Category Archives: Strategic

How much WMD is ‘a whole bunch?’

Those who wondered why the Obama administration had been slow, at least before the last few days, to acknowledge that Syria had crossed its red line — or to act (you know, by actually giving rebels those promised arms) when it did own up to it — must not have paid close attention to the specific words that the president used when he drew the line:

We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus…

How much WMD is “a whole bunch?” I don’t know. But I think maybe we’ve finally gotten to that point…

Egypt: Now that’s what I call a coup

Back in my day, a military coup d’état was a quiet affair. We had one when I was a kid living in Ecuador in the early ’60. One day, my parents informed me there had been a “coup.” I had never heard the word. They told me it was like a revolution — the president was gone, and a military junta was in charge. (Then they had to define “junta.” It was like a committee…)

A revolution? I went to the window and looked out. Same old street, nothing interesting going on. I had expected riots, violence, surging humanity. (The story I heard later was that they just let the president have a bit too much too drink — something that wasn’t hard — put him on an airplane, and let him wake up in Panama.)

In Egypt, they known how to have the kind of coup that I was expecting when I looked out that window. Millions surging in the streets. The military moving in, shutting down demonstrations, taking over state media, and tossing out the president who was so defiant, just last night. The latest, from the BBC:

The head of Egypt’s army has given a TV address, announcing that President Mohammed Morsi is no longer in office.

Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said the constitution had been suspended and the chief justice of the constitutional court would take on Mr Morsi’s powers.

Flanked by religious and opposition leaders, Gen Sisi said Mr Morsi had “failed to meet the demands of the Egyptian people”.

Anti-Morsi protesters in Cairo gave a huge cheer in response to the speech….

TV stations belonging to Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood went off air at the end of the speech….

The ousted leader’s current whereabouts are unclear…

See, now that’s a coup. Meanwhile, Morsi fights back on Twitter and Facebook. This sets up an interesting conflict between the old and the new: Is the Tweet mightier than the army? I love Twitter, but I’m old school; I’m betting on the big battalions this time.

What does it all mean, Mr. Natural? For the United States, it’s a touchy situation. This piece, written before the coup actually took place, sets out how touchy:

Over the past two years, post-revolution Egypt has been a policy minefield for the Obama administration, which has struggled to balance its support for a democratic transition with its need to preserve its interests in the region.

The latest chapter of Egypt’s fraught political transition, however, has left the administration in perhaps its most precarious position yet..

As Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi weathers a storm of opposition that could pave the way for a military coup, Washington and its ambassador in Cairo have emerged as lightning rods. Those calling for the dismissal of Morsi say the United States became too cozy with the Muslim Brotherhood, the political and social movement that brought the Islamist leader to power. The Brotherhood, meanwhile, warns that the United States is failing to speak out loudly and clearly against a military coup in the making.

After voicing support for Morsi, the Obama administration appeared to distance itself from him this week, with the White House issuing a statement saying that President Obama had told the embattled Egyptian leader in a phone call that the United States “does not support any single party or group.”

That may sound sort of hapless, but put yourself in the president’s position: Quick, who are the good guys in this mess? Not an easy question to answer…

Rewriting the rules of war, Obama-style

The New Republic this week is devoting itself to suggestions for how Barack Obama might have a more successful second term. I was sort of intrigued by this suggestion, “REWRITE THE LAWS OF WAR,” to wit:

One of the most persistent criticisms of President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism policy is that he has not definitively broken with the troubled legacy of George W. Bush. But he could put that judgment largely to rest by pushing to modernize the laws of war.

The Geneva Conventions and other similar instruments were designed to deal with traditional armies—not groups with no ties to state sponsors or that operate in failed states. Obama should organize an international conference to establish new standards and agreed-upon interpretations for such subjects as the definition of enemy combatants, the treatment of detainees, and the rendition of suspected terrorists. Drones could also be considered—especially standards to minimize civilian casualties and to establish whether targets pose an imminent threat…

Things have changed, so maybe we should convene a new gathering in Geneva. Or somewhere. If we do, here are some ideas of new rules that the president might want to suggest, but which might not go over well with other potential signatories:

  1. If you make my personal list, I get to take you out with a drone, like Zeus hurling thunderbolts from Mt. Olympus. And if you don’t like that, you just made the list, buddy.
  2. If you make our special short list, we will send in the bully-boys to give you a triple-tap in the forehead in your boudoir in the middle of the night, no matter where in the world your boudoir happens to be. As for countries who object to our doing this within their borders, you, too have a special right under this agreement: You get to try to stop us. Heh, heh.
  3. All battles must take place at night. In the event that night-vision equipment becomes sufficiently ubiquitous that all of our potential enemies have it, this rule will be revisited.
  4. Guantanamo will close when I damn’ well get around to it.

And so forth. You get the idea. I’m sort of kidding, sort of not, given the way this president has continued to conduct the War on Terror. Not only has he “not definitively broken with the troubled legacy of George W. Bush,” as TNR so daintily puts it, he has in some ways been more aggressive than his predecessor in employing the Bush Doctrine.

Basically, the way I just worded all that is probably pretty close to the way folks in some other nations out there see the current U.S. policy. And they’d probably want to address these perceptions at a convention.

So maybe POTUS would like to convene such a gathering, and maybe he wouldn’t…

Krauthammer: Syria as the Spanish Civil War


What with all the travelling I’ve been doing the last few days (I was working on the coast Wednesday and Thursday, drove to Memphis Friday, drove back yesterday), I’m just now getting to Charles Krauthammer’s column from late last week.

