Grand Strategy in the Age of Mass Destruction

Interview with
Admiral James “Ace” Lyons

18 March 2017

Admiral James “Ace” Lyons served in the U.S. Navy for thirty-six years as a Surface Warfare Officer who also served as Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations and a was a Senior U.S. Military Representative to the United Nations. I had the privilege of interviewing Adm. Lyons on Saturday, 18 March 2017.

JRN: Thank you for agreeing to the interview, Admiral Lyons.

LYONS: Thank you for inviting me.

JRN: Admiral Lyons, you once said there were three things unacceptable to good order on a ship: stealing, illegal drugs, and homosexuality. Could you elaborate further?

LYONS: As you know, the moral underpinnings of our military have been destroyed. There came the removal of the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” then the forced integration of transgendered people, and now they want women brought to the tip of the spear. All this talk about the great success of integrating women into the military is nonsense. As for homosexuality, we have thousands of male on male unwanted sexual advances. All of this damages the good order on a ship. Life onboard ship is close quarters. And if you put teenage men and women on a ship and think nothing is going to happen you have to be brain dead. We can spend $50,000 training a women to be a military specialist, and when she decides she doesn’t want to deploy, what does she do? She gets pregnant. The Navy loses the money invested in training her. The U.S. military was never established for social experimentation. It was established for the security of the country.

JRN: If I’m not mistaken, the United States Navy now seems to value political correctness above military efficiency. Have the military leaders of the United States lost touch with reality, or is there undue political pressure placed on them from politicians?

LYONS: When you go in and take an oath of office, and you violate this oath you should be made accountable. Political correctness is a violation of the oath of office, which I took as a naval officer. Our wonderful service people have lost their lives and suffered because of political correctness. This cannot be swept under the rug.

JRN: Is political correctness an effort to sabotage our defense?

LYONS: That’s part of it. It’s to make you conform to some faulty faculty lounge logic that was developed on the college campuses and force-fed to our military. The ones who are advancing this will never have to face the consequences.

JRN: This has resulted in injury and death?

LYONS: Of course. For example, on today's battlefield if you see a Muslim planting an IED you are not allowed to shoot him. Did you know that? Look at Extortion 17 [a military operation in Afghanistan]. You are in a hot fire zone and a C-130 gunship is circling overhead. What did those politically correct military leaders do? They threw special forces into a transport helicopter. This is something you should never do. There were six attached Afghans and one minute before takeoff, those six Afghans were replaced by six other Afghans that nobody knew anything about. That should have canceled the mission. But they didn’t. The mission went ahead. And then they canceled the suppression fire. But hey, there might be civilians down there. And we want to win the hearts and minds of a corrupt tribal society; so the helicopter was shot down and everyone died. We sacrificed our own people for political correctness.

JRN: As the U.S. Navy has shrunk in size, as Russia and China continue to improve and modernize their ships, is there any danger that these weaker countries will catch up with us or surpass us in naval warfare?

LYONS: We are down to 272 ships. That is as many as I had under my command in the Pacific Fleet. It’s really what’s left of Ronald Reagan’s 600 ship Navy.

JRN: So this is inadequate to our military needs?

LYONS: Oh, absolutely. I am glad that Trump has promised to build 350 ships.

JRN: Are aircraft carriers becoming obsolete?

LYONS: This is part of that nonsense put out by the alt-left. The carrier weapons system is the most potent system in the world today. We have missile defenses that have been proved effective against hypersonic ballistic missile attack. There is software that can handle these new Chinese and Russian missiles. So, we do have the capability, we just have to get it out in the fleet. It is called “HIT,” Hypersonic Intercept Technology.

JRN: Have you heard of the Navy’s new Mach 7 Cannon?

LYONS: Yes, we need to bring this weapon system along. It needs to go on our new ships and can be fitted as long as the particular ships have the electrical power for it. I think it is a very solid technology.

JRN: Do you think someone will, one day, develop a way to detect the quietist submarines under water? I once heard a military expert say that submarines, under the ocean, leave a wake on the surface of the water – no matter how deep they are operating.

LYONS: I have experience with this. Ostensibly you can use various techniques to pick up this wake. I have personally attempted to do it, without great success. It is very difficult and not practical.

JRN: China has been building military airfields out of reefs in the South China Sea and claiming hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean as sovereign territory. Since they are simply taking this area over, and diplomacy has proven ineffective, are we obligated to use our Navy to check these military advances in the region?

