Commentary Magazine


Topic: admiral

The Administration’s Incoherence on Iran

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

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‘Why Saigon Fell and Jerusalem Hasn’t’

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

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RE: Obama: ‘I Do Not Want to Screw This Up’

Max, the desire to not let everything we have accomplished and everything so many Iraqis and Americans died for come to ruin is nowhere stronger than in the U.S. military. Today Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had this to say:

“One of the things we tend to forget is how desperate we were in that fight, pre-surge,” Mullen said. He said that, despite continuing violence in Iraq, there are no signs that any groups seek to return to the kind of sectarian violence that plagued the country after the 2003 invasion.

“I certainly don’t take for granted the progress that we’ve made, I recognize there is still a lot of work to be done,” Mullen said.

As for the surge, it would be swell if Obama echoed that sentiment tonight. As for the work that needs to be done, however, we should be concerned if the following is applied too literally: “Meanwhile, he said the only thing that worries him now is the lack of a unity government — but that he expects one to form very soon. The military, he said, has no role to play in that regard, and the Iraqi military has remained neutral, he said.”

It is true that the selection of a new government is not the U.S. military’s job, but keeping the peace and acting as a spur to reach a deal certainly is. Moreover, U.S. civilian leaders should be there to cajole and mediate between competing groups.

The president could go a long way tonight in making all this clear to the American people, to the Iraqis, and to those who would benefit from mischief-making in what is, in essence, a petri dish for Muslim democracy.

Max, the desire to not let everything we have accomplished and everything so many Iraqis and Americans died for come to ruin is nowhere stronger than in the U.S. military. Today Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had this to say:

“One of the things we tend to forget is how desperate we were in that fight, pre-surge,” Mullen said. He said that, despite continuing violence in Iraq, there are no signs that any groups seek to return to the kind of sectarian violence that plagued the country after the 2003 invasion.

“I certainly don’t take for granted the progress that we’ve made, I recognize there is still a lot of work to be done,” Mullen said.

As for the surge, it would be swell if Obama echoed that sentiment tonight. As for the work that needs to be done, however, we should be concerned if the following is applied too literally: “Meanwhile, he said the only thing that worries him now is the lack of a unity government — but that he expects one to form very soon. The military, he said, has no role to play in that regard, and the Iraqi military has remained neutral, he said.”

It is true that the selection of a new government is not the U.S. military’s job, but keeping the peace and acting as a spur to reach a deal certainly is. Moreover, U.S. civilian leaders should be there to cajole and mediate between competing groups.

The president could go a long way tonight in making all this clear to the American people, to the Iraqis, and to those who would benefit from mischief-making in what is, in essence, a petri dish for Muslim democracy.

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The Sound of Silence

The focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article was, as its title indicated, the “Point of No Return” for Israel — the point at which the Jewish state will conclude it can no longer wait for the charade of non-unanimous, non-crippling, non-uniformly-enforced sanctions to work, and will find itself forced to take the action the United States, under Barack Obama, will not take.

But there is another “point of no return” that might occur even earlier. It relates not to Israel but to the other states in the region. At a certain point, they will themselves conclude that the U.S. is not going to act, and their response will be not to help bomb Iran, but to accommodate it. Once that process reaches a critical point — and it has already started — Iran will have won a historic geopolitical victory, which its eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons will simply confirm.

Perhaps the two most important paragraphs in Goldberg’s article dealt not with Israel but with the Arab states — and a message Goldberg heard multiple times:

Several Arab officials complained to me that the Obama administration has not communicated its intentions to them, even generally. No Arab officials I spoke with appeared to believe that the administration understands the regional ambitions of their Persian adversary. One Arab foreign minister told me that he believes Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s “reasonableness.”

“Obama’s voters like it when the administration shows that it doesn’t want to fight Iran, but this is not a domestic political issue,” the foreign minister said. “Iran will continue on this reckless path, unless the administration starts to speak unreasonably. The best way to avoid striking Iran is to make Iran think that the U.S. is about to strike Iran. We have to know the president’s intentions on this matter. We are his allies.” [Emphasis added].

Goldberg cited two administration sources as saying this issue had caused tension between Obama and Admiral Dennis Blair, the recently dismissed director of national intelligence:

Blair, who was said to put great emphasis on the Iranian threat, told the president that America’s Arab allies needed more reassurance. Obama reportedly did not appreciate the advice.

So the administration has not communicated its intentions to its Arab allies, even generally; the president did not appreciate advice according to which he needed to reassure them; his secretary of state told the Arab press earlier this year that the military option was off the table; Obama told David Brooks, at the beginning of his presidential campaign, that Iran wanted nuclear weapons for defensive purposes and could be contained — the approach of Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.

You don’t have to be a weatherman (or even read a long article) to know where this is headed. The irony is that the advice of the Arab foreign minister was in fact the only way diplomacy might succeed: military force can be avoided only by convincing Iran the U.S. will use it. Obama needs to say publicly, as John McCain did, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be Iran with a bomb. Instead, the countries in the region hear only the silence of the lambs, the neighing of a weak horse, the strategic equivalent of voting “present.”

The focus of Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article was, as its title indicated, the “Point of No Return” for Israel — the point at which the Jewish state will conclude it can no longer wait for the charade of non-unanimous, non-crippling, non-uniformly-enforced sanctions to work, and will find itself forced to take the action the United States, under Barack Obama, will not take.

But there is another “point of no return” that might occur even earlier. It relates not to Israel but to the other states in the region. At a certain point, they will themselves conclude that the U.S. is not going to act, and their response will be not to help bomb Iran, but to accommodate it. Once that process reaches a critical point — and it has already started — Iran will have won a historic geopolitical victory, which its eventual acquisition of nuclear weapons will simply confirm.

Perhaps the two most important paragraphs in Goldberg’s article dealt not with Israel but with the Arab states — and a message Goldberg heard multiple times:

Several Arab officials complained to me that the Obama administration has not communicated its intentions to them, even generally. No Arab officials I spoke with appeared to believe that the administration understands the regional ambitions of their Persian adversary. One Arab foreign minister told me that he believes Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s “reasonableness.”