I liked his analogy:

The war in Syria, started by locals, is now a regional conflict, the meeting ground of two warring blocs. On one side, the radical Shiite bloc led by Iran, which overflies Iraq to supply Bashar al-Assad and sends Hezbollah to fight for him. Behind them lies Russia, which has stationed ships offshore, provided the regime with tons of weaponry and essentially claimed Syria as a Russian protectorate.

And on the other side are the Sunni Gulf states terrified of Iranian hegemony (territorial and soon nuclear); non-Arab Turkey, now convulsed by an internal uprising; and fragile Jordan, dragged in by geography.

And behind them? No one. It’s the Spanish Civil War except that only one side — the fascists — showed up. The natural ally of what began as a spontaneous, secular, liberationist uprising in Syria was the United States. For two years, it did nothing….

As will not surprise you, he is not satisfied with President Obama’s belated decision to help the rebels with nothing more than small arms and ammo.

He gets way harsh on the pres with regard to Iraq:

The tragedy is that we once had a counterweight and Obama threw it away. Obama still thinks the total evacuation of Iraq is a foreign policy triumph. In fact, his inability — unwillingness? — to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement that would have left behind a small but powerful residual force in Iraq is precisely what compels him today to re-create in Jordan a pale facsimile of that regional presence…

We had a golden opportunity to reap the rewards of this too-bloody war by establishing a strategic relationship with an Iraq that was still under American sway. Iraqi airspace, for example, was under U.S. control as we prepared to advise and rebuild Iraq’s nonexistent air force.

With our evacuation, however, Iraqi airspace today effectively belongs to Iran — over which it is flying weapons, troops and advisers to turn the tide in Syria. The U.S. air bases, the vast military equipment, the intelligence sources available in Iraq were all abandoned. Gratis…

Scramble ‘Karzai’ and you get ‘Kraazi’…

Our situation in Afghanistan just took a really dramatic downturn:

KABUL—Afghanistan’s fraying ties with the U.S. hit a new low on Sunday, as President Hamid Karzai said before meeting the new U.S. defense secretary that the Taliban kill Afghan civilians “in the service of America.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is visiting Kabul to discuss ways of ending America’s longest foreign war. On Saturday, Mr. Hagel’s first full day in Afghanistan, Taliban suicide bombers killed at least 18 people outside the Afghan Ministry of Defense in Kabul and in the eastern province of Khost.

In a televised speech Sunday, the Afghan president said the U.S. doesn’t really see the Taliban as an enemy, doesn’t want to leave the country after the coalition’s mandate ends at the end of 2014, and is engaged in negotiations with Taliban leaders behind his back.

“Taliban are every day in talks with America, but in Kabul and Khost they set off bombs to show strength to America,” Mr. Karzai said. “The bombs that went off in Kabul and Khost yesterday were not a show of power to America, but were in service to America… It was in the service of foreigners not withdrawing from Afghanistan.”…

I don’t even know what to say about this (gimme time; I’m thinking), but I thought y’all might…

In the end, Graham voted against Hagel for SecDef

Senators voted 58-41 to confirm Chuck Hagel. Not exactly a ringing consensus.

In the end, Lindsey Graham voted against Hagel:

Graham Opposes Hagel Nomination

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) made the following statement on his opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense.

“I oppose the nomination of Chuck Hagel to serve as our next Secretary of Defense.  The position of Secretary of Defense is one of the most important jobs in our government.  There were other, more capable choices available and I regret President Obama did not choose one of them. 

“Having said this, I do believe it is the President’s prerogative to pick his Cabinet and I will work with Senator Hagel to ensure our defense at home and security around the globe is not diminished. 

“I’m disappointed not one Democrat stepped forward to express concerns about Senator Hagel’s views on Israel and Iran.  I believe from his past actions, he has shown antagonism toward the State of Israel.   In these dangerous times, his nomination sends the worst possible signal to our enemies in Iran. 

“I continue to have serious questions about whether Chuck Hagel is up to the job of being our Secretary of Defense.  I hope, for the sake of our own national security, he exceeds expectations.”


Hagel nomination hearing begins, against a backdrop that is pretty far from ‘peace in our time’

I knew all these things from following the news, but I was impressed to see them listed together in a WSJ editorial this morning challenging the nomination of Chuck Hagel as SecDef:

In the week since President Obama declared “a decade of war is now ending” at his inauguration, a few things happened.

• Israeli warplanes on Wednesday struck a truck convoy outside Damascus and headed to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, according to news reports, amid concern about the spread of chemical and advanced antiaircraft weapons from convulsive Syria.

• The U.S. commander in Kabul predicted a tough spring of fighting and “an uncertain future” for Afghanistan.

• The French retook northern Mali from Islamist militias.

• Egypt’s military chief warned of the “collapse” of the Arab world’s largest nation.

• China moved ahead with naval exercises around Pacific islands disputed with Japan.

• And the Pentagon announced plans to boost American cyber defenses and set up an air base in north Africa (near Mali, Libya, Algeria, etc.)….

The Journal’s point was to wonder whether Mr. Hagel would be supportive of President Obama’s plans to cut defense spending to a percentage of the U.S. budget not seen since before Pearl Harbor (2.7 percent by 2021, compared to the current 4 percent).

By the way, Hagel’s confirmation hearing has begun, and you can watch it live here. The NYT’s report on the proceedings thus far make it sound like the nominee is doing his best to assuage concerns such as those expressed in the editorial quoted above:

WASHINGTON — Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense, on Thursday morning said that the United States must lead other nations in confronting threats, use all tools of American power in protecting its people and “maintain the strongest military in the world.”

In an opening statement at his Senate confirmation hearing, Mr. Hagel presented a broad, forceful endorsement of American military power aimed at answering critics who say he would weaken the United States. He offered strong support for Israel, said he was fully committed to the president’s goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and said he would keep up pressure — through Special Operations forces and drones — on terrorist groups in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.

