Opinion | National Security

Trump should call out — and reform — our military's failed leadership

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

President Trump's frayed relations with the U.S. military could imperil some of his most important achievements, and his presidency.  

The relationship between the president and America's admirals and generals appears to have reached a low point. This is a shame because the military has been in desperate need of reform and Trump has, at heart, the right set of instincts about how to reform it.  

Let's begin with this: History will not look kindly on the admirals and generals who led America into two decades of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

America's strategic failure in Iraq, and our waste of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives in Afghanistan, are, in part, the result of the careerism of a class of admirals and generals who apparently were incapable of creative, effective leadership when the nation most needed it.  

American military leaders have cycled through war zones and tours at the Pentagon, leaving their one-year tours with medals and promotions. The nation called them heroes, even as their strategies led to the deaths and maiming of thousands of young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who followed their orders, while America's strategic situation deteriorated or remained stagnant.  

Not only did these military leaders promote and reward each other while troops suffered, but more than 18 years into a fruitless war in Afghanistan, they evidently could not present the commander in chief with any options other than, "Let's do again the same thing that we did last year."  

Trump was right to finally pull the plug on our misadventure in Afghanistan.

Trump was also right to withdraw troops on our adventure in Syria. What was our mission there?  Why were we willing to let America's sons and daughters die there? What was the Pentagon's plan for peace, or ending the war?    

Trump's move in Syria was opposed by nearly the whole of the U.S. military establishment, who warned that the "sky would fall" if we ended our deployment there. But it appears they were wrong and he was right. 

One of the secrets of military culture as it has developed over the past two decades, is that officers' careers progress - regardless of whether America is successful on the battlefield.  Eight years of President Obama's leadership led to the promotion of a class of senior leaders who are politically correct, take no risks, and win no wars.  

Some of the men and women wearing stars today in the Pentagon probably are there not because of what they did, but because of what they did not do: They did not take risks, did not speak up, or get out of line. They played the game.     

Americans should care about all of this because the Trump administration's National Defense Strategy has said Russia and China are our greatest adversaries and we may not be prepared to fight such adversaries. War games and scenarios have shown the U.S. could lose a war to China because for decades our military leaders have invested trillions of taxpayer dollars in legacy systems - manned fighter aircraft, aircraft carriers - that keep us vulnerable to competitors such as China and Russia.    

The Navy now is an extraordinarily expensive disaster waiting to happen. Imagine the outrage when the American public learns that Chinese missiles are capable of sending our aircraft carriers to the bottom of the ocean. The U.S. military has failed to keep a strategic advantage in missile or anti-missile technology.  

Nowhere has "the swamp in Washington" made us weaker than the military.  The swamp includes Congress, ex-Congress members who become lobbyists, defense companies, and the former admirals and generals who profit at defense companies - all get rich while America continues to lose its strategic advantage. If we could lose to the Chinese in the South China Sea, or lose to Russia in a European skirmish, Americans should know this. Our military advantage has been extinguished by the class of military leaders whose operations failed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Trump could have - and should have - been the president to end America's misadventures and take on the swamp in Washington, as he promised. Instead, he has allowed his ego and moments of self-indulgence to distract from the important mission of keeping America safe.  

The shame of all of this is that, on matters of policy, war and draining the swamp, Trump has been right, but his leadership style, which seems to reduce every disagreement to a conflict of personality, has shrunk the power of his presidency. For all his  abilities, Trump clearly is a leader who thinks of himself first and whose ego often seems to take charge of policy.

In this regard, Trump is his own worst enemy. The American people and our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who serve this country need a commander in chief who is willing to call out the failed leadership of our military leaders. Trump could be that champion, if only he'd put someone else first.  

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of "Reawakening Virtues."