Disastrously Delusional- Kerry on “Meet the Press”

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The events of this week in the Ukraine, particularly Russia’s de facto occupation of the Crimea, have highlighted the shambles that is US foreign policy.  Aside from revealing the complete impotence of NATO, the situation which has evolved in the last 72 hours has brought to the fore the contrast between the Machiavellian power-broker realism of Putin/Lavrov and the naive and feckless bumbling of Obama and SecState John Kerry.

To the list of foreign policy disasters that include the Cairo speech, the West Point speech, cut and run in Iraq, a stunted “surge” in AFG, the “Arab Spring” debacle, leading “from behind” in Libya, the Benghazi attack and cover-up, supporting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, being caught bluffing with the “red line” nonsense in Syria, selling out our Israeli allies to make a deal virtually guaranteeing a nuclear Iran, we have the crowning fiasco, and likely the most dangerous in long-term impact for the United States and the world.

Kerry’s appearance on “Meet the Press” today reveals just how misguided and dangerously naive the arrogant amateur buffoons are who are careening our ship of state onto the shoals at flank speed.

This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th-century behavior in the 21st century, and there’s no way to start with that if Russia persists in this, that the G8 countries are going to reassemble in Sochi. That’s a starter. But there’s much more than that.

Is he kidding?  Power politics was centuries old when Machiavelli defined it in his works in the 1530s.  Power politics has dominated every century since, including the 20th.  In fact, there is virtually no reason to suddenly embrace some notion of “21st Century” statecraft that is any different from that of the previous five centuries, since the emergence of modern nation-states.  That Kerry and Obama think otherwise, and think the rest of the world behaves accordingly, is the height of hubris.  Treating the world as you wish it to be rather than how it exists is simply bankrupt intellectual foolishness.  But there’s more.

And we hope, President Obama hopes that President Putin will turn in the direction that is available to him to work with all of us in a way that creates stability in Ukraine. This does not have to be, and should not be, an East/West struggle.

There is no excuse whatever, other than a willful ignorance of history, to utter such a decidedly stupid and ill-informed comment publicly.  The central theme to the existence of European Russia is an eight-century long existential struggle between East and West.  The tragicomic foolishness of Hillary Clinton’s “reset button”, so contemptuously ridiculed by Foreign Minister Lavrov, was indicative of just how amateurish and incompetent the Obama Administration’s foreign policy and national security players were, and just how precious little they understood the art of statecraft.  Statements like the above reveal how little those players know about the history of the nations and peoples with which that statecraft requires them to interact.

There is worse to come later in the interview with David Gregory.   These two positively head-scratching pronouncements can rightfully make one wonder how tenuous this Administration’s grip on reality truly is:

David, the last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of a situation. We want a peaceful resolution through the normal processes of international relations.

President Putin is not operating from a place of strength here. Yanukovych was his supported president… President Putin is using force in a completely inappropriate manner that will invite the opprobrium of the world.

Such a bizarre pair of assertions is difficult to explain.  The several thousand Russian forces, which include mechanized infantry, attack aviation, and self-propelled artillery certainly seem to point to the notion that Vladimir Putin believed some semblance of a military solution was desired to ensure Russia maintained a friendly buffer between Russia and what Putin believes is a hostile West.   A buffer that incidentally includes the strategically vital naval base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and has a population demographic of approximately 60% ethnic Russians.

As for understanding a position of strength, one might also wonder just how Kerry would go about defining strength.  There is virtually nothing NATO can do militarily, should they even be willing; the United States, with shrinking defense budgets, is in the midst of gutting its military to pre-World War II levels.   The leverage the EU has over Russia is limited, despite Russia’s very significant economic problems.   Any “opprobrium”, or threats by the US, France, Canada, and the UK to suspend the G-8 Summit, is positively pittance to the Russians in comparison to the security of their strategically essential western neighbors, regions that have countless times stood between Russia and destruction at the hands of a conquering West. Russia has acted virtually unchallenged, presenting a fait accompli to the West that, despite assertions to the contrary, will not be undone.  If ever there was a position of power, Russia holds it right now in the Crimea, and will be asserting it anywhere and everywhere in the “near abroad” that Putin has long promised to secure.