“I believe, and always have, that America must engage — not retreat — in the world,” Mr. Hagel told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee….

But he’s facing some tough questions, such as one from Sen. Inhofe asking why his nomination has been endorsed by the Iranian foreign ministry:

“I have a difficult enough time with American politics,” Hagel says. “I have no idea.”

Look out! China only about a century behind now

The hulk of the Varyag before it was turned into the Liaoning.

Mike Fitts, whom I can rely on to keep me apprised as to foreign military intel, particularly of a naval variety, calls my attention to this report about China beginning flight operations on its first aircraft carrier:

While we here at Killer Apps were enjoying the last day of our Thanksgiving holiday, the Chinese navy was busy conducting its first ever takeoffs and landings from its brand new aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with brand-new J-15 fighter jets.

Some observers have hailed this as the start of a new era in naval history while others aren’t so impressed. So far, the U.S. Defense Department seems unconcerned.

“We are aware of media reports that the Chinese successfully landed an aircraft on the deck of a carrier,” said Pentagon press secretary George Little during a briefing with reporters this morning. “This would come as no surprise. We’ve been monitoring Chinese military developments for some time…

Which is impressive, until you read this:

The Liaoning was built with the hull of an incomplete Soviet carrier that China bought from Ukraine in 1998, claiming that it would be turned into a casino or something. Instead, China completely refurbished the ship, installing new engines, modern electronics, and sensor systems, turning the old hulk into a “starter carrier.”…

Really? China is this gigantic economic powerhouse with superpower ambitions, and yet they had to buy their first carrier third-hand, and spend 14 years tinkering with it before the first plane lands on its deck?

This got me to thinking — how many built-from-scratch carriers did little old Japan next door have in during WWII — seven decades ago? Looks like about 25 that were actually commissioned, from various sources I’ve glanced at. (Burl, help me out.)

And when was the first time a pilot landed on a carrier? An American did it in 1911. Of course, the ship wasn’t moving. The first to land on a moving warship was Squadron Commander E.H. Dunning of the Royal Navy, in 1917. The first purpose-built aircraft carrier (as opposed to a repurposed hull) was Japan’s Hōshō in 1922.

It is believed that China will commission its first homemade carrier in 2015 or 2016 — as much as 94 years after the first Japanese flattop. It will be sometime after that before the Chinese navy has worked itself  up into having an effective naval air operations force.

Yeah, I know — these new ships will do things that would look like magic from the perspective of 1922. But still. As fast as China is running to catch up, it’s rather stunning to consider how very far that nation is behind in the simple fact of naval aviation.

A dangerously simplistic view of foreign affairs

Just got a very strange release, considering that it comes from a state senator (albeit one with national ambitions):

BEAUFORT, S.C. – South Carolina State Senator Tom Davis today released the following statement regarding the vote tomorrow in the United States Senate on Sen. Rand Paul’s amendment to end U.S. aid to Pakistan, Egypt and Libya, pending the satisfaction of certain conditions.

“Today I call on South Carolina’s senators, Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, to cast their vote in support of Sen. Paul’s amendment,” Davis said. “If these countries want to be our allies and receive our money, then they should act like it.”

“The conditions to receiving foreign aid set forth in Sen. Paul’s amendment are reasonable: the Libyan police must hand over to U.S. officials the suspects in the recent attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi; the Egyptian government must vow to protect our embassy; and the Pakistani government must release from custody Dr. Shakil Afridi, a man who risked his life to provide us with information that confirmed the location of Osama bin Laden.

“Simply put, bad behavior should not be rewarded. America currently gives approximately $4 billion a year to Pakistan, Libya and Egypt, and all we get in return is disrespect and violence. Sen. Paul put it exactly right: ‘American taxpayer dollars should not go to Libya until the murderers are delivered to justice. Nor should they go to Egypt until the Egyptians prove that they are willing and able to protect our embassy. Finally, not one more penny of American taxpayer dollars should go to Pakistan until the doctor who helped us get bin Laden is freed.’”

Really? That’s your view of it? That “all we get in return is disrespect and violence”? Do you really suppose that we have close ties to Pakistan just because Pakistan wants it? We have that relationship because, despite all the godawful aggravation we get out of the relationship, we need it. As maddening as the many factions of that nation, many of them openly hostile, can be, that’s a door we need propped open, at least a little. Just whom are punishing if we cut off that relationship entirely? Is that what it’s actually about to you — the lousy $4 billion?

And you’re going to blame the new, Libyan government, a thing largely of our creation, for what some bad actors — people they have arrested — did? Do we so little value the fact that we have a friendly regime there after more than a generation of Gaddafi (a cause to which ambassador Stevens devoted the end of his life) that we’ll just throw it away because Sen. Paul is peeved and wants to save the money?

And Egypt — is it your plan to say, now that Mubarak is gone, we don’t want to be close to you anymore, Egypt? Is that our response to the Arab Spring? Sure, it’s problematic the role the Muslim Brotherhood is playing, but isn’t that a reason to hold the new regime closer, rather than pushing it away? Do you want to return to the days of Nasser? You sure about that?

Of all of these, the one I’d like to get tough with is Pakistan, because I’ve had it with their playing footsie with terrorists. But I know that’s an emotional, rather than a coldly rational, response. And that adolescent emotional urge on my part was quite satisfied for the time being by the raid on Abbottabad, and the many strikes in the lawless northwest before that.

This isn’t a foreign policy proposal; it’s domestic posturing. And I’m sorry to see my friend Tom Davis reaching outside the purview of his office to engage in it.

This is an occasion for national unity, not sniping

This would be a good moment to remember the thing about partisan politics stopping at the water’s edge.

