Picture credit: USMC Facebook page.
Questions about the utility of the Marine Corps have emerged routinely throughout this Nation’s history, especially after the end of each of its major wars, and have been asked by competing Services and outside critics alike. Whether the Nation needs a Marine Corps, and whether its core competency is outdated, is a question asked after the end of the Age of Sail, after WW2, after Vietnam, and nowadays.
But this is no excuse for writing foolish, idiotic garbage screeds based on nothing but ignorance and anti-military bias.
Such is the screed recently penned by one David Francis in the Fiscal Times, who claims the Marines’ main mission is amphibious assault, that it’s completely irrelevant today, and asks whether a Marine Corps is needed at all (while misquoting former Defense Secretary Robert Gates). He cites Clinton defense cuts architect Gordon Adams (now a university professor) as a “defense budget expert”; Adams himself says “They’re a service in search of mission.”
Francis even falsely claims that
“In 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates made waves when he ordered the Pentagon to take a hard look at the Marines to determine what, if any role they would play in the future of warfare.”
He goes even further and falsely claims:
“In this case, small size and budget are working to the Marines disadvantage. They’re not “too big to fail,” and their moribund mission is reflected in a force that hasn’t performed amphibious assaults for 73 years.
This problem became acute during the Afghan war. The Army was conducting the majority of the ground offensives, and Special Forces were performing many of the high-risk missions once performed by Marines. The other military branches were marginalizing them while illustrating just how outdated their core competency had become.
Gates said as much when he referenced Inchon. In another speech in 2010, he said, “the Marines do not want to be, nor does America need, another land army. Nor do they want to be, nor does America need, a “U.S. Navy police force.”
The future of warfare is unlikely to require amphibious assault capabilities. According to nearly every future threat assessment, the United States needs to focus on counterterrorism operations and cyber warfare, not for an invasion of China.”
This is total garbage, and I’ll refute it here. Please read and forward this article, whether you’re a Marine (AD, reserve, retired) or not.
Amphibious assault on the USMC’s relevancy
Firstly, while amphibious assault is not going to be a frequently repeated feat in the future, it is nonetheless still relevant – even more so than during the last 20+ years, when the US military fought counterinsurgency campaigns and peacekeeping operations mostly in landlocked or nearly landlocked countries.
Francis falsely claims that “According to nearly every future threat assessment, the United States needs to focus on counterterrorism operations and cyber warfare, not for an invasion of China.” I’d like him to point me to even one assessment that says that (note: ignorant garbage from leftist think-tanks and pro-disarmament organizations like ACA doesn’t count.)
In fact, according to virtually all credible threat assessments – from inside and outside the Pentagon – the biggest threats to US security are China, North Korea, and Iran, three dangerous WMD-armed nation-states, not terrorism. Terrorism is still a serious threat, but it is nowhere as grave as the military power of China, North Korea, and Iran, let alone the unpredictability of the latter two countries.
Moreover, the two principal theaters of US security policy focus during the decades ahead will be the Asia-Pacific and the Persian Gulf – two large maritime theaters. Here, but especially in the former, with its numerous islands, islets, and peninsulas, amphibious assault will still need to be conducted from time to time (even though anti-ship missiles will make it more dangerous) – for example, if the Senkaku, Spratly, or Paracelsus Islands need to be retaken, or if North Korea again invades the South.
But – as history as shown – you don’t even have to conduct an amphibious assault to win, you just have to threaten it credibly. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf did that in 1991 when facing Saddam Hussein. He threatened a Marine amphibious assault east of Kuwait, but instead did an end-run around Kuwait and attacked Iraq from the southwest from Saudi Arabia.
While the Marines didn’t actually conduct an amphibious landing then, they threatened it credibly, and by doing so, deceived and distracted Saddam – which was key to America’s fast, low-casualty victory.
The Nation’s 911 force
Oftentimes, when you’re in distress and you call 911, it can take an hour or more before the cops arrive. So it is with the Army – when trouble flares up, it can be weeks, if not months, before the Army is fully mobilized and ready to go (except the lightly armed 82nd and 101st Divisions).
This has actually been true throughout this Service’s entire history, and made worse by the fact that the Nation has usually gutted the Army (and the rest of the military) after each major war.
But the Marines have always, throughout their entire history, been ready for immediate deployment and for war anytime. Why? Because it’s their job.
You see, the Marine’s core competency – contrary to Francis’ and Adams’ ignorant claims – is not amphibious assault, but being the Nation’s 911 force, ready to deploy anywhere, anytime, with light, medium, and heavy equipment, and able to operate on land, in the air, and at sea. Indeed, the Marines are the military’s Swiss Army knife.
This has been true throughout the Nation’s entire history, from the 1790s to today. In the 1800s, President Thomas Jefferson sent the Navy and the Marines, not the Army, to Tripoli (where they performed their first amphibious landing). At the 1814 Battle of Bladensburg, they fought bravely to the last man while the Army (even the Regulars) broke rank and fled cowardly. In the Mexican-American war, they were the tip of the spear.
After the Age of Sail ended, the Marines remained the Nation’s 911 immediate response force, deploying wherever US interests or citizens were threatened, toppling hostile governments and installing friendly ones, and liberating Cuba and Panama. In the Spanish-American War, the Navy and the Marines were again ready for war immediately and fought magnificently; the Army was late to show its worth because it had been neglected for decades prior.
Then, of course, came WW1 and WW2; in the latter, Marines were the ones who retook entire archipelagos, installing the US flag at Mt Suribachi on Iwo Jima, and liberating tens of millions of people. Thence came the Korean War. Despite being badly cut for 5 years prior, the Marines deployed immediately and dealt Kim Il-sung a nasty defeat at Inchon. When Communist China counterattacked to bail Kim out, the Army retreated in disorder while the Marines retreated orderly.
And when the Vietnam War began, the Marines were the first to arrive and the last to leave Vietnam (in 1975, after evacuating US citizens and diplomats from Saigon). You see, the Marines are almost always the first US troops to arrive in, and the last American troops to leave a theater.
And in 1990, when Saddam invaded Kuwait and threatened to overrun Saudi Arabia, who were the first US troops to arrive (excl. the 82nd Division)? Why, the Marines, of course. Within one week of Schwarzkopf making a request, a fully-armed Marine Expeditionary Brigade arrived, and two weeks afterwards, there were three MEBs in theater.
In the future, the Marines will, as they have for the last century (if not two), be the Nation’s 911 force – a first responder who comes when the situation is worst, the force you can send overseas immediately, while the Army will take weeks to mobilize. Defense budget analysis by FOUR think-tanks – the AEI, the CNAS, the CSBA, and the CSIS – agrees that this is what the Marines will and should be, and accordingly calls for Marine readiness to be at maximum level.
The Nation needs a fully-armed, multi-domain force that can react anywhere, anytime, against anyone. That’s the Marine Corps. No other service can fill that role.
And that’s also what Sec. Gates said in 2010, in the speech Francis quotes (and misquotes). Gates NEVER questioned the need for a Marine Corps. He knew the Nation needs a 911 fast response force. He only questioned the need for amphibious assault vehicles.
But even though he cancelled the previous program of that type (bc of cost overruns), he started a new one, and it is in progress now.
In short, all of Francis’ and Adams’ claims are blatant lies. The Fiscal Times should be ashamed of itself for publishing such a low-quality article. The Nation needs, and will always need, a Marine Corps.