“Obama’s voters like it when the administration shows that it doesn’t want to fight Iran, but this is not a domestic political issue,” the foreign minister said. “Iran will continue on this reckless path, unless the administration starts to speak unreasonably. The best way to avoid striking Iran is to make Iran think that the U.S. is about to strike Iran. We have to know the president’s intentions on this matter. We are his allies.” [Emphasis added].

Goldberg cited two administration sources as saying this issue had caused tension between Obama and Admiral Dennis Blair, the recently dismissed director of national intelligence:

Blair, who was said to put great emphasis on the Iranian threat, told the president that America’s Arab allies needed more reassurance. Obama reportedly did not appreciate the advice.

So the administration has not communicated its intentions to its Arab allies, even generally; the president did not appreciate advice according to which he needed to reassure them; his secretary of state told the Arab press earlier this year that the military option was off the table; Obama told David Brooks, at the beginning of his presidential campaign, that Iran wanted nuclear weapons for defensive purposes and could be contained — the approach of Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.

You don’t have to be a weatherman (or even read a long article) to know where this is headed. The irony is that the advice of the Arab foreign minister was in fact the only way diplomacy might succeed: military force can be avoided only by convincing Iran the U.S. will use it. Obama needs to say publicly, as John McCain did, that the only thing worse than bombing Iran would be Iran with a bomb. Instead, the countries in the region hear only the silence of the lambs, the neighing of a weak horse, the strategic equivalent of voting “present.”

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Asymmetry in Lebanon

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

Reports have been emerging that the August 2 attack by Lebanese forces on Israeli soldiers in Israel was ordered in advance by the Lebanese army chain of command. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald describes the admission from a Lebanese official, who met with the IDF after the incident, that the attack was planned by Lebanon’s military. The Herald’s information is sourced to the Lebanese newspaper As Safir; meanwhile, the NOW Lebanon news website cites al-Manar TV in its report, according to which “the order to open fire in Tuesday’s border skirmish [came] ‘directly from the [army] command.’” And Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, in a Washington Post editorial today, mentions that Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah “sent a television crew to film the ambush” — a preparation picked up on earlier by Italian media, Ronen Bergman at the Wall Street Journal, and several bloggers, who noted that the Lebanese reporter killed in the exchange worked for Hezbollah outlet Al Akhbar. (H/t: Israel Matzav, Emet m’Tsiyon, Pajamas)

Among the obvious points to make about this incident, there’s one that may not be quite so obvious. Monday’s dangerous and irresponsible action involved a national army attacking the territory of another nation. It could be considered an act of war. And if it was indeed planned by elements of the Lebanese army acting as agents for Hezbollah, then it appears as though the Lebanese were counting on Israeli restraint and professionalism to keep the event a photo-op and not let it spiral out of control. They counted on Israel, in other words, to treat the attack as it does Hezbollah’s terror attacks.

I’m reminded of something I heard almost 20 years ago from a Navy admiral, a submariner who had been involved in discussions with his counterparts in the Soviet submarine force in the early 1990s. After the 1992 collision of USS Baton Rouge with a Russian submarine, the admiral recounted an informal disclosure from a senior Soviet submariner about undersea safety. The Soviet officer acknowledged that the Soviets’ expertise and equipment were inferior to ours. A Soviet submarine – even a nuclear-powered submarine carrying nuclear missiles – operated more blindly than one of ours and with less of the submariner’s special brand of seamanship. “That,” said the Soviet officer, “is why we rely on you to prevent collisions.”

Clashes of arms magnify asymmetries as nothing else does. But the asymmetry in each of the cases here – the U.S. and Soviet submarine forces and the Israeli and Lebanese armies – is more profound than a mere difference in the quality of weapons and training. The essential recklessness of inviting peril that must be held in check by a reliable enemy is foreign to the consensual-democratic mind. Although Israel has faced such recklessness from terrorists for years, we must not miss the lesson that national armies can be wielded in the same manner. The analogies invited by this glimpse of Lebanese reality are, to say the least, disturbing.

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Once More, Admiral Mullen — This Time with Feeling

The administration has been criticized on its approach to Iran for apparently taking the military option off the table. So on Meet the Press, Admiral Mike Mullen was trying, I think, to correct the impression that this was not a viable alternative should sanctions fail. However, he sure didn’t do a good job of making the military option sound credible:

What I try to do when I talk about that is, is identify the space between those two outcomes, which is pretty narrow, in which I think the diplomacy, the kind of sanctions, the kind of international pressure that, that is being applied, I am hopeful works.  I, I, I recognize that there isn’t that much space there.  But, quite frankly, I am extremely concerned about both of those outcomes.” Yeah, it’s virtually unintelligible.

He wasn’t through tripping over his tongue:

None of them are good in a sense that it’s certainly an outcome that I don’t seek, or that, that we wouldn’t seek.  At the same time, and for what I talked about before, is, is not just the consequences of the action itself, but the things that could result after the fact

Finally, grudgingly, he acknowledged that the military does have a plan if, as David Gregory put it, “it should come to that.”

Mullen and especially Obama are going to have to do a whole lot better than that to convince the mullahs that they face an attack if they don’t give up their dream of a nuclear program. One suspects that the Obami at this point — no matter how much they improve their public utterances — aren’t capable of impressing the mullahs’ with their determination to use all available means to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The administration’s failure to maintain a credible threat of force remains one of the most inexplicable and incompetent aspects of its approach to the most dire national security issue we face.

The administration has been criticized on its approach to Iran for apparently taking the military option off the table. So on Meet the Press, Admiral Mike Mullen was trying, I think, to correct the impression that this was not a viable alternative should sanctions fail. However, he sure didn’t do a good job of making the military option sound credible:

What I try to do when I talk about that is, is identify the space between those two outcomes, which is pretty narrow, in which I think the diplomacy, the kind of sanctions, the kind of international pressure that, that is being applied, I am hopeful works.  I, I, I recognize that there isn’t that much space there.  But, quite frankly, I am extremely concerned about both of those outcomes.” Yeah, it’s virtually unintelligible.

He wasn’t through tripping over his tongue:

None of them are good in a sense that it’s certainly an outcome that I don’t seek, or that, that we wouldn’t seek.  At the same time, and for what I talked about before, is, is not just the consequences of the action itself, but the things that could result after the fact

Finally, grudgingly, he acknowledged that the military does have a plan if, as David Gregory put it, “it should come to that.”