I got a release from Lindsey Graham last night — I’m just now getting to it in my email — that quoted the senator as saying the following:

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a leading Republican voice on foreign policy, launched a sharp attack against the Obama administration on Wednesday, saying the president’s lack of leadership would “lead to an explosion in the Middle East.” … The American disengagement, lack of leadership, and leading from behind is leading to uncertainty and doubt on all fronts. … There is no substitute for leadership by the United States and every group within the region is uncertain about who we are and what we believe.”

The thing is, when I watched the accompanying video, for the first few minutes I didn’t hear that sort of tone. Instead, the senator said the sorts of things I would expect a politician who cares about foreign policy to say. He talked about how this should not be allowed to weaken our strong ties to the new democratic leadership of Libya. He stressed that the attack — whether calculated or spontaneous — was the work of a tiny minority who do not reflect our relationship with that country.

He even expressed agreement with what Secretary of State Clinton had to say. And I like that, even though part of it may be the longtime mutual admiration society that Hillary and Lindsey have going.

Then, toward the end, he launched into the GOP talking points about the administration’s alleged failures. About the only thing I might agree with him on is that I wish we were acting more effectively to keep Assad from killing his own people in Syria.

But in his eagerness to criticize, the senator implied, if he did not exactly say, two things he should know are not true:

  1. That somehow the mess of the last couple of days is the administration’s fault.
  2. That the way forward in light of the ongoing “Arab Spring” movement is simpler and clearer than it is.

Given his respectful ties to some of the key people in the administration’s national security team, and the many areas of agreement he has with them, I would think Senator Graham would be hesitant to throw out the people he knows in favor of the uncertainties Romney would bring.

But that’s me engaging in wishful thinking, I guess. Just because Sen. Graham is occasionally an iconoclast, I like to tell myself he can be that all the time. Obviously, I’m not in charge of his re-election in two years…

This is WAY worse than the ‘Swift Boat’ thing

I had to groan when I saw the headline saying that the Obama campaign was accusing political opponents of using “Swift Boat tactics.” That’s because, not having been in a coma the past eight years, I know that when Democrats say those words, they’re not referring to the use of light watercraft to fight the Viet Cong in the Mekong Delta. If only they were.

Instead, as we all know full well, they’re invoking charges brought by a group called “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” which raised questions about John Kerry’s war service. Democrats to this day so deeply resent what that group did that they have turned “Swift Boat” into a verb, one that refers to actions they regard as mean, nasty, unethical, uncalled-for and generally beyond the pale.

I am unable to agree with Democrats on this because, well, that group raised questions I was wondering about myself (such as, where are the scars from those wounds that sent him home?). But as a nonveteran, I felt I had no moral standing to raise them. I mean, maybe he did get to go home quicker than other veterans, but he was still there longer than I was.

So I initially sort of appreciated veterans publicly asking those questions, no matter with whom they were affiliated. But in the end, that discussion got into a lot of petty back-and-forth accusations about exactly what happened when and who did what to whom, and the whole thing wasn’t really helpful, and just left a general sour taste behind. And I’d just as soon not have such things front-and-center in a presidential election.

But I don’t see it the way Democrats do. So I groaned when I saw the words.

But then I read on, and saw what elicited the phrase.

Now, this, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty nasty stuff. Maybe Democrats ought to come up with a convenient name for this, and turn it into a verb.

The Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund seems to exist primarily to call into question, as we head into the home stretch of the election, any credit the President might received for killing Osama bin Laden. (That is far from the only question it raises, but that’s the one with the emotional punch.) And that is just beyond cheesy. It’s too petty for words.

This is nursery-school playground-taunt territory. Clearly, whoever was president at the time this happened gets a certain amount of credit for what happens on his watch — just as he gets the blame when it goes wrong. Jimmy Carter didn’t make that Iran rescue mission fail, but he certainly took the rap for it.

Reuters quoted Ben Smith, whom the group describes as a former SEAL, as saying:

Mr. President, you did not kill Osama bin Laden, America did. The work that the American military has done killed Osama bin Laden. You did not.

It’s easy to believe, in the moment he says that (at 6:55 into the above video), that this guy has been a Tea Party spokesman. He evinces that certain disdain-that-dare-not-speak-its-name that TPers seem to reserve entirely for this particular president.

But aside from the tone — I mean, come on. Nobody in the country is stupid enough to think the president personally suited up, went along on the mission and shot bin Laden himself, and no one in the country has tried for a second to make anyone think that. The simplest voter in the country would laugh at the proposition. So in what way do you suppose that the president is in any way trying to take anything away from the super-soldiers who carried out this amazing raid? Perhaps the most laudable thing the president is congratulated for having done was choosing to send in the SEALs as opposed to copping out with a bombing raid. And if you don’t think it took political courage to make that decision, you don’t know anything about politics or special ops, whatever your resume says.

I go further than that. My initial reaction was that hey, that Obama is a lucky guy to have been in charge on this particular watch. But as I learned more and more about the decision-making process that preceded the operation, I saw multiple points at which the wrong decisions could have been made, and POTUS made the right calls, even when very experienced smart people in his administration were doubting that was the way to go.

The bin Laden operation, furthermore, fits within an overall pattern that had distinguished the Obama administration well before that night in Abbottabad — a sharp increase in aggressively pursuing our nation’s enemies, in Pakistan and wherever else they hide.

Of course, the fig leaf this group is offering for its pettiness is that it is objecting to the very fact that I know as much about the long-term operation as I do. It’s accusing this administration of leaking government secrets for the purpose of its own political aggrandizement. (Which presents an interesting contradiction: If the administration is leaking actual, true intel, and that information shows the president in a good light, then how do you say the president doesn’t deserve credit for what happened?)