The United States never has had all that much leverage to prevent Russia and a talented autocrat like Putin from leaning on their western border states, despite the fitful attempts by the US to draw some of those states into the Western sphere.  The invasions of Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008 proved that beyond a doubt.  But what is most disturbing about the current crisis is watching the US Secretary of State and the US President misread, misstep, and attempt to bluster their way through another confrontation with a geopolitical rival that is acting without restraint and without regard for the empty rhetoric from the Obama Administration.   The most fundamental lesson of statecraft is that of understanding power.  To that end, we have another object lesson in the use of that power.  There is no such thing as hard power, soft power, or “smart” power.  There is just power.  As it has since antiquity, power consists of the capability to enforce one’s will upon an adversary mixed with the willingness to use that capability.

Putin and Lavrov know that lesson well.  They are hard-bitten professionals who act as they believe necessary to promote Russian interests and improve economic and physical security.  Obama and Kerry are rank amateurs, blinded by an ideology that begets a naive and woefully unrealistic understanding of how the world works.  They have been outfoxed and outplayed yet again, seemingly willingly forfeiting US influence and credibility in pursuit of a badly-flawed world view in which influence is based upon hollow threats and ill-conceived public statements.  Any doubts regarding that assertion should be erased when one listens to the cognitive dissonance emanating from our Secretary of State as he describes the Crimean crisis in terms which have little to do with reality.   It is to weep.

Going Hollow: The Hagel Preview of the FY2015 Defense Budget

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Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh Burke Chair at CSIS, provides a very cogent summary of the weakness of our Defense Department leadership and its inability or unwillingness to discuss the 2015 DoD budget meaningfully.

At the simplest level of budgetary planning, the Secretary’s budget statements ignore the fact that the Congressional Budget Office projects that the Department’s failure to manage the real-world crises in personnel, modernization, and readiness costs will have as negative an overall budget impact over time as Sequestration will. Ignoring the Department’s long history of undercosting its budget, its cost overruns, and the resulting cuts in forces, modernization, and readiness means one more year of failing to cope with reality.  Presenting an unaffordable plan is as bad as failing to budget enough money.

Cordesman gets to the real meat of our failure of strategic (dare I say “national strategic”?) thinking, as well.

He talks about cuts in personnel, equipment, and force strength in case-specific terms, but does not address readiness and does not address any plan or provide any serious details as to what the United States is seeking in in terms of changes in its alliances and partnerships,  and its specific goals in force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness.

He holds nothing back in his contempt for the process of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), either.

Worse, we are going to leave these issues to be addressed in the future by another mindless waste of time like the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). All the past QDRs have been set so far in the future to be practical or relevant. Each successive QDR has proved to be one more colostomy bag after another of half-digested concepts and vague strategic priorities filled with noise and futility and signifying nothing.

Cordesman saves his best for last, however.

Like all of his recent predecessors, Secretary Hagel has failed dismally to show the U.S. has any real plans for the future and to provide any meaningful sense of direction and real justification for defense spending. The best that can be said of his speech on the FY2015 defense budget is that U.S. strategy and forces will go hollow in a kinder and gentler manner than simply enforcing sequestration.

We do need to avoid cutting our forces, military capabilities, and defense spending to the levels called for in sequestration. But this is no substitute for the total lack of any clear goals for the future, for showing that the Department of Defense has serious plans to shape a viable mix of alliances and partnerships, force levels, deployments, modernization, personnel, and readiness over the coming Future Year Defense Plan.

I don’t always agree with Cordesman’s assertions, but he is just about always a thoughtful if provocative commenter on Defense and National Security issues, and his analysis of SECDEF Hagel’s remarks are spot-on.  We are headed for a hollow force, despite its smaller size, as many of us have feared all along.  This, despite all the promises and admonitions of this Administration and our Pentagon leadership.  Go have a read.

 

 

Seduced By Success; An Army Leadership Untrained for True War?

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Our friend at Op-For, the urbane and erudite sophisticate LTCOL P (supplying some cogent comments of his own), points us to a superb article in AFJ by Daniel L. Davis outlining the very real possibility that our immense advantages over our foes in the last two-plus decades has left many of our middle and senior leadership untested and overconfident in our warfighting capabilities.