Mullen and especially Obama are going to have to do a whole lot better than that to convince the mullahs that they face an attack if they don’t give up their dream of a nuclear program. One suspects that the Obami at this point — no matter how much they improve their public utterances — aren’t capable of impressing the mullahs’ with their determination to use all available means to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The administration’s failure to maintain a credible threat of force remains one of the most inexplicable and incompetent aspects of its approach to the most dire national security issue we face.

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Give Back the Money, Joe

That’s what Rep. Joe Sestak, who’s spent nearly all his time since the primary on the defensive, is hearing. It seems that many Democrats have given back money generated by the very ethically challenged Charlie Rangel, but not Sestak:

Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey and at least two House challengers have made Rangel contributions an issue, calling on Democrats to return the money.

“Throughout the campaign, Congressman [Joe] Sestak has spoken about accountability and putting principle over politics, but it is now becoming clear that his pledges and lofty promises are just hollow words from another Washington insider,” Toomey campaign spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said about contributions Sestak has received from Rangel’s political action committees.

Even Sestak’s most extreme left-wing colleagues are dumping the Rangel cash. But not Sestak — maybe his idea is to let the issue build and build, let free media help his opponent, and then cave. That seems to be pretty much his campaign strategy so far.

And if that were not enough, he’s now fending off attacks about his earmarks:

Rep. Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for Senate, has reaped at least $119,650 in campaign contributions from employees of companies to which he has steered federal earmarks since 2008, according to public records. There’s nothing illegal — or unusual — on Capitol Hill about the practice of fund-raising from recipients of federal appropriations, but Sestak, a former three-star Navy admiral, has held himself to a higher standard.

The Toomey campaign is mocking Sestak for denying the pledge on his own website that vowed to give back contributions from “an individual or organization [that] has made a request for an appropriations project.” It seems — wow, just like when he denied the language about Israel’s imposing “collective punishment” on Gazans in his own Gaza letter — that Sestak didn’t mean what he said:

Data from the websites Legistorm and Opensecrets, which track earmarks and donations, respectively, shows Sestak kept about $62,000 in donations from senior officials at companies receiving his earmarks. Sestak said he has returned thousands of dollars in similar contributions, but some slipped past. He noted that no rules prevent him from keeping contributions from people who receive federal money. “I guess the lesson is it’s hard to take that extra step,” he said. Sestak said he never intended to publicize his donation-return policy, which appears in his campaign website’s Ethics section. “I just wanted a quiet sense of accountability.”

I imagine Democrats are experiencing a “quiet sense” of panic as they realize they’ve nominated someone who not only has an Israel problem and a Pelosi problem (97.8 percent support, but not “all the time,” mind you) but also an honesty problem. In a year when voters are sick of politicians shirking responsibility and coming up with ludicrous spin, this is potentially a very big problem.

That’s what Rep. Joe Sestak, who’s spent nearly all his time since the primary on the defensive, is hearing. It seems that many Democrats have given back money generated by the very ethically challenged Charlie Rangel, but not Sestak:

Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey and at least two House challengers have made Rangel contributions an issue, calling on Democrats to return the money.

“Throughout the campaign, Congressman [Joe] Sestak has spoken about accountability and putting principle over politics, but it is now becoming clear that his pledges and lofty promises are just hollow words from another Washington insider,” Toomey campaign spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said about contributions Sestak has received from Rangel’s political action committees.

Even Sestak’s most extreme left-wing colleagues are dumping the Rangel cash. But not Sestak — maybe his idea is to let the issue build and build, let free media help his opponent, and then cave. That seems to be pretty much his campaign strategy so far.

And if that were not enough, he’s now fending off attacks about his earmarks:

Rep. Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania’s Democratic nominee for Senate, has reaped at least $119,650 in campaign contributions from employees of companies to which he has steered federal earmarks since 2008, according to public records. There’s nothing illegal — or unusual — on Capitol Hill about the practice of fund-raising from recipients of federal appropriations, but Sestak, a former three-star Navy admiral, has held himself to a higher standard.

The Toomey campaign is mocking Sestak for denying the pledge on his own website that vowed to give back contributions from “an individual or organization [that] has made a request for an appropriations project.” It seems — wow, just like when he denied the language about Israel’s imposing “collective punishment” on Gazans in his own Gaza letter — that Sestak didn’t mean what he said:

Data from the websites Legistorm and Opensecrets, which track earmarks and donations, respectively, shows Sestak kept about $62,000 in donations from senior officials at companies receiving his earmarks. Sestak said he has returned thousands of dollars in similar contributions, but some slipped past. He noted that no rules prevent him from keeping contributions from people who receive federal money. “I guess the lesson is it’s hard to take that extra step,” he said. Sestak said he never intended to publicize his donation-return policy, which appears in his campaign website’s Ethics section. “I just wanted a quiet sense of accountability.”

I imagine Democrats are experiencing a “quiet sense” of panic as they realize they’ve nominated someone who not only has an Israel problem and a Pelosi problem (97.8 percent support, but not “all the time,” mind you) but also an honesty problem. In a year when voters are sick of politicians shirking responsibility and coming up with ludicrous spin, this is potentially a very big problem.

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RE: What Is Israel to Do?

As Jennifer points out, Admiral Mullen’s remarks about Iran are disconcerting.

I am no military expert and, like most of us in the blogosphere and the policy community, lack the actionable intelligence to make the kind of judgment that Admiral Mullen makes on whether a military strike against Iran would yield the kind of benefits desired without the kind of consequences one may reasonably fear.

Maybe Admiral Mullen is in a position to know better and his public assessment is correct. But why announce it? To make the Mullahs sleep better?

What is remarkable, and remarkably shocking, about this procession of military and intelligence personnel coming to say what politicians have now said for a while, is that they do not seem to appreciate how these comments have damaging consequences.

Perhaps a military strike is not in the cards anymore — who knows? Perhaps the risks involved are considerable. Maybe the hour is late. Understandably, there is little appetite for war. And, frankly, one should underestimate neither the operational difficulties nor the political fallout.