That’s a serious charge. I’ve seen no evidence that national security has in any way been compromised in this instance — but of course, I don’t have enough access to classified information to know for sure.

But I do know this: As I mentioned above, this president has been far more aggressive than any recent predecessor in using deadly force to take out terrorists, making George W. Bush look almost timid by comparison. While I have applauded the president for this, I acknowledge such an unprecedented pattern of aggression calls, in a liberal democracy, for a certain amount of sunshine. We need to know, at least in general, about the way the president makes decisions.

By the way, I’m not outraged at the parties who appear in this group’s video, which is the centerpiece of the campaign. I don’t doubt their sincerity. There is a fundamental cognitive disconnect between people who devote their lives to serving their country in the more sensitive parts of our national security apparatus, and people who are elected and directly accountable to the voters of this country. The national security types live by operational security, and have a tendency to see any kind of public disclosure of what they do as a close cousin to treason, rather than the exercise of political accountability. Political figures can indeed go too far in the service of self-interest. But even legitimate disclosure, the kind of thing a political leader should disclose, will not be acceptable to people who, just as legitimately, define their success in large part by their ability to keep secrets.

My beef is with the people who put this piece of emotionally-charged propaganda together, and released it at such a moment. The release of this video, at this time, would make the charges in the video itself about the president’s timing in announcing bin Laden’s death rather laughable. Except, you know, there’s nothing funny about it. (And I don’t even quite follow the logic that it was somehow politically advantageous to the president to announce the success of the operation immediately. If he’d done it a week later, as they suggest, he’d have gotten just as big a political boost.)

The amount of information that is appropriate for keeping a president accountable will always be debatable, and we should engage in it energetically, to the extent we can do so without damaging the very security we seek to protect (ah, there’s the ironic rub).

And we’ve been engaging in it, as the NYT reminds us:

Security officials and members of both parties in Congress have sharply criticized leaks about classified operations under Mr. Obama, and some Republicans have complained about news briefings on the Bin Laden raid and assistance to filmmakers making a movie about the operation.

The next sentence reminds us of something else the group pointedly ignores:

But the administration has also overseen an unprecedented number of prosecutions for press disclosures, and in June, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. directed two United States attorneys to investigate leaks discussed in the Opsec video.

The petty way this group has gone about conducting its political offensive makes me less inclined to take it on faith that they know things that I do, and those things make the president look bad.

Perhaps the verb for this, going forward, should be “Opsecing.” No, that doesn’t look right. “Opsecking?” Nah. Still needs work…

I like Ryan’s foreign policy ideas for themselves, NOT as a justification for his domestic proposals

We think of Paul Ryan as an über-libertarian on fiscal issues and as a social conservative. What I didn’t know anything about until this morning was how he stood on the most urgent questions a commander in chief faces — which is pretty critical in the event that Romney is elected, and something happens to him.

One expected the opinion writers of The Wall Street Journal to be hugging themselves with pleasure over Ryan’s fiscal notions. But today, Bret Stephens writes in the Journal about a speech Ryan gave to the Alexander Hamilton Society last year in which he expressed himself on foreign policy. Here’s the speech, and here’s the column. An excerpt from the latter:

Here, in CliffsNotes form, is what the speech tells us about Mr. Ryan. First, that he’s an internationalist of the old school; in another day, he would have sat comfortably in the cabinets of Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy or Ronald Reagan. Also, that he believes in free trade, a strong defense, engagement with our allies—and expectations of them. Also, that he wants America to stay and win in Afghanistan. Furthermore, that he supports the “arduous task of building free societies,” even as he harbored early doubts the Arab Spring was the vehicle for building free societies.

It tells us also that Mr. Ryan has an astute understanding of the fundamental challenge of China. “The key question for American policy makers,” he said, “is whether we are competing with China for leadership of the international system or against them over the fundamental nature of that system.”

Within the speech itself, perhaps the most cogent observation is that the United States doesn’t have the realistic option of fading as a world power the way Britain did, and the way so many on the left and right would like it to do:

Unlike Britain, which handed leadership to a power that shared its fundamental values, today’s most dynamic and growing powers do not embrace the basic principles that should be at the core of the international system.

Now, that’s the sort of thing I agree with. What I don’t agree with is that we have to do all the things Ryan wants to do domestically in order to afford the kind of global position that we can’t afford to surrender. Which takes us into all sorts of other debates that I’m sure we’ll get into before the election…

Anyway, that’s where he loses me. What I didn’t get from the column, and did get from the speech itself, is that for Ryan, the need to maintain U.S. responsibilities in the world is yet another excuse for doing what he wants us to do on the homefront. Of this, I am unconvinced. I agree we have to get our fiscal house in order. I don’t necessarily believe his ideas are the way to do it. Bottom line, we get back to where we started — in his case, his view of America’s role in the world is that of an über-libertarian on fiscal issues…

Stephens is less divided in his admiration. In part, he admires Ryan for setting out clear ideas without any of the softened edges with which presidents must speak, giving little consideration to the fact that House members with no diplomatic responsibility are far freer to speak frankly on such matters.

The truth is, I have generally agreed with the actual actions Mr. Obama has taken as commander in chief (although my views on Afghanistan more closely track Ryan’s). And those speak louder than words, however stirring.

For instance, Stephens likes the way Ryan talks tougher about the Chinese. But it is Barack Obama who has shifted future defense planning toward the Pacific Rim with China in mind, and recently decided to send Marines to Australia in keeping with that strategy.

In any case, this is the beginning of a learning process about Ryan. Although I’m already inclined to agree with Stephens that, in terms of ideas at least, the GOP ticket seems upside-down.

