Reforming the Marine Corps into Oblivion?

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I am not a Marine, but I have been honored over my years to count several formerly active and now-retired U.S. Marines as close personal friends. Additionally, I worked with many active-duty Marines during my years serving with the CIA in the 1970s and as a Member of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. 

U.S. Marines fire a TOW missile system as part of Exercise Arctic Littoral Strike in Blåtind, Norway on March 29. Photo by Patrick King/U.S. Marine Corps

The United States Marine Corps represents the very best of what America stands for, most notably attributes of ethics, reliability, loyalty, patriotism, strength, and innovation. 

These are some of the reasons why I and many others, including several former Marine officers, have grave concerns about policies now being forced onto the Corps, especially by a pair of official documents published over the past nearly three years — Force Design 2030  and Talent Management 2030.

The Marine Corps has served our country honorably in every major foreign conflict since before we became an independent sovereign nation. One of our country’s most beautiful memorials is the one just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., depicting the four Marines raising the American flag at Mt. Suribachi during the fierce battle for Iwo Jima in February 1945.

Despite the tremendous successes and great human cost borne by the Marine Corps in fighting to protect our national security, the service periodically has faced serious bureaucratic attacks here at home. Some of these challenges have been rooted in inter-service rivalries, with others based on myopic fiscal concerns or the well-known bureaucratic game of change-for-the-sake-of-change. 

The current attacks on the Marine Corps structure and culture, however, truly are existential.

The changes recommended by these documents are considered by retired Marine Corps generals who have studied them thoroughly, not only “unnecessary and unwise” and based on “unproven, experimental capabilities that will not be fully operational until 2030 or beyond,” but which in the interim will result in the “stripping away of proven and necessary capabilities.” 

Discarding existing capabilities in order to pay for projected capabilities – the so-called policy of “divest to invest” – might be a useful and appropriate tool in certain businesses and government settings. The policy certainly finds favor among “green eyeshade” pencil pushers looking only to save a dollar. 

As a policy by which to maintain a strong, flexible, and innovative fighting force able to meet lethal measures by an adversary in various geographic areas, such short-sighted measures are dangerously counter-productive.

Purposefully creating tactical technological and personnel gaps in America’s ability to meet and successfully defeat military challenges to our interests abroad whenever and wherever those events arise (which is the very raison d’etre of the Marine Corps) — as the proposals in both of these 2030 plans would do – will be a disservice not only to the men and women of the Marine Corps, but to our very nation.

Many of the policies proposed in the Washington-centric “Force 2030” documents (with a number of proposals already being implemented) reflect misguided assumptions that could prove disastrous if fully implemented.

For example, while China remains a major and serious threat to continued U.S. hegemony in the world, it is far from being the only threat we face currently or over the horizon. Yet, Force Design 2030 seems clearly to rest on the premise that China is and will remain the sole serious military threat the United States will face, and the one for which the Marine Corps must be reconstructed to face. 

Building a Marine Corps on such pinched perspective greatly reduces its ability to meet the myriad threats from other states and non-state actors; threats the men and women who wear its uniform have met and bested for decades.

In its predisposition to rely on technology rather than the human warriors who for centuries have served honorably as Marines, both “Force 2030” documents and their advocates are succumbing to the siren song now being heard among police reformers – move law enforcement resources from personnel into weaponry and technology. It is a proven recipe for failure, yet one clearly favored by the current Marine Corps reformers.

Finally, as if to drive a nail into the coffin, these advocates for change propose to open up the Corps for civilians to slip in “laterally” without having to endure basic training or be immersed in the culture and ethos that makes a Marine a Marine. Perhaps this will allow the Corps to bring in a future Sam Bankman-Fried if a perceived need arose for an officer knowledgeable about crypto-currency?

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard. Originally published in TownHall. With permission.