But there is a world of difference between entertaining skepticism about the military option in private and ruling it out in public. Whether it is politicians or uniformed personnel, their public dismissal of the military option — perhaps the only thing Iran’s regime truly fears — undermines the effectiveness of all non-military alternatives.

Besides, it is not the job of military personnel to dismiss or even fret publicly about the consequences of a military operation. Their job is to find the best way to accomplish a mission they are tasked with by their civilian leadership — and, if that mission entails negative consequences, they can certainly let it be known and factor them into their plans. It should not be their business to comment on these matters on the record. McChrystal, anyone?

Incidentally, government officials in Europe have been adopting this characteristically thoughtless approach for a while now, failing to understand that a threat is more powerful than its actual manifestation when it carries credibility. Now America has joined the bandwagon. To see U.S. leaders publicly depriving themselves of a fundamental policy tool and tell Iran that, no matter what they do, nobody will attack them, is a truly myopic act — and it will achieve precisely the opposite of what its perpetrators wish it to accomplish. By reassuring Iran that no attack will come their way, the West has removed the last pressure tool from its arsenal. The reiteration of such a message will embolden the Iranians to become more defiant and more aggressive and convince the Israelis that they stand alone and have little time left.

So, paradoxically, the more Admiral Mullen and his military peers say that an attack against Iran would be a bad thing, the more likely it is there is going to be an attack on Iran.

As Jennifer points out, Admiral Mullen’s remarks about Iran are disconcerting.

I am no military expert and, like most of us in the blogosphere and the policy community, lack the actionable intelligence to make the kind of judgment that Admiral Mullen makes on whether a military strike against Iran would yield the kind of benefits desired without the kind of consequences one may reasonably fear.

Maybe Admiral Mullen is in a position to know better and his public assessment is correct. But why announce it? To make the Mullahs sleep better?

What is remarkable, and remarkably shocking, about this procession of military and intelligence personnel coming to say what politicians have now said for a while, is that they do not seem to appreciate how these comments have damaging consequences.

Perhaps a military strike is not in the cards anymore — who knows? Perhaps the risks involved are considerable. Maybe the hour is late. Understandably, there is little appetite for war. And, frankly, one should underestimate neither the operational difficulties nor the political fallout.

But there is a world of difference between entertaining skepticism about the military option in private and ruling it out in public. Whether it is politicians or uniformed personnel, their public dismissal of the military option — perhaps the only thing Iran’s regime truly fears — undermines the effectiveness of all non-military alternatives.

Besides, it is not the job of military personnel to dismiss or even fret publicly about the consequences of a military operation. Their job is to find the best way to accomplish a mission they are tasked with by their civilian leadership — and, if that mission entails negative consequences, they can certainly let it be known and factor them into their plans. It should not be their business to comment on these matters on the record. McChrystal, anyone?

Incidentally, government officials in Europe have been adopting this characteristically thoughtless approach for a while now, failing to understand that a threat is more powerful than its actual manifestation when it carries credibility. Now America has joined the bandwagon. To see U.S. leaders publicly depriving themselves of a fundamental policy tool and tell Iran that, no matter what they do, nobody will attack them, is a truly myopic act — and it will achieve precisely the opposite of what its perpetrators wish it to accomplish. By reassuring Iran that no attack will come their way, the West has removed the last pressure tool from its arsenal. The reiteration of such a message will embolden the Iranians to become more defiant and more aggressive and convince the Israelis that they stand alone and have little time left.

So, paradoxically, the more Admiral Mullen and his military peers say that an attack against Iran would be a bad thing, the more likely it is there is going to be an attack on Iran.

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What Is Israel to Do?

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is at it again. In the past he’s spoken about his aversion to military action against Iran. At a swank Aspen gathering, he made clear just how averse he is — and the dearth of other options for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran:

A military strike against Iran would be “incredibly destabilizing” to the region said the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. He believes Iran will continue to pursue nuclear weapons, even if sanctions against the country are increased.
Speaking Monday at the Aspen Security Forum, Mullen said it would be “incredibly dangerous” for Iran to achieve nuclear weapons, and that there’s “no reason to trust” Iran’s assurances that it is only pursuing a peaceful nuclear program, especially after the discovery of a secret nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom. …

Mullen said there was no reason to expect Iran to conform to international norms, given its past behavior, but he declined to describe what measures the US was considering. He has often said that all options remain on the table.

He explained that the hardest part about trying to decide what to do about Iran is how much the US does not know about the country’s nuclear progress.

When asked whether he thought Israel would give the United States time to see whether tougher sanctions or talks would produce more cooperation from Iran, he would only say that he believes the US and Israel are “in sync” with their current policies.

Following on Leon Panetta’s troubling interview, this should certainly unnerve you — on multiple counts. First, we again see that the Obami consider the prospect of a strike on Iran to be “destabilizing” — apparently more so than a nuclear-armed Iran. Second, Mullen confesses he really doesn’t know how far Iran’s nuclear program has progressed. Is this strategic ambiguity to keep Israel at bay? Or is it evidence that our intelligence is deficient and Israel will need to gauge for itself when time has run out on the feckless attempts to engage and sanction Iran? Third, like Panetta, he thinks economic sanctions will be ineffective. Finally, and worst of all, even if Mullen believes these things, why in the world would he say them? Giving comfort and encouragement to our adversaries isn’t part of his job description.

So what is Israel to do? If you put it all together, the conclusion must be: learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. As many of us have argued for over a year, that has been and remains, if not the intent, at least the inevitable result of Obama’s Iran policy. That the vast majority of mainstream American Jewish leaders have not woken up to this reality – nor in any meaningful way challenged the administration – is a tragic failure of immense proportions.

As for Israel, Obama’s game plan is — to borrow a term — unacceptable. In this case, the Israelis mean it and will at some point be forced to take military action, unless the Obami undergo an epiphany and reverse course. War is a horrid prospect, as is the potential for massive loss of life – but not as horrid as that of a nuclear-armed Iran. Obama’s willingness to leave Israel to fend for itself or, worse, interfere with its ability to do so is not merely a betrayal of our democratic ally; it is an abdication of American responsibility that will resonate for years to come, signaling that the U.S. is no longer the guarantor of the West’s security.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is at it again. In the past he’s spoken about his aversion to military action against Iran. At a swank Aspen gathering, he made clear just how averse he is — and the dearth of other options for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran:

A military strike against Iran would be “incredibly destabilizing” to the region said the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. He believes Iran will continue to pursue nuclear weapons, even if sanctions against the country are increased.
Speaking Monday at the Aspen Security Forum, Mullen said it would be “incredibly dangerous” for Iran to achieve nuclear weapons, and that there’s “no reason to trust” Iran’s assurances that it is only pursuing a peaceful nuclear program, especially after the discovery of a secret nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom. …

Mullen said there was no reason to expect Iran to conform to international norms, given its past behavior, but he declined to describe what measures the US was considering. He has often said that all options remain on the table.

