Category Archives: Strategic

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.

‘War in the name of democracy,’ 1775-style

On this Veteran’s Day (I prefer “Armistice Day,” but whatever), the WSJ had an op-ed piece headlined, “America’s Distinctive Way of War,” by Eliot Cohen of Johns Hopkins University. The headline doesn’t quite give away the topic. The thesis is that much about U.S. military doctrine evolved from our encounters with an enemy that to modern minds may seem unlikely: Canada. While much of it is largely forgotten now, over a 200-year period there was a lot of nasty business along “what Indians called ‘the Great Warpath,’ the 200-mile route of water and woodland paths that connected Albany and Montreal…”

There was a lot in the piece that was interesting, whether you fully accept the Canadian premise or not. Such as this:

War in the name of democracy? In 1775, the rebelling colonies—not even yet the United States — launched an invasion of Canada. The Continental Congress ordered the covert distribution of propaganda pamphlets in what is now Quebec province. The opening line: “You have been conquered into liberty.” Congress subsequently sent Benjamin Franklin north with a few companions to consolidate the conquest of Montreal, spread parliamentary government, and familiarize the baffled habitants of Canada — ruled for over a decade with mild firmness by a British governor—with the doctrines of habeas corpus and a free press.

The American way of war is distinctive. If the armed services have an unofficial motto, it is “Whatever it takes”—a mild phrase with ferocious implications. All that those words imply, including a disregard for military tradition and punctilio, the objective of dismantling an enemy and not merely defeating him, and downright ruthlessness, can be found in the battles of the Great Warpath.

It is often a paradoxical way of war. “Conquering into liberty” sounds absurd or hypocritical. In the case of Canada, it failed (though of course Canada took its own path to free government). In the cases of Germany, Italy and Japan after World War II, it succeeded. In the case of Iraq, who knows? In all of these episodes American motives were deeply mixed — realpolitik and idealism intertwining with one another in ways that even the strategists conceiving these campaigns did not fully grasp. What matters is that the notion of conquering into liberty is rooted deep in the American past, and in the ideas and circumstances that gave this country birth…

There is nothing new, apparently, under the sun.

Maybe 90 minutes, if Ahmadinejad’s favorite TV show was on at the time…

Just noticed this:

Nuclear Iran wouldn’t be the end of the world

United Nations inspectors released new documents on Tuesday containing what is supposed to be a bombshell. “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The report is the most damning the agency has ever issued.

Unsurprisingly, hawks have jumped on the news to argue that America needs to attack Iran. “If we are in a position where Iran is close to getting a nuclear weapon, then action needs to be taken,” declared Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum. “A nuclear Iran poses a challenge to U.S. influence that cannot be tolerated,” argued Commentary magazine’s Jonathan Tobin. Liberals and leftists, by contrast, claim the report is not as harsh as what is being reported. The report will “not likely” contain a “smoking gun,” wrote Robert Dreyfuss of the Nation.

Dreyfuss is right that the report doesn’t contain unequivocal evidence that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program — but so what? If an Iranian nuke was not containable and a major threat to the United States, then America would be justified in destroying the program before it was fully realized. But it is neither. And it is unwise to overlook those points in favor of obsessively following the daily shifts of Iranian nuclear progress like traders scouring the Dow Jones. History and strategic logic say that a nuclear Iran would not represent a major threat to the U.S. or its allies…

Nah, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I figure we’d still have about an hour to go…

OK, sorry, but silliness brings out silliness.

If there’s anything more predictable than Hawks reacting by wanting to go take out Iran’s nuclear capability, it’s Doves saying Aw, it wouldn’t be such a big deal

Lindsey Graham fighting good fight again, this time to preserve essential foreign aid

Just when you thought Lindsey Graham had collapsed back into a complete defensive mode to protect his right flank, he has stepped out again to lead on an issue that could cost him political support across the spectrum.

This is good to see. This is the Lindsey Graham who more than earns his pay. Because a politicians who isn’t willing to risk his position to do the right thing has no business holding office at all:

GOP’s Sen. Graham works to protect foreign aid

By JAMES ROSEN – McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has taken on tough tasks from immigration reform to climate change, faces another one as he calls for spending billions of dollars overseas on unpopular foreign aid programs that he insists are vital to U.S. national security.