LYONS: This goes to the ineffectiveness of the eight years of the Obama administration. Let me first start by saying that the International Court in The Hague declared the Chinese claims [to sovereignty over the South China Sea] as illegal; so there was no justification for them claiming the entire South China Sea as their territory. As you know, $5 trillion in commerce crosses that sea. There are also mineral resources, oil and gas down there. The Chinese also want Taiwan, and to extend their control all the way to Guam. What they want is to drive us out of the Western Pacific. I said, about three years ago, that we need to consider the formation of an Asian NATO. I think we are approaching that point sooner rather than later. Again, with China, we have to be a little more clever than we have been. We need to be taking actions that will catch the Chinese off balance. The whole goal is to raise the level of deterrence, showing that if they challenge us they will be the net loser at the end. One of the things I recently proposed is that the Japanese change Article 9 of their Peace Constitution, referred to as their “no war” article which was originally put in as a suggestion to General MacArthur back in 1947. This was in response to the aggressive Japanese actions before World War II. I think Japan must get away from this Peace Constitution and recognize the need to establish an army, navy and air force. And they need to put the Prime Minister as the commander in chief. Doing that would send a very definite signal to the Chinese, who would lobby very hard against any change to that Article 9. Then there are things we need to do with other countries like Taiwan.

JRN: What should we do with Taiwan?

LYONS: One of the things I want is to reinstate port visits to Taiwan. The first ship I’d send is a Coast Guard ship. You know, we always used to consider Taiwan as the equivalent of three carrier battle groups. Strategically Taiwan is in a key position. I think it blocks Chinese naval expansion. I think a fresh look at our relationship with Taiwan is in order. And there are certain things we need to do in order to back up Taiwan’s military forces. We could be giving them technology and advanced missiles which would thwart any invasion preparations against Taiwan and prevent a war. Remember, we are trying to prevent war, and nothing is more important in the Western Pacific than peace through strength. And all this nonsense with North Korea means we should reinstall tactical nuclear weapons on our naval forces. This would send definite signals to North Korea and China.

JRN: The threat from North Korea appears to be growing against Japan and South Korea, even to the U.S. mainland. Would it be wise or foolish for the United States and its allies to launch a preemptive military strike on North Korea’s nuclear forces?

LYONS: Before we do a preemptive strike, we need to do the other things I’m talking about. And we have to acknowledge that China is behind North Korea. Many of these weapons in North Korea were built in China. We need to tell China that these weapons need to be pulled back or nuclear weapons are going into South Korea. We have certain tools we’ve never used against the Chinese to curtail the North Korean nuclear weapons buildup. Economic sanctions have never worked. I have always said they are a cop-out.

JRN: I had the experience, in a 2001 conference on North Korea, to be standing near former Defense Secretary Perry. I watched as an official from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a Greek national, asked Perry if he knew whether the power lines between Pyongyang and North Korea’s nuclear program carried power into Pyongyang or out of Pyongyang. Perry said he didn’t know and would have to check. The IAEA official looked very pleased with himself as he scurried away, and it occurred to me that he knew the answer to the question, so I followed him and asked. He admitted he knew the answer. He said the North Koreans were “very clever.” The power lines carried no power at all.

LYONS: A Potemkin Village.

JRN: Exactly, and so I asked if China had given North Korea nuclear weapons. He shook his head. Then I asked if Russia had given them. His facial expression said everything I needed to know. 

LYONS: It is not surprising. William Perry was a guy who was promoting a nuclear free world. I don’t know what they put in his drinking water but that was pure folly. I know Bill Perry, a very nice man, but I think he has to have had second thoughts by now.

JRN: Some experts think North Korea might use a low-yield nuclear weapon to make an EMP attack on the United States. Any thoughts on the EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) threat?

LYONS: We have got to harden our electrical infrastructure against EMP. It has to be a priority as high as rebuilding the military. This vulnerability cannot continue to be ignored. It has to be done to raise the level of deterrence. It is mind boggling that this hasn’t been done.

JRN: Presently Russia is engaged in a military buildup in the Arctic and along the borders of NATO. Do you think Russia represents a serious threat?