He explained that the hardest part about trying to decide what to do about Iran is how much the US does not know about the country’s nuclear progress.

When asked whether he thought Israel would give the United States time to see whether tougher sanctions or talks would produce more cooperation from Iran, he would only say that he believes the US and Israel are “in sync” with their current policies.

Following on Leon Panetta’s troubling interview, this should certainly unnerve you — on multiple counts. First, we again see that the Obami consider the prospect of a strike on Iran to be “destabilizing” — apparently more so than a nuclear-armed Iran. Second, Mullen confesses he really doesn’t know how far Iran’s nuclear program has progressed. Is this strategic ambiguity to keep Israel at bay? Or is it evidence that our intelligence is deficient and Israel will need to gauge for itself when time has run out on the feckless attempts to engage and sanction Iran? Third, like Panetta, he thinks economic sanctions will be ineffective. Finally, and worst of all, even if Mullen believes these things, why in the world would he say them? Giving comfort and encouragement to our adversaries isn’t part of his job description.

So what is Israel to do? If you put it all together, the conclusion must be: learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. As many of us have argued for over a year, that has been and remains, if not the intent, at least the inevitable result of Obama’s Iran policy. That the vast majority of mainstream American Jewish leaders have not woken up to this reality – nor in any meaningful way challenged the administration – is a tragic failure of immense proportions.

As for Israel, Obama’s game plan is — to borrow a term — unacceptable. In this case, the Israelis mean it and will at some point be forced to take military action, unless the Obami undergo an epiphany and reverse course. War is a horrid prospect, as is the potential for massive loss of life – but not as horrid as that of a nuclear-armed Iran. Obama’s willingness to leave Israel to fend for itself or, worse, interfere with its ability to do so is not merely a betrayal of our democratic ally; it is an abdication of American responsibility that will resonate for years to come, signaling that the U.S. is no longer the guarantor of the West’s security.

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McChrystal’s Media Woes

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

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When It Comes to National Intelligence, One Head Is Better than Two

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the White House is having a tough time finding anyone willing to take on the thankless job of director of National Intelligence after firing retired Admiral Dennis Blair. If the newspaper’s reporting is to be believed, the post has already been turned down by CIA director Leon Panetta and former senator Chuck Hagel. That leaves Gen. James Clapper, the top intelligence official at the Department of Defense, as the front-runner, but his appointment is unpopular on Capitol Hill.

What to do? Here’s a thought from out of left field: why not appoint Panetta to the job while letting him keep his current appointment as CIA director? In fact, why not make it a tradition to have the same person serve as both DNI and DCI? That would actually be in line with the historic expectation that the head of the CIA would also be the head of the entire intelligence community. That promise was never realized, so in 2005 Congress created a separate DNI post. But each DNI has struggled to exercise any real power over individual intelligence agencies, and in particular over the CIA; Blair lost bruising turf battles to Panetta. By putting the same person in charge of both National Intelligence and CIA, you eliminate at least one turf battle. That may very well be the best solution for the short term, and possibly even the long term, unless Congress invests the DNI with vast new powers over budgeting and personnel, which it so far hasn’t been willing to do.

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Way to Go, Senator Feinstein!

Dennis Blair “resigned” — that is to say, was shoved overboard, finally. As the Wall Street Journal report points out, the shoving is long overdue:

From the outset, Mr. Blair, 63 years old, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, proved to be an uneasy fit for the job. He made a series of decisions and statements that angered the White House—from a controversial appointment for the nation’s top intelligence analyst to recent statements that a new terrorist interrogation team should have questioned the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

Yes, that appointment was Chas Freeman, who “immediately drew fire from critics who said he was too close to the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments. After that public-relations debacle, Mr. Blair maintained a much lower profile, speaking infrequently in public.” And that was some time ago, yet Obama continued to entrust our entire national-security apparatus to a man who wasn’t allowed to speak in public.

So what was the final straw? As Politico notes:

Word of Blair’s departure comes just two days after the release of a harshly-critical Senate report which identified 14 failures that preceded the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner outside Detroit. The report put particular blame for the failure to head off the attack on a coordination unit that is part of Blair’s office, the National Counterterrorism Center.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to know that when clear-eyed lawmakers (e.g., the Senate Intelligence Committee, the GOP senators blocking the nomination of  Obama’s ambassador to Syria) act with resolve, the White House can be forced to retreat. (Let’s hope John Brennan – who comes up with loony ideas like engaging Hezbollah and now refers to the eternal capital of the Jewish state as “Al Quds, Jerusalem” – isn’t the replacement.)  But someone should ask the president: given the two near-miss terror attacks, do you regret not canning Blair earlier?

As for Feinstein, could she now do a report on the Justice Department? (At 36 percent, Eric Holder has the lowest approval of anyone in the administration, so maybe the White House would welcome an excuse to shove him overboard as well.) Then State? And while she’s at it, could she do an assessment of the phony UN sanctions?

Dennis Blair “resigned” — that is to say, was shoved overboard, finally. As the Wall Street Journal report points out, the shoving is long overdue:

From the outset, Mr. Blair, 63 years old, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, proved to be an uneasy fit for the job. He made a series of decisions and statements that angered the White House—from a controversial appointment for the nation’s top intelligence analyst to recent statements that a new terrorist interrogation team should have questioned the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

Yes, that appointment was Chas Freeman, who “immediately drew fire from critics who said he was too close to the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments. After that public-relations debacle, Mr. Blair maintained a much lower profile, speaking infrequently in public.” And that was some time ago, yet Obama continued to entrust our entire national-security apparatus to a man who wasn’t allowed to speak in public.