With Congress facing mandatory spending cuts and previously sacrosanct military programs on the chopping block, Graham is trying to protect funding for foreign aid even as most Americans oppose it – 71 percent in a recent poll – and other Republican leaders call for focusing U.S. resources at home.

“It is a tough sell, but you can be penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Graham, a Republican in his second term, told McClatchy Newspapers…

As Rosen correctly notes, this is classic Graham, the one we saw stepping out on rational immigration reform, and (until county parties back home starting censuring him, pushing him toward the defensive posture) on energy and climate change.

This is good to see.

Today, I was walking through Charleston, past 39 Rue de Jean, and mentioned to a friend that the first time I ate there, it was with Alex Sanders. Which got us onto the 2002 Senate campaign, and what a bitter pill it was to the state’s Democrats that he lost — they had placed such hope in him reviving their fortunes. But, my friend noted, Graham has done a good job since then.

Yes, he has. Especially when he does stuff like this.

There’s a slight implication — perhaps not intentional — in Rosen’s story that there’s something ironic about the hawkish Graham pushing “soft power.” But the idea that there’s some sort of dichotomy between soft and hard power is a canard pushed by people who don’t understand foreign policy. Effective foreign policy includes a good deal of both, and Graham is a guy who understands, and advocates, the full DIME.

Oh, by the way — that thing about 71 percent of Americans wanting to cut foreign aid… there’s nothing new about it. Polls always say that. They also tend to say that Americans don’t know squat about foreign aid. When you ask them how much of the budget goes to foreign aid, they tend to answer that it’s something like 25 percent. When you ask them how much should go to foreign aid, they say about 10 percent.

The true amount? About 1 percent. So basically, if Graham sought to make foreign aid 10 times as much of the budget as it is now (or 3-5 times, according to some polls), they should be happy. But watch — they won’t be.

The anti-U.S. lawsuit brought by a “conservative watchdog group”

All I have to say for the moment is that I agree completely with the government on this one:

(AP) WASHINGTON – Public disclosure of graphic photos and video taken of Osama bin Laden after U.S. commandos killed him would damage national security and lead to attacks on American property and personnel, the Obama administration contends in court documents.

Here’s the lame argument for releasing the images:

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, accused the Obama administration of making a “political decision” to keep the bin Laden imagery secret. “We shouldn’t throw out our transparency laws because complying with them might offend terrorists,” Fitton said in a statement. “The historical record of Osama bin Laden’s death should be released to the American people as the law requires.”

As you’ll recall, I disagreed with Lindsey Graham about this subject earlier. He was right at the Abu Ghraib pictures, but wrong about this.

And while the AP is just doing its job as it sees it, I believe its own request should be denied as well:

The Associated Press has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to review a range of materials, such as contingency plans for bin Laden’s capture, reports on the performance of equipment during the assault on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and copies of DNA tests confirming the al Qaeda leader’s identity. The AP also has asked for video and photographs taken from the mission, including photos made of bin Laden after he was killed.

The Obama administration refused AP’s request to consider quickly its request for the records. AP appealed the decision, arguing that unnecessary bureaucratic delays harm the public interest and allow anonymous U.S. officials to selectively leak details of the mission. Without expedited processing, requests for sensitive materials can be delayed for months and even years. The AP submitted its request to the Pentagon less than one day after bin Laden’s death.

OK, maybe not denied. I think a delay of maybe 25 years would be about right. Leave it to historians. Ones with strong stomachs.

A lot of people — including a lot of this administration’s strongest supporters — don’t believe there is such a thing as information that should be withheld for national security reasons. They are wrong. One can have arguments about what should be classified and what should not, but the fact remains that some things should be.

Full engagement, the only viable, effective and moral stance for the U.S. to take toward the world

Posting that column last night — the one from 9/23/01 — I realized that I had forgotten to post something else a week earlier.

When I shared with you the hasty column I wrote for the “extra” we put out on 9/11, and the one I turned around immediately and wrote for the next day, I had fully intended also to share a more important piece from several days later — the editorial I wrote for that following Sunday. But the 16th of this month came and went, and I failed to do that.