Russia backs down, somewhat, on Syria

Maybe Hillary Clinton’s tongue-lashing last week has had a good effect:

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia on Monday signaled that it would not sign new weapons contracts with Syria until the situation there calms down.

The country will continue with previously agreed exports, but will not be selling new arms to Syria, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy chief of the Russian military and technical cooperation agency, told Russian news agencies on the sidelines of the Farnborough air show southwest off London.

Putting it in conflict with the West, the Russians have blocked the U.N.’s Security Council from taking strong, punitive action against the Assad regime and are seen as the country’s key arms supplier. Syrian activists say that about 14,000 people have been killed in an uprising in the country since March 2011…

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Monday said that Russia is still committed to a peace plan by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan, saying that the Syrian government and opposition groups should be “forced” to start a dialogue….

OK, it’s not a huge concession, but it’s a concession, which is encouraging.

This is interesting, from further down in the story:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last month issued a harsh reprimand to Russia, saying that Moscow “dramatically” escalated the crisis in Syria by sending attack helicopters there. The State Department acknowledged later that the helicopters were actually refurbished ones already owned by the Syrian regime.

Doh! Oh, well. I guess that’s something else Hillary can claim credit for, in keeping with the old joke: Guy stands on the corner snapping his fingers. Cop comes along and says to stop loitering and move along. Guy says, “I’m not loitering; I’m keeping the elephants away.” Cop says, “There are no elephants around here.” Guy says, “See what a great job I’m doing?”

You tell ’em, Hillary! It’s about time somebody called Russia and China on their obstructionism

When the Cold War ended, we were supposed to finally get this New World Order that made it possible to advance the cause of civilization across the globe, without the agendas of competing superpowers overriding consensus in the United Nations. (Either that, or some global conspiracy to undermine national sovereignty and do dirt to People Like You, if you are of a conspiracy orientation.)

But time and time again, two countries — a superpower wannabe and a superpower used-to-be — have repeatedly, usually perversely, stood in the way of any effort to crack down on bad actors from dictators who crush their own people to nutjobs who seek to go nuclear. Time and time again, the best friend of the Assads of the world turn out to be either China or Russia, or both of them. (True, France and Germany also demurred when we were gearing up to go after Saddam, but that was an instance in which reasonable people could disagree.)

Now, Hillary Clinton has called them on it:

Syria crisis: Clinton lambasts China and Russia as Annan urges unity

Hillary Clinton demands rivals ‘pay price’ for backing Assad as UN’s Kofi Annan warns Iran must play role in ending conflict

International divisions over Syria were laid bare today as Kofi Annan issued a blunt warning that world powers must end their “destructive competition” over the future of the Assad regime even as Hillary Clinton demanded that Russia and China “get off the sidelines” and support the Syrian people.

Clinton used a conference of the Friends of Syria group in Paris to demand that Russia and China join the three western members of the UN security council to pressure Assad over an escalating conflict that has left 15,000 dead and is inflaming the wider region…

Clinton called for “real and immediate consequences” for non-compliance with the peace plan, including sanctions against the regime, but with Russia and China boycotting the event, there was no chance of agreement on punitive action under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. “What can every nation and group represented here do?” Clinton asked. “I ask you to reach out to Russia and China, and to not only urge but demand that they get off the sidelines and begin to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.

“I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all, nothing at all, for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime,” she said. “The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price. Because they are holding up progress, blockading it. That is no longer tolerable.”…

I like the “pay a price” part. I think if Hillary Clinton said I was going to pay a price if I didn’t straighten up and act right, I’d believe her.

Wouldn’t you?

You can see video of her address here.

Here’s hoping her tough talk will have a good effect. Just as her apology to Pakistan (which has really had touchy inferiority complex ever since we killed bin Laden in one of their suburbs) did earlier in the week. Sometimes you need to make nice, other times not so much.

Graham, et al., warn against Defense cuts

The video above contains most of what Lindsey Graham had to say yesterday at the press conference at which he, Joe Wilson, Steve Benjamin, Bobby Harrell and Rich Eckstrom all decried the looming “sequestration” of the defense budget.

I didn’t get the video up and running at the start of Graham’s remarks, so here are some excerpts from what he said before that:

  • “As a Republican, I was very disappointed that my party leadership would put the Defense Department in such a bad spot.”
  • “If politicians can’t come up with a way to reduce spending in a responsible manner, fire us; don’t fire the soldiers. It’s the one thing that seems to be working at the federal level is the military. So we’ve come up with this hare-brained idea that if we can’t do our job, the penalty to be paid is by those who’ve been doing their job very well. I don’t know if you can print this, but I’ll say it: That’s ass-backwards.”
  • “What does it mean to cut a trillion dollars out of the Defense Department budget over the next decade? [the sequestration plus $400 billion in cuts being sought outside that] It means you have the smallest Army since 1940, the smallest Navy since 1915 — 231 ships — the smallest Air Force in history.”

After that, it’s pretty much all on the video. Sorry about the crudity of the clip — I was unable to edit it because I shot it on my iPhone, and don’t have software for editing that on my PC.

Bottom line, the message was that the nation shouldn’t dramatically weaken our defense just because members of Congress couldn’t do their job. Half of the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts, resulting from the failure of last year’s supercommittee (which was a mere microcosm of the overall failure of Congress), are set to come from the Defense budget — $600 billion. And they would not be targeted — no eliminating $300 hammers and preserving pay for soldiers. “These are blind, across-the-board cuts.”

He kept hitting the point that one part of the government that’s doing its job — the military — shouldn’t get eviscerated because Congress isn’t doing its job at all.