Imagine one of today’s division commanders finding himself at the line of departure against a capable enemy with combined-arms formation. He spent his time as a lieutenant in Bosnia conducting “presence patrols” and other peacekeeping activities. He may have commanded a company in a peacetime, garrison environment. Then he commanded a battalion in the early years of Afghanistan when little of tactical movement took place. He commanded a brigade in the later stages of Iraq, sending units on patrols, night raids, and cordon-and-search operations; and training Iraq policemen or soldiers.

Not once in his career did an enemy formation threaten his flank. He never, even in training, hunkered in a dugout while enemy artillery destroyed one-quarter of his combat vehicles, and emerged to execute a hasty defense against the enemy assault force pouring over the hill.

Spot-on.  Such sentiment applies to ALL SERVICES.  Even in the midst of some pretty interesting days in Ramadi and Fallujah, I never bought into the idea that was being bandied about so casually that “there is no more complex decision-making paradigm for a combat leader than counterinsurgency operations”.   It was utter nonsense.  The decisions to be made, as the author points out, above the troops-in-contact level, were seldom risking success or failure either in their urgency or content.  We had in Iraq and in AFG the ability to largely intervene with air or ground fires as we desired, to engage and disengage almost at will, against an enemy that could never have the capability of truly seizing tactical initiative.  Defeat, from a standpoint of force survival, was never a possibility.  To borrow Belloc’s observations of Omdurman, “Whatever happens, we have got, close air support, and they have not”.

Having a brigade of BMP-laden infantry rolling up behind the fires of a Divisional Artillery Group, supported by MI-24s and SU-25s, which stand a very real chance of defeating (and destroying) not just your unit but all the adjacent ones, is infinitely more challenging than even our rather intense fights (April and November 2004) for Fallujah.  The speed and tactical acumen of the decision makers will be the difference between holding or breaking, winning and losing, living or dying.   The author points out some significant shortcomings in our current training paradigm, and brings us back to some fundamentals of how we train (or used to, at any rate) decision-makers to operate in the fog and uncertainty of combat.  Training and exercises, designed to stress and challenge:

At some of the Combat Maneuver Training Centers, Army forces do some good training. Some of the products and suggestions from Army Training and Doctrine Command are good on paper. For example, we often tout the “world class” opposing force that fights against U.S. formations, and features a thinking and free-fighting enemy. But I have seen many of these engagements, both in the field and in simulation, where the many good words are belied by the exercise. For example, in 2008 I took part in a simulation exercise in which the opposing forces were claimed to be representative of real world forces, yet the battalion-level forces were commanded by an inexperienced captain, and the computer constraints limited the enemy’s ability to engage.

Many may remember the famed “Millennium Challenge 2002” held just before Operation Iraqi Freedom. Retired Marine general Paul Van Riper, appointed to serve as opposing force commander, quit because the exercise was rigged. ”We were directed…to move air defenses so that the army and marine units could successfully land,” he said. ”We were simply directed to turn [air defense systems] off or move them… So it was scripted to be whatever the control group wanted it to be.” For the U.S. Army to be successful in battle against competent opponents, changes are necessary.

Field training exercises can be designed to replicate capable conventional forces that have the ability to inflict defeats on U.S. elements. Such training should require leaders at all levels to face simulated life and death situations, where traditional solutions don’t work, in much more trying environments than is currently the case. They should periodically be stressed to levels well above what we have actually faced in the past several decades. Scenarios, for example, at company and battalion level where a superior enemy force inflicts a mortal blow on some elements, requiring leaders and soldiers to improvise with whatever is at hand, in the presence of hardship and emotional stress.Simulation training for commanders and staffs up to Corps level should combine computer and physical exercises that subject the leaders to situations where the enemy does the unexpected, where key leaders or capabilities are suddenly lost (owing to enemy fire or efforts), yet they still have to function; where they face the unexpected loss of key communications equipment, yet still be forced to continue the operation.