So what was the final straw? As Politico notes:

Word of Blair’s departure comes just two days after the release of a harshly-critical Senate report which identified 14 failures that preceded the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner outside Detroit. The report put particular blame for the failure to head off the attack on a coordination unit that is part of Blair’s office, the National Counterterrorism Center.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to know that when clear-eyed lawmakers (e.g., the Senate Intelligence Committee, the GOP senators blocking the nomination of  Obama’s ambassador to Syria) act with resolve, the White House can be forced to retreat. (Let’s hope John Brennan – who comes up with loony ideas like engaging Hezbollah and now refers to the eternal capital of the Jewish state as “Al Quds, Jerusalem” – isn’t the replacement.)  But someone should ask the president: given the two near-miss terror attacks, do you regret not canning Blair earlier?

As for Feinstein, could she now do a report on the Justice Department? (At 36 percent, Eric Holder has the lowest approval of anyone in the administration, so maybe the White House would welcome an excuse to shove him overboard as well.) Then State? And while she’s at it, could she do an assessment of the phony UN sanctions?

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Bellwether Battle: Sestak vs. Toomey

With the need to explain his vote against Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when she was confirmed as solicitor general, and yet another tracking poll showing him losing even more ground to challenger Rep. Joe Sestak, Sen. Arlen Specter has officially been declared “toast” by leftist Philadelphia Daily News blogger Will Bunch.

Bunch is right about Specter being ready for a shmear of cream cheese or butter, but he failed to note the news that supporters of the incumbent must regard with special dread: a new Rasmussen poll indicates that Sestak will be a stronger opponent for Republican Pat Toomey in the fall. In the first tracking poll matching the two Democrats against their all-but-certain Republican opponent in a month, Sestak gained strength as Specter continued to lose ground. A month ago, Toomey led Specter 50 to 40 percent. The latest numbers show the margin now to be 50 to 38. While the same survey showed Sestak trailing Toomey 47-36 a month ago, a new poll shows the race to be a virtual standoff, with Toomey holding only a 42-40 lead.

Wavering Democrats who never liked the idea of the former Republican being their nominee were told by party bigwigs that Specter was their only hope to hold the seat in November, since Sestak was too weak to beat Toomey. But if Specter’s incumbency is a weakness rather than a strength in a general election, then liberals won’t hesitate to abandon him next week in droves.

These numbers just confirm what Bunch and just about everybody else who isn’t a Specter staffer have concluded: the incumbent is finished and Pennsylvania will have one of the most competitive and clearly ideological battles for the Senate in November.

Most Pennsylvania Republicans have been thoroughly enjoying Arlen Specter’s difficulties in convincing his new party’s voters to embrace him. After decades of being represented by a man who always put himself on both sides of every big issue, conservatives, who came close to knocking off Specter in a 2004 GOP primary, are getting a great deal of vicarious pleasure from Sestak’s successful challenge to a Democratic establishment that embraced the slippery incumbent with the same ardor that George W. Bush and Rick Santorum backed him six years ago. But with Sestak pulling even with Toomey in a head-to-head matchup, conservatives need to start thinking clearly about the liberal former admiral.

In the past decade, Pennsylvania’s Senate races have generally been won by whoever could claim the center. But this fall, there will be no race in the nation that presents a starker choice between the parties. In all likelihood, the matchup will feature two candidates, Toomey and Sestak, who represent the conservative and liberal wings of their parties respectively. As a man who won a seat in Congress in 2006 as an anti-war candidate, Sestak may well be able to mobilize the suburban liberal base of the Democratic Party even if he leaves urban minorities cold. And we can expect the liberal-media attack machine to go all-out to tar Toomey as a right-wing fanatic. In response, the stalwartly pro-Israel Toomey will have the chance to hold Sestak accountable for his very shaky stand on the Middle East since the congressman backed a J Street letter on Israel rather than one endorsed by the mainstream pro-Israel AIPAC. And Sestak has never backed away from his appearance in 2007 at a fundraiser for the pro-Hamas CAIR’s Philadelphia chapter.

The point is, once Specter is done, conservatives will have to stop cheering for Sestak and start taking him seriously as a formidable and dangerous opponent.

With the need to explain his vote against Obama Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan when she was confirmed as solicitor general, and yet another tracking poll showing him losing even more ground to challenger Rep. Joe Sestak, Sen. Arlen Specter has officially been declared “toast” by leftist Philadelphia Daily News blogger Will Bunch.

Bunch is right about Specter being ready for a shmear of cream cheese or butter, but he failed to note the news that supporters of the incumbent must regard with special dread: a new Rasmussen poll indicates that Sestak will be a stronger opponent for Republican Pat Toomey in the fall. In the first tracking poll matching the two Democrats against their all-but-certain Republican opponent in a month, Sestak gained strength as Specter continued to lose ground. A month ago, Toomey led Specter 50 to 40 percent. The latest numbers show the margin now to be 50 to 38. While the same survey showed Sestak trailing Toomey 47-36 a month ago, a new poll shows the race to be a virtual standoff, with Toomey holding only a 42-40 lead.

Wavering Democrats who never liked the idea of the former Republican being their nominee were told by party bigwigs that Specter was their only hope to hold the seat in November, since Sestak was too weak to beat Toomey. But if Specter’s incumbency is a weakness rather than a strength in a general election, then liberals won’t hesitate to abandon him next week in droves.

These numbers just confirm what Bunch and just about everybody else who isn’t a Specter staffer have concluded: the incumbent is finished and Pennsylvania will have one of the most competitive and clearly ideological battles for the Senate in November.

Most Pennsylvania Republicans have been thoroughly enjoying Arlen Specter’s difficulties in convincing his new party’s voters to embrace him. After decades of being represented by a man who always put himself on both sides of every big issue, conservatives, who came close to knocking off Specter in a 2004 GOP primary, are getting a great deal of vicarious pleasure from Sestak’s successful challenge to a Democratic establishment that embraced the slippery incumbent with the same ardor that George W. Bush and Rick Santorum backed him six years ago. But with Sestak pulling even with Toomey in a head-to-head matchup, conservatives need to start thinking clearly about the liberal former admiral.

