the more expensive F-15s and F-14s. In addition to these managerial tasks, Laird also had to convince the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support the first SALT treaty with the Soviet Union. Finally, Laird took on Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy, and forced him to place 24 tubes on each Trident submarine, rather than the 16 Rickover wanted. This change meant that DOD would have robust nuclear capability without purchasing as many costly subs in an era of declining defense budgets.

Furthermore, his appointments to the Joint Chiefs of Staff were first rate. For example, he passed over 43 more senior admirals to make Admiral Elmo "Bud" Zumwalt the chief of naval operations. During his tenure, the Navy finally began to fully implement Truman's 1948 desegregation order and allow African-Americans to have the same opportunities as other Navy personnel.

Louis Johnson, Truman's secretary of defense (1949-1950), was also much more than just a political hack. True, he was the chief fundraiser for Harry Truman during his 1948 re-election campaign, but he was also a graduate of the University of Virginia law school (where Bobby Kennedy went) and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates.

Johnson also had sterling military credentials. During World War I, he served as an Army Captain in France. Johnson co-founded the American Legion following the war. From 1937 to 1940, during the early stages of World War II, Johnson served as assistant secretary of war for President Roosevelt.

As secretary of defense after World War II, he supported President Truman's desire to reduce defense spending and was not afraid of making tough decisions despite the fierce resistance of the services, including cancelling the aircraft carrier USS United States, pushing for the further unification of the services, and increasing the power of the secretary of defense. Johnson was a capable secretary of defense, but was thrown under the bus by Truman when the Korean War and the Soviet explosion of an atomic bomb exposed the problems with the president's attempts to keep defense spending low.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, served as assistant secretary of defense for manpower, reserve affairs, installations and logistics from 1981 to 1985.


The Best Defense

Thoughts about Fallujah: I am worried that we're just not built to win anymore

By Master Sgt. Sean Lulofs, USAF (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist

Our nation has not won a war since World War II. I think America is unwilling to win a war.

The United States has won battles and conflicts, but it has not truly won a war which could clearly demonstrate victory as the defeat of the Axis Powers did. The enemy leadership was removed and new types of democratic governments put in place. Their militaries were disassembled and rebuilt so as to no longer pose a threat to other nations. It was clearly defined who won, who lost, and how. Our nation has maintained a presence in those countries since 1945. 

Unfortunately, that was the last time when America believed in true victory, as demonstrated by the lack of willpower in wars since.

The Korean War is technically still underway and peace is only maintained by a ceasefire. The Korean Peninsula is still fractured and not returned to its whole. The leadership of North Korea was never removed from power and their military remained intact. The North Koreans have remained a threat to all within their part of the world. They continue to attempt to draw the world into a symmetrical war by constantly escalating tensions through hostile actions. We have never stepped up and crushed the aggression they continue.

The Vietnam War was lost even though we were winning it. We had pushed our enemies back and they were on the verge of defeat. However, due to lack of support for the mission (a.k.a. the troops), the national leaders fled not only the battlefield but their commitment and responsibility to our military. The communists fully took the nation and their evil spread to other countries which fertilized the killing fields due to the vacuum created by the hasty withdrawal. There was no such thing as "support the troops" and our returning military was spat on, even though it was this nation which not only asked them to go to war, but many were sent by compulsory service.

The Gulf War was never truly won because, although Saddam Hussein was turned out of Kuwait, his army scorched the earth and left mostly intact. Iraq would remain a threat to coalition forces patrolling the skies over the northern and southern no-fly zones by repeatedly firing upon aircraft. Iraq would also remain a constant threat to its neighbors for the next 12 years through the threat of launching SCUD missiles armed with chemical and biological weapons.

Most recently, our nation entered into combat, and are still engaged, with non-traditional forces in Afghanistan under the banner Operation Enduring Freedom. Initially, the United States demonstrated the will to win and win decisively. This nation, with a multinational force, exacted a swift and violent response. The enemy and all sympathizers were terrified. Terrorist-supporting nations around the region began to disarm their nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs because of the resolve shown to win the war and win decisively. It is a region of the world that only understands strength and force, which is what we showed them.

Then Afghanistan was forgotten as our nation turned to Iraq for a simultaneous war known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. This divided attention neglected Afghanistan operations and allowed the enemy there to regroup and rearm. Iraq initially appeared to be a quick victory and morale was high in the U.S. military as we demonstrated our superiority against a sizable military with ease. The people of Iraq cheered and believed their futures would be bright as freedom appeared near. However, our country again entered into a campaign to appease the minority of loud and aggressive pacifists. The cowardice of our nation's politicians prevented them from making clearly defined rules of engagement. Years of weak leadership and poor tactical execution created the powder keg in Fallujah in 2004. Because the fools of politics are never students of history, it was doomed to be repeated by another hasty withdrawal of forces from the country. Again, another vacuum was created and it allowed the very same terrorists which were turned from Fallujah to return.

If our nation understood enemies in combat can only be defeated with violence of action, we wouldn't still be in Afghanistan and black flags wouldn't be flying over Fallujah. Our nation has fought the Taliban and al Qaeda as if they were sparring in the debate team. Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi freedom were fought in the media, not on the battlefield. The piss-poor leadership this nation has elected over the past 50 years have caused the current state we are in because our leaders have failed to fight a war. Instead they fought to keep public opinion at the cost of our military men and women's lives.

Lastly, our citizenry has failed to hold our national leadership accountable. Not only have they failed to hold our leaders accountable for completing the mission of the war, but for all the decisions regarding domestic and foreign policies. Our citizenry has abandoned their obligation to hold those in office accountable for their actions.

I lost several friends in Fallujah during those long seven months in 2004. A few more were lost over the last nine years due to returning to combat and one close friend was lost to his battle with PTSD.

None of our men or women lost in battle has died for nothing because they died defending freedom and their fellow soldiers. However, their loss is in vain when the leadership who sent them there to die refuse to carry out and complete the mission. If Americans truly did "support the troops," they would not only shake our hands as we walked through the airport, they would demand their politicians commit to a swift victory. Don't shake my hand, shake up your politicians.

"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."

Sean Lulofs is the owner of Cogent K9 Canine Consulting Services. In the Air Force he was his service's military working dog program manager and Department of Defense military working dog action officer, as well as the antiterrorism officer for Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Sadam el-Mehmedy/AFP/Getty Images