Such exercises should not all be done in nicely compartmentalized training segments with tidy start and end times, and “reset” to prepare for the next sequence. Instead, some exercises should be held where there is a beginning time “in the box” and no pre-set start or end times until the end of a rotation two weeks or more later. In short, the training rotation should replicate the physical and emotional stress of actual combat operations in which there is no “pause” to rest and think about what happened.

I couldn’t agree more.  However, in a budget-crunch environment where significant funding is going toward advancing political and social agendas even within DoD, I am not at all sanguine about such training occurring.  Worse, rather than having leaders champion the need for it and constantly fight for training dollars, I fear that such a requirement will be dismissed as less than necessary, since we already have “the most professional, the best educated, the most capable force this country has ever sent into battle.”  While our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are indeed superb, and honed at the small unit level, our senior leadership is much less so.  What’s worse is that leaders who have no experience in battlefield command against a near-peer force have begun to assert that technological innovation makes such training superfluous.  That the nature of war has changed, and we are now in an era of “real-time strategy” and “global awareness”.   To steal a line from The Departed, there is deception, and there is self-deception.

Anyway, the Armed Forces Journal article is a thought-provoking read.

Words of Wisdom from Brian McGrath

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Over at Information Dissemination, Bryan McGrath has a post about the possibility that the Navy will be directed to maintain the current level of CVBGs, which means funding of USS George Washington’s (CVN-73) Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH) rather than retirement and disposal of the 22-year old supercarrier.  In that post, McGrath posits what should be the well-ingrained mantra of our Navy leadership:

The debates should start with the proposition that the Navy is too small to accomplish its conventional and strategic missions, that what the Navy does for the country is simply more important that what other aspects of the military do (in a time of relative peace among great powers but tension on the horizon), and that we are making grave and irreversible mistakes as our maritime industrial base hangs in the balance.  No one argued that the Army had to get bigger and more robust to fight the wars we were in…the Navy needs to make a principled argument that now is ITS time for sunlight and growth, that what IT does is uniquely suited to our security and prosperity, and that cutting it increases what are now manageable, but growing dangers.

It is time to go to the mattresses.

Our Navy leadership has in recent past all but refused to discuss end-strength and high-low mix, with consensus of what our Navy should even look like in order to execute the Cooperative Strategy being conspicuously absent.   The current 280-0dd ship Navy is barely able to execute NOW, without anyone to contest us.  To cut further and still claim to Congress and the American people that the Navy is capable of carrying out the roles and missions assigned to it in defense of our nation and its interests is at best a fool’s errand, and at worst, the same ilk of blatant politically-driven dishonesty that has become all too common among those in senior uniformed leadership positions.

I am off to the AFCEA/USNI West conference tomorrow, and I will have an opportunity to see how many of the Navy’s senior leaders embrace Bryan McGrath’s wisdom.

SWAT-in’ Up in The People’s Republic of Massachusetts

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I caught this little buggy on I-95 in Maryland, headed north, obviously.  (Those are MA State Police plates.)  And again, in CT, where I snapped these pictures through my windshield.

The Massachusetts State Police, it seems, have acquired at least one MRAP.  This, in a state where a law-abiding citizen is all but forbidden to own a gun, let alone carry one.  And, in many towns, if the Police Chief doesn’t feel you “need” one, then there is no “all but”, because you will not be issued a Firearms Identification Card, and denied firearm ownership.  But the State Cops?  They get armored vehicles made to stop a rocket-propelled grenade and 7.62 SLAP rounds.

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“Cadillac” Deval Patrick, the Massachusetts Governor, is super-tight with President Barack Obama.  They share skin color, and the same obsession with that skin color.  They share a socialist-communist progressive political viewpoint.  They also share the philosophy that political opponents are to be treated as enemies.  And now Patrick is ensuring his State Police force now has the weapons it needs to suppress the dangerous elements of the Massachusetts electorate who dare challenge the omnipotence of the state.