So I share it now. Being an editorial (an institutional, rather than personal opinion) and being a Sunday piece (when newspapers take a step back from immediate events, and also when they tend to express the views they regard as being of greatest import), it’s different from the other pieces. Less of my voice and style, more formalized. But at the same time, for the purposes of this blog, it also has perhaps greater value as a clear expression of my own views of what the nation should do going forward.

In it, I expressed views I had long held, and still hold, but they were sharpened and set into relief by the events of that week.

Spoiler alert: Basically, this piece is about a couple of things. The first is the need for re-engagement in the world, after a growing isolationism that had worried me all through the 90s. With notable exceptions — our involvement in the Balkans, for instance — we had become more insular, more preoccupied with our own amusements as a fat, happy nation. Up to that point, I had objected on the basis that when you are the world’s richest and most powerful nation (indisputable after the fall of the USSR), it is morally wrong to turn your back on the world, like a rich man behind the walls of his gated community. What 9/11 did was add to that the fact that such disengagement was positively dangerous.

The other main point is something I later learned an interesting term for: DIME, for “Diplomatic,” “Information,” “Military” and “Economic.” Actually, that’s not quite it, either. The DIME term refers to ways of exerting power, and that it certainly part of it, but not all of it. Another piece of the concept I was talking about was what you often hear referred to as “soft power.” Unfortunately, that is often mistakenly expressed as an alternative to “hard power.” But they complement each other. A unipolar power trying to achieve all of its goals through either alone is doomed to fail, ultimately.

No, I have to go back to the earlier, vaguer term: Engagement. On every level you can think of — diplomatic, cultural, mercantile, humanitarian, and yes, military.

Much of this piece, given the moment in which it was written, is occupied with the military part. That’s natural. That’s the hardest to persuade people of in our peaceful times (if you doubt we live in peaceful times, I plan a post after this one to address that). The rest, people just nod about and say, yes, of course we should do those things. (OK, perhaps I’m being a bit sanguine about that. I’ll just say that the people who need convincing on the military part are likely to say that — others are likely to say ‘Hell, no — let them fend for themselves.” And thus we have the two sides of isolationism.) They take more convincing on the tough stuff. (Some of you will object, “Not after 9/11! People’s blood was boiling!” But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about passions of the moment. I was talking about long-term policy. I’m talking about what happens after people calm down and say, Never mind; let’s just withdraw.)

Reading it now, I wish the piece had been longer, with far more explication of the other elements, and how they were integrated. The following years, we saw constant argument between two views, neither of which saw the value of the whole concept. On the one hand, you had the Bushian — really, more the Rumsfeldian — notion that all you had to do was topple a tyrant and things would be fine. On the other, there was the myopic view that soft power was the only kind that was moral and effective.

These ideas are as relevant now as ever. Now that we have employed hard power to topple a tyrant in Libya, will we engage fully on other fronts to help Libya have a better future, one in which it has a chance of being a long-term friend, ally and trading partner? Or will we turn our attention away now that the loud noises have stopped going off?

Anyway, I’ve explained it enough. Here it is:


State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, September 16, 2001

IF YOU HAD MENTIONED the words “missile defense shield” to the terrorists who took over those planes last Tuesday, they would have laughed so hard they might have missed their targets.

That’s about the only way it might have helped.

Obviously, America is going to have to rethink the way it relates to the rest of the world in the 21st century. Pulling a high-tech defensive blanket over our heads while wishing the rest of the world would go away and leave us alone simply isn’t going to work.

We are going to have to drop our recent tendencies toward isolationism and fully engage the rest of the world on every possible term – military, diplomatic, economic and humanitarian.

Essentially, we have wasted a decade.

After the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled, there was a vacuum in our increasingly interconnected world, a vacuum only the United States could fill. But we weren’t interested. After half a century of intense engagement in world affairs, we turned inward. Oh, we assembled and led an extraordinary coalition in the Gulf War – then let it fall apart. We tried to help in Somalia, but backed out when we saw the cost. After much shameful procrastination, we did what we should have done in the Balkans, and continue to do so. We tried to promote peace in the Mideast, then sort of gave up. But by and large, we tended our own little garden, and let the rest of the world drift.

We twice elected a man whose reading of the national mood was “It’s the economy, stupid.” Republicans took over Congress and started insisting that America would not be the world’s “policeman.”

Beyond overtures to Mexico and establishing a close, personal relationship with Vladimir Putin, President Bush initially showed little interest in foreign affairs.