In the past decade, Pennsylvania’s Senate races have generally been won by whoever could claim the center. But this fall, there will be no race in the nation that presents a starker choice between the parties. In all likelihood, the matchup will feature two candidates, Toomey and Sestak, who represent the conservative and liberal wings of their parties respectively. As a man who won a seat in Congress in 2006 as an anti-war candidate, Sestak may well be able to mobilize the suburban liberal base of the Democratic Party even if he leaves urban minorities cold. And we can expect the liberal-media attack machine to go all-out to tar Toomey as a right-wing fanatic. In response, the stalwartly pro-Israel Toomey will have the chance to hold Sestak accountable for his very shaky stand on the Middle East since the congressman backed a J Street letter on Israel rather than one endorsed by the mainstream pro-Israel AIPAC. And Sestak has never backed away from his appearance in 2007 at a fundraiser for the pro-Hamas CAIR’s Philadelphia chapter.

The point is, once Specter is done, conservatives will have to stop cheering for Sestak and start taking him seriously as a formidable and dangerous opponent.

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Liberals Like Swift-Boat Attack Against Specter’s Foe

With less than two weeks to go until the Pennsylvania Democratic primary that will decide the fate of Senator Arlen Specter, the race between the incumbent party-switcher and the liberal congressman who is hoping to knock him off has gotten tighter and nastier.

After holding a huge lead over Rep. Joe Sestak for most of the past year, Specter is shown by the latest polls to lose his lead. An Allentown Morning Call tracking poll showed Specter with just a five-point lead (45 percent to 40) on May 5, down three points from May 2. Though a Quinnipiac poll from May 2 showed Specter with a larger lead (48 percent to 39), it still showed remarkable gains for Sestak since he had trailed Specter in that survey by as much as 21 points only a month earlier.

And along with the tighter poll numbers have come the inevitable negative ads. Specter had thought he would cruise to victory in the primary because of name recognition, a big edge in campaign contributions, and the overwhelming support he has received from Democratic leaders from President Obama, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and most of the county Democratic committees. But faced with Sestak’s rising numbers, in the last couple of weeks, Specter has now resorted to trying to stress his opponent’s negatives. The senator is now airing a TV ad in which he claims that Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was relieved of his post as chief of planning for the Navy in 2005 because he created a “poor command climate” — though Sestak has always said that his exit from the Navy was due to policy differences with a new chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sestak has now responded to Specter’s ad with one of his own, in which he accuses the senator of “swift-boating” him and lying about his record. For good measure, he’s also released another one tying Specter to his Republican past, including his support for figures that are demons to Democratic activists: George W. Bush, former senator Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

Though Specter’s turncoat status has made it hard for him to cozy up to the sort of hardcore liberals who vote in Democratic primaries, it is interesting to note that the chief institutional voice of Pennsylvania liberalism — the Philadelphia Inquirer — has taken its cue from Obama and not only endorsed Specter but also backed his attacks on Sestak’s record and character. In an editorial published today, the Inky follows Specter’s lead and demands that Sestak release his private Navy records if he wants to quiet the discussion related to the issue.

Yet 6 years ago, when conservative activists were raising embarrassing questions about the naval record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Inquirer took a very different point of view. At that time, the liberal newspaper decried the “Swift-Boat” vets who attacked Kerry and thought their demands for the release of Kerry’s records were not only unreasonable but also an indication of the vicious nature of ultra-partisan GOP politics. But with the possibility of losing a Senate seat for the Democrats (polls also show that Sestak is a weaker general-election candidate than Specter), the Inquirer is no longer so squeamish about messing with former military men.

Ultimately, the race will be decided by voter sentiment about Specter. Much of his campaign material emphasizes his 30 years in the Senate and his ability to bring home the bacon for his state as one of the most expert practitioners of earmark spending. But in a year in which voters are clearly saying that they think politics as usual isn’t the answer, Specter’s old strengths may turn out to be big weaknesses. While this trend is a clear boost to Republicans — not least to former Rep. Pat Toomey, a principled libertarian and the man whom polls show able to beat either Democrat in the November election — these ideas may have an impact on May 17, when Democrats vote as well. Under these circumstances, swift-boating Sestak, even if liberals who once were outraged by such tactics when it they had turned on their own heroes now endorse them, may not be enough to save the slippery Specter.

With less than two weeks to go until the Pennsylvania Democratic primary that will decide the fate of Senator Arlen Specter, the race between the incumbent party-switcher and the liberal congressman who is hoping to knock him off has gotten tighter and nastier.

After holding a huge lead over Rep. Joe Sestak for most of the past year, Specter is shown by the latest polls to lose his lead. An Allentown Morning Call tracking poll showed Specter with just a five-point lead (45 percent to 40) on May 5, down three points from May 2. Though a Quinnipiac poll from May 2 showed Specter with a larger lead (48 percent to 39), it still showed remarkable gains for Sestak since he had trailed Specter in that survey by as much as 21 points only a month earlier.

And along with the tighter poll numbers have come the inevitable negative ads. Specter had thought he would cruise to victory in the primary because of name recognition, a big edge in campaign contributions, and the overwhelming support he has received from Democratic leaders from President Obama, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and most of the county Democratic committees. But faced with Sestak’s rising numbers, in the last couple of weeks, Specter has now resorted to trying to stress his opponent’s negatives. The senator is now airing a TV ad in which he claims that Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was relieved of his post as chief of planning for the Navy in 2005 because he created a “poor command climate” — though Sestak has always said that his exit from the Navy was due to policy differences with a new chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sestak has now responded to Specter’s ad with one of his own, in which he accuses the senator of “swift-boating” him and lying about his record. For good measure, he’s also released another one tying Specter to his Republican past, including his support for figures that are demons to Democratic activists: George W. Bush, former senator Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

Though Specter’s turncoat status has made it hard for him to cozy up to the sort of hardcore liberals who vote in Democratic primaries, it is interesting to note that the chief institutional voice of Pennsylvania liberalism — the Philadelphia Inquirer — has taken its cue from Obama and not only endorsed Specter but also backed his attacks on Sestak’s record and character. In an editorial published today, the Inky follows Specter’s lead and demands that Sestak release his private Navy records if he wants to quiet the discussion related to the issue.