LYONS: There is no question that Putin considered the fall of the Soviet Union as the greatest disaster of the twentieth century. It seems that he wants to establish Russian hegemony over those same countries the USSR grabbed after World War II. What went on at the end of that war, with the sellout of Poland and Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc., and the abandoning of the Atlantic Charter, occurred because of the many Soviet penetration agents in the United States government at the time. All presidents before Frankly Roosevelt refused to recognize the Soviet Union. FDR gets elected and he promptly recognizes the Soviets. Next comes the infiltration of the United States Government. We have to make clear to Russia today, that they are NOT going to be able to execute a tactical nuclear attack on NATO forces and escape the penalty…. One thing we didn’t cover on China: You know, China has 3,000 miles of underground tunnels for their strategic forces. Now we are fooling ourselves about the size of Chinese nuclear forces. I spoke to one of our generals who said that China has 800-1600 warheads. This is not the number of warheads that we are told about. To think they have not built up their strategic forces makes absolutely no sense.

JRN: So we have to build up our nuclear forces?

LYONS: I would hope, again, it’s in the context of raising the level of deterrence. With regard to Russia, we certainly should be providing Ukraine with legitimate defensive equipment that was denied by the Obama administration. That is a factor that needs to be moved up in our dialogue with Russia. And in the same way, when you talk about Russia you have got to talk about the Middle East.

JRN: Do you have an opinion as to the best U.S. strategy for dealing with the Middle East?

LYONS: Let me just say a few things. I believe Syria and Iraq are fractured states and will never be put back together again. I think that has to be recognized; but for the new administration to make sense of all of this, the first thing is to establish what our vital core strategic objectives are. Some of them are pretty obvious. Eliminating the Islamic State as an identifiable entity. Preventing Iran from achieving a deliverable nuclear weapons capability. Stopping Iran from achieving regional hegemony. It is certainly in our interest to keep open the vital seaways. And again, all the threats to these sea lanes are from Iranian proxies. We must also re-emphasize our support for allies and for the Christians and Kurds. I am also for the establishment of a Kurdish sovereign homeland. One of the things I’ve left out of my list of core objectives is Afghanistan. We have no interests there. We were finished in Afghanistan six months after we went in. We have wasted over 2,000 American lives not counting the thousands injured. There is no end game there. This is a corrupt tribal society. You have this stupid Op Ed from senators McCain and Graham the other day about staying in Afghanistan, saying that terrorists would attack us from Afghanistan if we pulled out. That is nonsense. And I cannot help asking how Trump got surrounded by all these Army ground pounders. It is beyond me. I am being parochial here, but the Army’s goal is to establish a permanent military presence forever. That is how the Army thinks.

What we have in the Middle East is an Iraq Shia Army fighting Sunnis. We are in the middle of a 1300-year-old war that has no ending. Now, what should we do? Even if you defeat ISIS, that doesn’t end anything. What we have to do is set something up with our allies, Saudi Arabia and others. We’ve got to come up with a plan that empowers our allies to shift their resources in support of Sunni tribes in the region so they can drive out the Iranian Shia militias, and we’ve got to get the right kind of support, not only of certain Sunni nations, but Russia has to be a player here too. How are we going to do that? Clearly, in Syria, Assad has to go. The Russians have proposed a replacement, a general, an Alawite, formerly with the father’s regime. He is in exile…. They proposed him as a replacement and there is some thought that the Syrian Free Army commanders might accept this guy as long as the Assad Clan itself is out of power and in exile somewhere else. Now, in such a scheme the Alawites would most likely keep control of Damascus, but they would lose the rest of Syria which is the defacto situation on the ground as it exists today. Well, this grand scheme allows Russia to keep its naval base and the client relationship with Damascus. At the same time we could link this with talks about Crimea, Ukraine, and more. We’ve got some tools to use. We’ve got to get Russia’s help to get the Shia militias out of Syria’s territory. The locals greatest fear is being under the thumb of Iran. If we can force Iran back into its territory, its main area, this would bring more stability to the region.

I have to say, the greatest strategic mistake we ever made was invading Iraq. The Iranians probably could not believe their luck. America, the Great Satan, was coming in to destroy their main enemy. Were the Americans that dumb? This also tells you the uneducated aspects of the Bush administration. Condi Rice might have been great on Russia, but she was dumb as a rock about the Middle East. By the way, the woman that was briefing Rice has now been brought in by the Trump administration.

One other thought I’m looking at. We may want to establish a naval base in Cyprus. This would check the Russians, Chinese, Iranians, etc., who are trying to set up their own bases. If we set up a base in Cyprus it would blow their minds. 

JRN: It sounds to me like you should be the National Security Advisor.

LYONS: I’m too controversial.

JRN: The fate of common sense…. I want to thank you, Admiral Lyons, for taking the time to visit with me today. We should do this again.

LYONS: Yes. Any time.