Meanwhile, Russia and China worked to expand their own spheres of influence, Europe started looking to its own defenses, and much of the rest of the world seethed over our wealth, power and complacency.

Well, the rest of the world isn’t going to simply leave us alone. We know that now. On Tuesday, we woke up.

In the short term, our new engagement will be dominated by military action, and diplomacy that is closely related to military aims. It won’t just end with the death or apprehension of Osama bin Laden. Secretary of State Colin Powell served notice of what will be required when he said, “When we’re through with that network, we will continue with a global assault against terrorism in general.” That will likely mean a sustained, broad- front military effort unlike anything this nation has seen since 1945. Congress should get behind that.

At the moment, much of the world is with us in this effort. Our diplomacy must be aimed at maintaining that support, which will not be easy in many cases.

Beyond this war, we must continue to maintain the world’s most powerful military, and keep it deployed in forward areas. Our borders will be secure only to the extent that the world is secure. We must engage the help of other advanced nations in this effort. We must invest our defense dollars first and foremost in the basics – in keeping our planes in the air, our ships at sea and our soldiers deployed and well supported.

We must always be prepared to face an advanced foe. Satellite intelligence and, yes, theater missile defenses will play roles. But the greatest threat we currently face is not from advanced nations, but from the kinds of enemies who are so primitive that they don’t even have airplanes; they have to steal ours in order to attack us. For that reason, we must beef up our intelligence capabilities. We need spies in every corner of the world, collecting the kind of low-tech information that espiocrats call “humint” – human intelligence. More of that might have prevented what happened last week, in ways that a missile shield never could.

But we are going to have to do far more than simply project military power. We must help the rest of the world be more free, more affluent and more democratic. Advancing global trade is only the start.

We must cease to regard “nation-building” as a dirty word. If the people of the Mideast didn’t live under oligarchs and brutal tyrants, if they enjoyed the same freedoms and rights and broad prosperity that we do – if, in other words, they had all of those things the sponsors of terror hate and fear most about us – they would understand us more and resent us less. And they would, by and large, cease to be such a threat to us, to Israel and to themselves.

This may sound like an awful lot to contemplate for a nation digging its dead out of the rubble. But it’s the kind of challenge that this nation took on once before, after we had defeated other enemies that had struck us without warning or mercy. Look at Germany and Japan today, and you will see what America can do.

We must have a vision beyond vengeance, beyond the immediate guilty parties. And we must embrace and fulfill that vision, if we are ever again to enjoy the collective peace of mind that was so completely shattered on Sept. 11, 2001.

Another snapshot of what we were thinking 10 years ago — what I was thinking, anyway

I almost forgot that today was the 23rd. Weeks ago, when I was digging up columns from 9/11/01 and the days after, I also hunted for this one, which ran 9/23/01.

It was unusual, because I was trying — rather indirectly, as I look back — to express something about the way I had reacted to the attacks earlier in the month, on a personal level.

I  knew there was a lot of emotion in our country — shock, grief, anger, fear. And I realized that I wasn’t feeling those things as sharply as a lot of other people seemed to be. Part of that is my personality, and my habit. When something huge happens in the world, rather than internalizing it, I tend to think, Here’s something to be figured out, and commented on. This causes me to be out of sync with a lot of readers sometimes.

But there was more to it than that. Several months before, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. It had already spread to her liver. Pretty much all the emotions I had to deploy were devoted to that, and to what our whole family was going through. I was interacting with the larger world, but in a muted sort of way. (Maybe “muted” isn’t the right word. I just knew my reaction was different from what it otherwise would have been.)

Within our family, we didn’t know what was going to happen, and we were taking it a day at a time. Now, 10 years later, she’s doing great, except for having a nasty cold in the moment. I can hear her in the other room as I type this, talking to her brother on the phone. Thank God, again and again.

Anyway, here is my attempt at the time to wrestle with both that, and what was happening in the wider world. You’ll see emotion in it — some anger, for instance. But also detachment, even with echoes of fatalism, that you might find it hard to relate to. Here it is:


The State – Sunday, September 23, 2001

YOU KNOW WHAT killed those thousands of innocent people in the World Trade Center, and on the planes that plowed into them?