Perhaps fitting given the setting and the presence of Mayor Benjamin, Graham’s tone was decidedly nonpartisan. For instance, he challenged Mitt Romney to put forward a plan for achieving the cuts without hollowing out the military.

I’ve got video of the other speakers as well, and can provide on request. But they said much the same things he said. His presentation was just more complete.

Graham: no ‘containment’ of nuclear Iran

This came in while I was out at lunch:

Graham Introduces Resolution Ruling Out ‘Containment’ Strategy of Nuclear-Armed Iran

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today introduced a resolution that puts the Senate on record as ruling out a strategy of containment for a nuclear-armed Iran.  The bipartisan resolution currently has 27 Senate cosponsors.

“I’m very pleased the Senate will speak with a strong, unified voice that a nuclear-armed Iran is an unacceptable option for our own national security and the security of our allies throughout the world,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  “My resolution will afford every Senator the opportunity to speak on this issue and I expect a strong bipartisan vote in support.  Having a political consensus between the White House and Congress that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable is a giant step forward in sending an important message at a critical time.”

The Graham resolution:

·         Strongly rejects any policy that fails to prevent the Iranian government from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and would settle for future efforts to “contain” a nuclear weapons capable Iran.

·         Urges President Obama to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.

·         Urges continued and increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran until they agree to the full and sustained suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, complete cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on all outstanding questions related to their nuclear activities including implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Additional Protocol, and the verified end of their ballistic missile programs.

“It’s obvious to most people that once Iran obtains nuclear capability others in the region will respond in kind,” said Graham.  “A nuclear-armed Iran also makes it exponentially more likely this information could fall into the hands of terrorist organizations.”

“I believe, to some extent, sanctions are working and believe they can be successful in helping turn around Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” said Graham.  “However it is imperative the Russian and Chinese assist the international community in changing Iranian behavior.

“Finally, as President Obama said in his State of the Union address, ‘All options must remain on the table’ when it comes to stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” concluded Graham.

Co-sponsors of the Graham resolution include: Senators John Boozman (R-Arkansas), Scott Brown (R-Massachusetts), Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), Dan Coats (R-Indiana), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nevada), John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), John McCain (R-Arizona), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), Bill Nelson (D-Florida), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), James E. Risch (R-Idaho),Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Chuck Schumer (D-New York).


That’s a pretty good list of sponsors he’s got. And like Graham, I, too, endorse what the president said in the SOTU.

Post: Why should troops die in Afghanistan this year if we’re leaving next year?

The Washington Post had a thought-provoking editorial this morning. Excerpts:

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta floated an entirely different plan: an end to most U.S. and NATO combat operations in Afghanistan by the second half of 2013, a year earlier than expected, and a substantial cut in the previously planned size of the Afghan armed forces. So much for “fight.” Though Mr. Panetta didn’t say so, this strategy implies another big U.S. troop reduction in 2013, beyond the pullout of about one-third of troops already planned for this year. U.S. commanders have lobbied to keep the troop strength steady from this coming autumn until the end of 2014 — the current endpoint for the NATO military commitment.

The new timetable may sound good to voters when Mr. Obama touts it on the presidential campaign trail. But how will the Taliban, and its backers in Pakistan, interpret it? Before negotiations even begin, the administration has unilaterally and radically reduced the opposing force the Taliban can expect to face 18 months from now. Will Taliban leader Mohammad Omar have reason to make significant concessions between now and then? More likely, the extremist Islamic movement and an increasingly hostile Pakistani military establishment will conclude that the United States is desperate to get its troops out of Afghanistan, as quickly as possible — whether or not the Afghan government and constitution survive….

But if President Obama has decided to pursue that course, there’s an inevitable next question. If the goal of a stable and democratic Afghanistan is to be subordinated — if timetables are to be accelerated, regardless of conditions — why should U.S. ground troops fight and die this year?

That’s always the question, when timetables are given for withdrawal: If we’re going to withdraw at a certain time regardless of conditions, what’s the point of fighting now?

It’s a brutally tough question whether you come at it from the direction of a hawk or a dove.

Graham or DeMint? Or, to put it another way, Reagan or Ron Paul? Whither goest the GOP in the world?

Charleston’s City Paper records another skirmish in the internecine battle between Republicans over America’s role in the world:

After the Republican presidential debate in Myrtle Beach last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Fox News, “I hope people in the country understand that we’re Ronald Reagan Republicans in South Carolina. We believe in peace through strength and we’re not isolationists.”

In an interview the next day, Graham’s fellow South Carolinian Sen. Jim DeMint said on Fox Business,”If we spread ourselves too thin around the world we’re not going to be able to defend the homeland, particularly with the level of debt that we have right now. It’s foolish for us to think that we can have military bases all over the world, spend billions of dollars when we’re going broke back home. It just isn’t going to happen.”

Austerity may be a bad word to Graham when it comes to Pentagon spending, but for DeMint it’s the very definition of conservatism. When Republicans like DeMint and his Senate ally Rand Paul say that Pentagon spending cuts must happen, Republicans like Graham and his Senate ally John McCain call such actions “isolationist.” When Paul was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, McCain said he was worried about the “rise of isolationism” in the GOP. When Paul later led the charge against President Barack Obama’s military intervention in Libya, both Graham and McCain trotted out the isolationist label again…

I’m sure you don’t have to ask where I stand.

Hey, Gingrich supporters: Whom do you suppose the Democrats really, really want to run against?