It is axiomatic that whatever capabilites Law Enforcement entities acquire, they will find a way to use them, even if that use is more than a little ex post facto justification for having such capability.  Some Barney Fife somewhere will insist upon it.   Hollywood’s portrayal notwithstanding, the number of Massachusetts State Police Officers killed in the line of duty totals just 41 in the century and a half since its founding in 1865.  The vast preponderance of these deaths in the line of duty have been accidental, with motorcycle accidents (13) accounting for more than twice the number killed by gunfire (6) in those 150 years.   That’s right, just SIX Massachusetts State Police Officers have been killed by gunfire in the line of duty.  Only three in the last 31 years.

But they now have MRAPs.  At least one.  And no, I don’t care in the slightest if DoD GAVE them to the State Police.  Operation and maintenance costs aside, there is no need for such vehicles to be in the possession of law enforcement of any kind in MA.  Give them to the National Guard, or foreign military sales.  Because in the hands of cops, under the rubric of “safety”, they will surely wind up on the streets of the Commonwealth, either in a wildly overblown response to an incident, or as a means of intimidation of the population, who could do little to nothing in response to such a capability.

Cadillac Deval wants to play with MRAPs?  I’d take up a collection to ship him and his Personal Security Detail, and that MRAP, to Helmand, or South Sudan, or Northern Nigeria, or Mali, so he can tool around in a place where his new toy is more appropriate.  He might even get to see if it can stop an RPG.  Or five.   Because that MRAP sure as hell doesn’t belong on the streets of cities and towns in Massachusetts.

Locklear: US Pacific Dominance “Diminishing”? You don’t say, Admiral!

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Commander of US Pacific Command Admiral Sam Locklear seems to not have much of a knack for strategic thought.  Last March it was Locklear whom, in the face of a sabre-rattling North Korea and an intransigent and increasingly hostile China, defined his biggest strategic threat to be……  climate change. 

Recently, at the Surface Navy Association, Locklear again puts a round in the wood with his convoluted and childishly naïve assessment of The People’s Republic of China, after finally having the long-overdue epiphany that China actually represents a threat to US interests in the Pacific and elsewhere.

“China is going to rise, we all know that,” Adm. Locklear said, as reported by Defense News, which included several quotes from his speech at the annual Surface Navy Association meeting.

“[But] how are they behaving? That is really the question,” the admiral said, adding that the Pacific Command’s goal is for China “to be a net provider of security, not a net user of security.”

Not that Locklear is alone in his Pollyanna take on the PRC.  More than a few times, in wargames, and in discussions of events in the Pacific, I have heard senior officers discuss “co-opting” China as a “partner” to help “find a solution” to the problem, when the problem was very intentionally created by China and Chinese actions, because a change in status quo was in China’s best interests.   But Locklear has PACOM.   The People’s Republic of China is in his AOR.    Locklear’s bizarre assertions have gotten notice, finally.

“The problem with this formulation is, for whom does Adm. Locklear think China will be providing security?” said Dean Cheng, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “The implicit answer is ‘to everyone,’ because the assumption is that we can somehow mold China into being ourselves — that China will see its interests as somehow congruent and coincident with those of the United States, and therefore China will assume the mantle of regional provider of public goods.

“But this is a remarkable assumption, especially in light of recent Chinese behavior. China is not interested in providing security for everyone and, frankly, not even for anyone other than itself.”

A couple of news flashes for Sam Locklear.  China is not in a position to rise.  They ARE rising, and have been for some years.  The epiphany you had about China ending US dominance?   A little late.  By almost a decade.  China has been an unabashed supporter of DPRK bellicosity and intransigence, and has materially aided them in both weapons development and network exploitation capabilities.  They have undermined and eroded the Iran sanctions.  China has been long involved in penetration of US networks and theft of national and industrial secrets, as well as many tens of billions of dollars of intellectual property.  China has also made her intentions brutally clear on several occasions, in myriad ways.   Unfortunately, political being that he is, Sam Locklear is deaf to the sounds of a regional adversary playing power politics when his civilian masters deny that power politics even exist (except domestically, to get elected).
China as a force to be reckoned with has been something past Administrations have had to deal with, for sure.  Not all of them (Loral?) have done so prudently.  The continued shrinking of the US Navy under George W. Bush prevented a major US maritime presence in the Western Pacific while two wars unfolded in the Middle East.   But what has happened since January 2009 has been an emboldened China seeing a reluctant and amateurish Unites States foreign policy that lacks resolve and is determined to cut the very capabilities which would be most useful in deterring Chinese expansion in WESTPAC at the expense of our allies.   China smells blood (and opportunity), has greatly accelerated its efforts to establish complete regional hegemony, and has met with next to no opposition from the United States.   The US acquiescence to the Chinese ADIZ is a case in point.  Which is why you see Japan, and the Republic of Korea, India, and even the Philippines scrambling to build sufficient naval and military power to oppose China .  Those nations, all of the US allies, see a vacillating and irresolute America befuddled by the rules at the grown-up table.  American response to China’s increased aggression has been decidedly muted, while China’s proclamations of sovereignty over vast areas of the Pacific, and its military and diplomatic measures to cement that sovereignty have gone largely unchallenged.   The US, it is perceived, lacks the will to stand up to China.  Few indicators make that as clear as appointing someone like Sam Locklear to command PACOM.   Patrick Cronan at CNAS verbalizes it well.