Oh, I know what you’ll say, and you’ll be right: They were killed by murderous, merciless fanatics who hate Americans. But those fanatics couldn’t have succeeded if the crew and passengers aboard those two planes hadn’t been clinging to hope.

There is, of course, no way to know exactly what they were thinking. But it’s reasonable to assume that it’s pretty much what you or I would have thought under similar circumstances:

If I just sit still and do what the hijackers say, maybe they won’t hurt me or anyone else. We outnumber them, and they’re armed only with knives, but there’s no sense in trying to overpower them; somebody could get hurt. They’ll land somewhere, and make their demands, and once we’re on the ground, maybe they’ll let us go.

Their hope was in vain. They had no way of knowing that. And so they, and thousands of others, died – the victims of hope.

I find that thought repugnant. After all, life is nothing without hope. The absence of hope is despair. Isn’t it?

But then I realized there are different kinds of hope. There’s the passive kind, in which you do nothing and hope everything will be all right. Then there’s the active kind, in which you have the courage to do something, even when taking action can be difficult, painful and risky, in the hope that you can make things better – for others if not for yourself. That’s the kind of hope that is more likely to be paired with faith and love. It’s real hope, not the false kind.

The people on those planes that were turned into guided missiles clung to that false hope because they lacked critical information. By contrast, the folks on Flight 93 knew that if they sat still, hoping things would turn out all right, they would die for sure. They knew that because they had heard, via cell phone, what had happened in New York. So they tried to stop the hijackers.

They all died anyway. But not in vain. They prevented the deaths of untold others.

They acted because they had information that helped them understand something soldiers learn in the bitter crucible of combat. The key is to give up the false hope that if you do nothing, you and those around you will be safe. It’s a hard thing to do in combat. It’s a hard thing to do under any circumstances.

When my wife discovered she had breast cancer several months ago, and within three weeks learned it had spread to her liver, we lost that old, familiar false hope – the kind that makes you live your life blithely, thinking you’ve got all the time in the world, as long as you don’t take unnecessary chances.

Now, we know that each day is a gift from God, not some right that we’re entitled to because we’re middle-class Americans. We know that we have to make the most of it, for the sake of others as well as for ourselves. We know that we have to fight. And we have fought. That is, my wife has. She’s the combat soldier here; I’m just support services.

She has held back nothing in this battle. All weapons have been thrown into the fight – chemotherapy, surgery, chemo again. We’re not sure what else will be necessary, but we’re assuming radiation. We have collected invaluable intelligence through a wearying series of tests. And she has terrible scars, most of them hidden.

But the fight has gone well. The cancer is at this point on the run. We rejoice in this, and continue to live our lives – hopefully. But we don’t slide back into the old, deceptive kind of hope. We can’t afford that now. We know there will never be a time when we can be complacent again.

The world has a cancer , and it has struck at the vital organs of this nation. Even when we root out the visible tumors, we’ll know that microscopic bits of it can live on to strike at us again.

A lot of Americans haven’t undergone the necessary change in attitude to fight this cancer. They want guarantees that action won’t lead to further pain. They want to know there’s an exit strategy. They want to cling to false hope, or none at all.

But there are no guarantees. The nation will just have to do the best it can, acting in as decent and humane a manner as possible while doing everything within our power to root out the disease – even when it causes pain and has sickening side effects.

That’s a huge challenge, but we’re going to have to find a way to meet it.

The alternative is to cling to the old, false hope that if we just do nothing, the terrorists won’t hurt us. We now know where that kind of hope leads.

Some of you will notice themes that we would later argue over a great deal on this blog. But I didn’t post this to have another argument.

And I didn’t just post it to reminisce about personal matters. I see it as a sort of artifact, not only of what I was thinking at the time, but to provide a snapshot in time, a time of limbo between the attacks and the beginning of our war in Afghanistan. Before the Patriot Act. Before the anthrax scare.

I was reminded to post this tonight by a documentary my wife was watching about what happened on the actual day of the attacks. We’ve gone over and over that ground in recent weeks. Something I think a lot of us have forgotten is what it was like to be living through the time — the weeks, the months, even the next year or two — after that. The mind naturally amends, in light of facts learned subsequently. I know that when I went looking for this column, I remembered it a little differently from what I actually found when I read it. I found that interesting. I thought you might, too.