In the past week alone, I have received 35 email releases from Democratic Party sources — the Obama re-election campaign, the DCCC, the state party — attacking Mitt Romney with everything the Dems can think of to throw at him. There have been videos, and ICYMI links to media stories, and — this is the biggest category — releases about press conferences being held by prominent Democrats to attack Romney. Some sample headlines from the releases:

  • The Truth About Mitt Romney and Bain Capital
  • Mitt Romney no job creator, says a man who knows
  • Statement by South Carolina State Representative Bakari Sellers on Mitt Romney’s Vision of Free Enterprise
  • TODAY: Democratic National Committee Southern Caucus Chair Gilda Cobb-Hunter Holds a Media Availability on Mitt Romney’s campaign through South Carolina
  • TOMORROW: Maryland Governor and DGA Chairman Martin O’Malley and SC State Rep. Terry Alexander to Hold Press Conference on Mitt Romney’s Real Record in South Carolina
  • NYT Editorial: Taxes and Transparency
  • WaPo: Romney’s tax problems just won’t go away
  • TODAY: Former South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges and DNC Executive Director Patrick Gaspard to talk about Mitt Romney’s Real Record in South Carolina

And so forth and so on.

At the outset of all that, I received a release telling me it was coming:

DEMOCRATIC COUNTER-PROGRAMMING.  Democrats plan what they are calling a “full-time presence” in the Palmetto State this week, starting today. Democratic Governors Association Chairman Martin O’Malley and Democratic National Committee Communications Director Brad Woodhouse will react to the GOP/FOX News Debate on Monday in Myrtle Beach with a 2:00 PM press conference at the Breakers, one on one interviews with national cable outlets and local and national newspapers before and after the debate.  DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC Vice Chair and Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak and DNC Executive Director Patrick Gaspard will all be in the state later in the week to offer their perspective on the GOP race.
The DNC says it will be “using a new visual to tell the story of Mitt Romney as the incredible shrinking job creator.” View it here:

That sort of made it sound like the Dems would be commenting on the whole GOP field. But it’s been pretty much all Mitt, all the time.

Occasionally, there’s a Democratic Party release about something else — maybe two or three in the whole week. But of those, only one is even indirectly about Newt Gingrich: A release from Dick Harpootlian demanding that Attorney General Alan Wilson investigate Lt. Gov. Ken Ard for writing an endorsement of Gingrich on official stationery (except that Dick spelled it “stationary”) “with his seal attached.”

And I think you can fairly say that that one was about Ard, not about Gingrich. There has not been a single Democratic press release, that I’ve seen, that directly attacks Gingrich the way all of those others attack Romney.

The unrelenting hammering on Romney has continued yesterday and today, even as it has become increasingly clear that Newt Gingrich has pulled ahead of him, and has the momentum going into Saturday.

A week ago, or a little earlier, this campaign made all the sense in the world. It seemed obvious that, having won in Iowa (as was then thought) and New Hampshire and comfortably leading in the polls in South Carolina, Mitt Romney was definitely going to be the guy that Barack Obama would face in the fall.

But the situation is very different today.

Now… I can think of four possible explanations for Democrats continuing to pursue this course:

  1. The Democrats are too stupid to figure out that not only did Romney not win Iowa, all the signs now point to Gingrich winning in South Carolina.
  2. They’ve figured it out, but they’re just not nimble enough to change directions on the fly, and don’t want to waste all those nonrefundable plane tickets or write new scripts for the press availabilities.
  3. They know Gingrich has the momentum in South Carolina now, but they are convinced that whatever happens here, Romney will still be the nominee.
  4. They really, really want Newt Gingrich to be the guy they face in the fall, so they’re continuing to hammer the only guy who can deny him the nomination.

What do you think it is?

This is NOT the “end of the war in Iraq”

I was pleased when I heard, on the radio yesterday, President Obama saying this at Fort Bragg:

As your Commander-in-Chief, I can tell you that it will indeed be a part of history. Those last American troops will move south on desert sands, and then they will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high. One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end. Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people. America’s war in Iraq will be over.

I appreciated it because he said “America’s war in Iraq will be over.” At another point in the speech, he referred to the “end of our combat mission,” which was even better, and emphasized that what was happening was that responsibility was being handed over to Iraqi forces.

I was grateful that he had not said this was “the end of the war.” (I was also gratified that he, only slightly grudgingly, spoke of the troops accomplishment: “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.” Something that, of course, we would not have done had Mr. Obama had his way.)

This was, unfortunately, about the only place where I would be so gratified. Elsewhere in the speech, he said “end of the war” over and over and over again. But I don’t blame the president. The news media were worse:

And on and on. Among those I saw in a quick survey, only NPR got it right, in a headline that said “Iraq Mission Ends.”

Maybe I’m the only one who cares. But I became hypersensitized to the matter over all these years of antiwar folks saying “end the war,” when what they meant was that they wanted the U.S. forces to withdraw. Which is an entirely different thing.

The “end of the war in Iraq” is either something that happened several years in the past (the interpretation I prefer), or, more ominously, has yet to occur. There are a number of ways that you can speak, legitimately, of “the end of the Iraq war:”

  • You can say it ended with the fall of Baghdad in the spring of 2003, as that was when “war” in the Clausewitzian sense of armies clashing on battlefields with battle lines, and the control of a government at stake.
  • You can say it ended with the Surge, which settled down the various insurgencies that erupted after the fall of Baghdad, leading most people speaking of a “war” continuing to that point.
  • You can say it never ended, because Iraq’s security is far from that, say, of a Switzerland.

But in that last case — if you believe the “war” has continued up to this point — then withdrawing U.S. forces most assuredly does not “end” that war. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anything more likely to make fighting flare back up dramatically.

I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope that President Obama (and Bush before him) are right in their projection that things are sufficiently stable for Iraq to deal with the security vacuum created by a U.S. departure. I don’t know whether they are or not.

But I know this: Speaking of what is happening this month as “the end of the war” is highly inaccurate.