The Corner

National Security & Defense

Trump Gets His Space Force. Now Comes the Hard Part.

President Donald Trump holds a space toy as he participates in a signing ceremony for Space Policy Directive at the White House in Washington, D.C., December 11, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The Democratic-controlled House Armed Services Committee has voted to give Trump his Space Force, though they want it called the “Space Corps” to match the bill they passed under GOP control in 2017. The details of the bill are, in the larger scheme of things, less important than the fact that a bipartisan group of congressmen and congresswomen have now voted to establish a new branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. After the bill is reconciled with the one passed by the Senate, it will be sent to the White House where, unless something goes very wrong, President Trump will sign it.

The committee chairman Adam Smith (D., Wash) was quoted saying: “I hope Democrats understand this is not President Trump’s idea.” He’s quite right; the Space Force idea has been floating around since at least the early 1960s. Trump, however, is the first president to publicly support the idea and, in spite of opposition from within the DoD, to put real political capital into the project. No Trump, no Space Force.

Now comes the hard part. To put it in terms that Trump the developer will understand, Congress has given him a building permit. It does not cover everything he wanted, but it’s a good start. Actually building the Space Force is now going to be to be up to the people the president chooses for the job. It would not be wise to give the work to people who didn’t like the concept in the first place.

Great and lasting institutions almost always have what Howard Bloom called the “founder effect.” The U.S. Army still bears the imprint of George Washington, the Navy has John Paul Jones, and the Air Force has general Hap Arnold. Since whoever is picked as the first commander of the Space Force will mold the new service in ways that will play out over decades, if not centuries, it is vital that Trump chooses someone with vision and real moral courage.

If, as now seems likely, the first head of the Space Force is someone from inside the Air Force seraglio, the results could be disappointing at best. Many of the management flaws in the current USAF approach to space could be replicated inside the Space Force — unless the senior leaders are willing to decisively break with the old way of doing things. This will not be easy, since the space service will remain embedded inside the department of the Air Force.

The idea that the Space Force will replicate the relationship between the Marine Corps and the Navy is dangerously misleading. Sailors and Marines have had centuries to work out how to get along: They are both sea services and, one way or another, are both devoted to giving America the sea power she needs.

The Air Force quite rightly concentrates on building and operating America’s air power. Space power has long been a secondary mission. The Space Force will operate in an entirely different domain, if only because the laws of physics that apply inside Earth’s atmosphere do not apply in space.

Trump’s choice to head the Space Force may very well be one of the most important and historic hiring decisions of his Presidency. He might want to keep in mind that, in 1939, with a world war looming ever closer, Franklin Roosevelt picked George Marshall to be U.S. Army Chief of Staff. As best-selling historian Andrew Roberts puts it: “Marshall stood no higher than thirty-fourth in Army seniority . . . the fifth-ranking soldier eligible for promotion for the top post.” Picking Marshall may have been the single best decision FDR ever made. George Marshall created the U.S. Army that helped win World War II and later give his name to the Marshall Plan, which helped create the modern and prosperous Europe that exists today. One hopes that President Trump will choose as wisely and as well as Roosevelt did.


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