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, recently told The Washington Times that the U.S. is facing “a long game” when it comes to China.

Developments such as Beijing’s air defense zone may be “small tactical gambits,” Mr. Cronin said. But if the U.S. does not “respond and we don’t remain strong, then China will unilaterally redefine the region in a way that we do not recognize.”

President Obama’s promise that Defense cuts will not compromise US presence in the Pacific is being seen by both allies and enemies as largely disingenuous (and false) rhetoric more suited for the campaign trail than in diplomatic policy discussions.  The US position vis á vis China has been deteriorating for some time, and we are in danger of the bottom positively falling out.  Our Pacific allies sense that their ability to choose between Washington and Beijing may be nearing an end.   Sam Locklear seems to just be getting it.  Like the old woman who peeks out the front door of her house while the upstairs is engulfed in flames to ask the fireman rushing in, “Is there a problem?”

So when Admiral Locklear says “Our historic dominance that most of us in this room have enjoyed is diminishing, no question”, the first response that comes to mind would be that of my Senior Drill Instructor.  “NO SH*T, Sherlock!  What was your first clue?”   But this isn’t Marine OCS, and Locklear isn’t working a squad tactical problem.    Unfortunately, clueless as he is, he is a symptom of the disease, which permeates Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon.  I do hope the illness is not fatal.

Pentagon Shocked By Wave Of ‘Knockout Game’ Attacks

From the Duffel Blog, via our friends at Op-For.

Admit it, you have fantasized about just such a game if you have spent any time at all with senior Officers or Staff NCOs who talk to you as if you would starve for your own imbecility were it not for their wisdom and constant micromanagement.   I mean, after 28 years commissioned service, my list is probably a page and a half long at this point.

According to Pentagon chief historian Dr. Erin Mahan, speaking from behind a locked door, knockout attacks can be traced back to the late nineties, when Marine generals Charles Krulak and Anthony Zinni used to greet each other by punching each other as hard as they could in the face.

Good satire has more than a whiff of reality.

 

Budget Battles Breaking Out Online

We mentioned yesterday that the real battles the defense establishment likes fighting are over allocation of dollars. And while yesterday I mentioned the Army’s turn in the barrel, make no mistake, there are others out there making the case that someone else’s ox should be the gore-ee.

Robert Farley is sure to make commenter Quartermaster very happy with his call to disestablish the Air Force. Farley acknowledges this likely won’t happen, but he makes a pretty good case for nibbling away at the edges of the Air Forces mission set.

And just to round out the top three, Lincoln Paine at Foreign Policy makes the argument that the Navy isn’t securing its flanks in the battle of the budget. I think Bryan McGrath at ID does a good job of fisking Paine’s piece. But that’s beside the point. The issue is, austerity is coming, and the knives will be coming out. We’re going to see a lot of third party articles urging the sacred cows of one service be spared at the expense of the seed corn of another.

Oh, and the relatively mild decrease in the rate of retiree COLA that was just passed?

Brace yourselves, guys. The US public holds you in very high esteem. As long as you’re still on active duty. But that mile wide support for you is an inch deep when you retire. Money is going to be cut somewhere, so don’t act surprised when the active force takes it from retirees and soon to be retired.