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Crisis of confidence in U.S. Marine Corps as Biden nominates new commandant

Concerns have been raised regarding DEI programs and the capacity of the Marine Corps to be prepared while getting rid of military equipment.

Published: June 4, 2023 11:44pm

Updated: June 4, 2023 11:45pm

President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Marine Corps is raising concern among war hawks and others about whether his appointment will continue what they see as an ongoing effort to strip the military branch of its internal and external might and prowess.

Gen. Eric Smith, now the assistant commandant for the Marines, was nominated last week by the White House to be the next Marine Corps commandant.

The current commandant is Gen. David Berger, who is finishing his four-year term and preparing for retirement.

Berger and Smith worked together on transforming the Marine Corps to be more high-tech, which has included giving all 400-plus of its tanks to the Army.

"I love tanks," Smith said in February. "I used them in Iraq. I used them in Afghanistan."

However, he argues, they have become increasingly vulnerable to newer, more high-tech attacks because they cannot move quickly.

"When an enemy can hit a tank 90 kilometers away with long-range fire, I can't move them on time to be in a position to do something that I need them to do," Smith also said. "It's not that they're bad, it's that I can't afford to use them in my current mission."

Under Berger, the Marine Corps got rid of "21% of the personnel in infantry battalions, 100% of the tanks, 67% of the cannon artillery batteries, 33% of the assault amphibious companies, nearly 30% of Marine aviation, and almost all assault breaching equipment," retired Marine combat veteran Francis "Bing" West, wrote last month for the Hoover Institution.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently cited the West article in an essay in which he further argues the cuts were made "for a stunningly stupid investment in a land based anti-ship mission against China that will not work."

"It is competitive rather than complementary with the Navy and Air Force, and it is a scandalous misallocation of Marine resources. Inserting by sea three or four small Marine units, with no support, on atolls in the South China Sea invites capture and defeat," Gingrich also says. 

In April 2022, more than two dozen retired generals came out against Berger's plan, arguing the radical shift in focus for the Marine Corps is inadequate to meet the requirements for the military branch.

The retired generals tried unsuccessfully to get Congress to pause the plan that members had already passed. 

The Marine Corps said the ideas have been stress-tested for years, before Berger took office.

In addition, some lawmakers have disapproved of Berger's attitude toward diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training in the service branch. 

In March, Berger made his case for supporting DEI initiative, saying,"At the end of the day, the goal is to make sure that the unit is prepared for combat. That's why we have a Marine Corps – to try and prevent a conflict, and if one comes, to make sure that we win it. So, building cohesive teams is part of that. I have seen zero evidence of any policies that detract from that."

Berger's comments were in response to GOP lawmakers who wrote a report in November 2022 that criticized DEI programs in the military.

Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, and Rep. Chip Roy, of Texas, released the report, which in part stated: "Our military's singular purpose is to 'provide for the common defense' of our nation. It cannot be turned into a left-wing social experiment. It cannot be used as a cudgel against America itself. And it cannot be paralyzed by fear of offending the sensibilities of Ivy League faculty lounges or progressive pundits."

The report also noted several situations in which anti-white views were pushed by military members and sex-reassignment surgeries for transgender service members being paid for with taxpayer dollars.

"Rather than making the case for American greatness and protecting our nation, the military is parroting woke nonsense," Rubio told Fox News at the time. 

Berger also suggested in March that Marines would be leaving the service if DEI training was an issue.

"If they sensed that the focus was not in fact on being prepared, being ready, but the focus was on other things and it was distracting … I think they would leave. And that's not the case at all," he said.

Rep. Mike Gallagher dispute that argument during a December 2022 panel discussion.

"You can debate the value of [diversity, equity, and inclusion] programs, you can debate whether they contribute to lethality, but I don't think it's debatable that it is a problem. It is happening," Gallagher said.

"There are hundreds of examples of this happening in the military, and I am hearing it. I'm hearing it from constituents who are on active duty, who have families in the military. So reasonable people can debate the value of the growing DEI bureaucracy, but there is no question that it is growing in the military, and that Americans are concerned about it."

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