The Bunker: Pentagon Pu Pu Platter (2024)

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This week in The Bunker: China-threat hyperbole soars ever higher; the officer in charge of building a new ICBM is fired; Biden slights troops who died on his watch; and more.

DÉJÀ VU VU PLATTER

We’ve seen this show before

Kids love visiting Chinese American restaurants and starting out with a Pu Pu Platter. It’s an assortment of chicken wings, fried wonton, egg rolls, and other greasy delicacies. Best of all, you can heat them up, skewered on sticks, that you poke into a tabletop flame. The fire comes from a Sterno can centered on the plate, which gives everything a delectable chemical aftertaste.

Over the past week, there’s been a similar collection of Middle Kingdom treats threats rolled out:

  • Sounding the Alarm On China’s Threat to the U.S.
  • China ‘actively’ targeting U.S. industrial base, warns CYBERCOM chief
  • China’s ‘worst-case thinking’ could spark space crisis, study finds
  • China is seeking ways to disrupt daily American life should a conflict erupt, Pentagon’s IT leader says
  • Nearly 160,000 Chinese illegal border crossers since January 2021, or 32 U.S. Army brigades
  • Former Navy captain tells Congress of decades-long U.S. intelligence failures on China

China is a serious threat and must be taken seriously. But it has an increasingly brittle leadership, a corrupt military, and a developing demographic disaster. Any discussion of the threat it poses needs to be tempered with these realities, but rarely is.

This threat roster also has a familiar aftertaste. The last time, the enemy was the Soviet Union. Just like today, the threat was real, but turbocharged by those with a vested interest in magnifying it. That’s how we ended up with McCarthyism, illusory U.S. missile and bomber gaps, the annual glossy Soviet Military Power sales brochure to boost U.S. arms production, and untold billions of dollars in excess defense spending.

That “former Navy captain” cited in the last headline above is James Fanell, who retired from the service in 2015 after warning that China was readying for a “short, sharp war” in the Pacific (heck, even The Bunker quoted him).

“Over the course of decades the Chinese Communist Party effectively misled our Executive Branch to ignore the People’s Republic of China as a rising existential threat,” Fanell said in his 17-page statement (PDF) to the House Oversight Committee’s June 26 hearing, “Defending America from the Chinese Communist Party’s Political Warfare.”

“In particularly, the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community were deceived by the CCP’s skillful use of elite capture, deception, disinformation and propaganda programs. As a result, senior U.S. leaders unilaterally disarmed psychologically, intellectually, and militarily, despite clear evidence that PRC had no intent to rise peacefully, and viewed America as its main enemy to be defeated through protracted war,” Fanell said. “Even worse, our leaders help fund and otherwise enable China’s military, economic, and technological advances needed to destroy our military forces in the field and destroy our society and economy.”

“Paging Dr. Strangelove!”

Two points: China is not going to “destroy our military …and destroy our society and economy.” And when it comes to “deception, disinformation and propaganda,” the U.S. national-security state takes a back seat to no one.

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes,” Mark Twain supposedly said. He never did. What he did say, however, is even more relevant: “History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends.”

NO LONGER STANDING SENTINEL

New ICBM boss is dismissed

The Air Force fired Colonel Charles Clegg, responsible for developing the new LGM-35A Sentinel (PDF) intercontinental ballistic missile, on June 24. The same day, lawmakers complained (PDF) that the system’s cost has skyrocketed by 211% since 2015. But Clegg’s cashiering “is not directly related” to the Sentinel’s rising cost, the Air Force said. “He was removed,” it added gauzily, “because he did not follow organizational procedures.” U.S. taxpayers are entitled to a fuller accounting for the termination of the person in charge of this $131 billion leg of the nuclear triad.

The Pentagon rarely fires someone for screwing up weapons development. Back in 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired the two-star Marine general running the F-35 fighter program (didn’t help much). In 2020, the Navy cashiered the captain running the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier program (ditto).

In 2018, Frank Kendall, who earlier had been the Pentagon’s top civilian weapons buyer, warned against such public occupational executions. Yet he now runs the Air Force, which fired Clegg. “It is wishful thinking to imagine that we will get better results if … we threaten program managers with public firing,” he said six years ago. “The more likely result of the more aggressive use motivational ‘sticks’ is … fewer qualified people willing to serve as government program managers who can be arbitrarily fired for poor program performance they had no real control over.”

Precisely. Canning Colonel Clegg is like blaming the Titanic’s pastry chef for the failure of his soufflé to rise on his last night at sea.

UNFORGIVEABLE

Not-So-G.I.-Joe

The White House got it right (PDF). The State Department got it right (PDF). Heck, even the Pentagon got it right (PDF): 13 young U.S. military personnel were killed by a suicide bomber during the botched U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 26, 2021. But the commander-in-chief blew it during his June 27 debate with Donald Trump. He was trying to score a political point, smeared with blood. “I’m the only president this century … that doesn’t have any troops dying anywhere in the world, like he did,” President Biden said.

A president has no more sacred obligation than honoring the troops serving under his command — and never forgetting those who didn’t make it home. When you embrace them, and their sacrifice, you better be right. Mistakes, misspeaking, a cold-induced brain fog — none excuses Biden’s shameful rewriting of history.

Those killed at Kabul airport’s Abbey Gate were Marines Lance Corporal David L. Espinoza, 20; Sergeant Nicole L. Gee, 23; Staff Sergeant Darin T. Hoover, 31; Corporal Hunter Lopez, 22; Lance Corporal Rylee J. McCollum, 20; Lance Corporal Dylan R. Merola, 20; Lance Corporal Kareem M. Nikoui, 20; Corporal Daegan W. Page, 23; Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25; Corporal Humberto A. Sanchez, 22; Lance Corporal Jared M. Schmitz, 20; Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22; and Army Staff Sergeant Ryan C. Knauss, 23.

“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive,” Biden said hours after it happened. “We will not forget.”

Huh?

WHAT WE’RE READING

Here’s what has caught The Bunker’s eye recently

No t(h)anks…

The annual South by Southwest festival will bar the military and defense contractors from sponsoring the 2025 Austin music and tech gathering, Aaron Mehta and Ashley Roque reported June 26 at Breaking Defense.

Rollover realities

Michael McDowell, whose Marine son died in a military rollover accident in 2019, detailed the deadly problem June 25 at New America.

Biggest Bang Theory

The U.S. accounted for 56% of global spending on nuclear weapons last year, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons reported June 17.

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The Bunker: Pentagon Pu Pu Platter (2024)
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