Yet 6 years ago, when conservative activists were raising embarrassing questions about the naval record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Inquirer took a very different point of view. At that time, the liberal newspaper decried the “Swift-Boat” vets who attacked Kerry and thought their demands for the release of Kerry’s records were not only unreasonable but also an indication of the vicious nature of ultra-partisan GOP politics. But with the possibility of losing a Senate seat for the Democrats (polls also show that Sestak is a weaker general-election candidate than Specter), the Inquirer is no longer so squeamish about messing with former military men.

Ultimately, the race will be decided by voter sentiment about Specter. Much of his campaign material emphasizes his 30 years in the Senate and his ability to bring home the bacon for his state as one of the most expert practitioners of earmark spending. But in a year in which voters are clearly saying that they think politics as usual isn’t the answer, Specter’s old strengths may turn out to be big weaknesses. While this trend is a clear boost to Republicans — not least to former Rep. Pat Toomey, a principled libertarian and the man whom polls show able to beat either Democrat in the November election — these ideas may have an impact on May 17, when Democrats vote as well. Under these circumstances, swift-boating Sestak, even if liberals who once were outraged by such tactics when it they had turned on their own heroes now endorse them, may not be enough to save the slippery Specter.

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Obama’s Iran Policy Is Producing Arab Fallout

A key concern of those who believe a nuclear Iran would be disastrous is that it would prompt “moderate” Arab states to switch into the Iranian camp — due to fear that America would be unable to protect them against a nuclear-armed neighbor and a desire to align themselves with the “strong horse,” which succeeded in going nuclear despite American opposition, rather than the “weak horse,” which proved unwilling or unable to prevent this development. But it now seems Iran won’t even need to obtain the bomb to make this happen: the growing realization that Washington has no real stomach for stopping it is enough.

This conclusion emerges from two incidents reported by Haaretz Arab affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el. First, Iran’s military exercises in the Persian Gulf this week were observed by “a high-level military delegation from Qatar. It was headed by Admiral Abed al-Rahim al-Janahi, who said his country wants to benefit from the Iranian experience, and that he was planning joint exercises for the two armies.”

This is particularly noteworthy given a fact that Bar’el didn’t mention: U.S. forces used Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base for their campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, Qatar originally upgraded the base to lure the U.S. military. Now it’s planning joint military exercises with Iran.

Bar’el also quoted an Al-Arabiya interview with Turki al-Faisal, head of the King Faisal Institute of Global Strategic Studies — and also a former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, a former ambassador to London and Washington, the Saudi foreign minister’s brother, and King Abdullah’s cousin. As such, Bar’el wrote, al-Faisal most likely represents the ruling family’s views.

And what are those views? Hitherto, Riyadh has considered Tehran its chief regional rival. But al-Faisal termed the Gulf states’ ties with Iran “historic ties that are built on interests, blood relationships and proximity.” He also opposed sanctions on Tehran, saying he prefers “dialogue,” and said Israel posed a far greater threat to the region than Iran does.

The prospect of a shift in Saudi Arabia’s allegiance ought to alarm even the Obama administration. Saudi Arabia is not only one of America’s main oil suppliers; it’s also the country Washington relies on to keep world oil markets stable — both by restraining fellow OPEC members from radical production cuts and by upping its own production to compensate for temporary shortfalls elsewhere.

Granted, Riyadh is motivated partly by self-interest: unlike some of its OPEC colleagues, it understands that keeping oil prices too high for too long would do more to spur alternative-energy development than any amount of global-warming hysteria. And since its economy depends on oil exports, encouraging alternative energy is the last thing it wants to do.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Saudi Arabia has been generally effective as stabilizer-in-chief of world oil markets and has no plausible replacement in this role. And since the U.S. economy remains highly oil-dependent, a Saudi shift into Iran’s camp would effectively put America’s economy at the mercy of the mullahs in Tehran.

That’s a prospect that ought to keep Washington policymakers awake at night.

A key concern of those who believe a nuclear Iran would be disastrous is that it would prompt “moderate” Arab states to switch into the Iranian camp — due to fear that America would be unable to protect them against a nuclear-armed neighbor and a desire to align themselves with the “strong horse,” which succeeded in going nuclear despite American opposition, rather than the “weak horse,” which proved unwilling or unable to prevent this development. But it now seems Iran won’t even need to obtain the bomb to make this happen: the growing realization that Washington has no real stomach for stopping it is enough.

This conclusion emerges from two incidents reported by Haaretz Arab affairs analyst Zvi Bar’el. First, Iran’s military exercises in the Persian Gulf this week were observed by “a high-level military delegation from Qatar. It was headed by Admiral Abed al-Rahim al-Janahi, who said his country wants to benefit from the Iranian experience, and that he was planning joint exercises for the two armies.”

This is particularly noteworthy given a fact that Bar’el didn’t mention: U.S. forces used Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base for their campaigns in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Indeed, Qatar originally upgraded the base to lure the U.S. military. Now it’s planning joint military exercises with Iran.

Bar’el also quoted an Al-Arabiya interview with Turki al-Faisal, head of the King Faisal Institute of Global Strategic Studies — and also a former head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, a former ambassador to London and Washington, the Saudi foreign minister’s brother, and King Abdullah’s cousin. As such, Bar’el wrote, al-Faisal most likely represents the ruling family’s views.

And what are those views? Hitherto, Riyadh has considered Tehran its chief regional rival. But al-Faisal termed the Gulf states’ ties with Iran “historic ties that are built on interests, blood relationships and proximity.” He also opposed sanctions on Tehran, saying he prefers “dialogue,” and said Israel posed a far greater threat to the region than Iran does.

The prospect of a shift in Saudi Arabia’s allegiance ought to alarm even the Obama administration. Saudi Arabia is not only one of America’s main oil suppliers; it’s also the country Washington relies on to keep world oil markets stable — both by restraining fellow OPEC members from radical production cuts and by upping its own production to compensate for temporary shortfalls elsewhere.

Granted, Riyadh is motivated partly by self-interest: unlike some of its OPEC colleagues, it understands that keeping oil prices too high for too long would do more to spur alternative-energy development than any amount of global-warming hysteria. And since its economy depends on oil exports, encouraging alternative energy is the last thing it wants to do.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Saudi Arabia has been generally effective as stabilizer-in-chief of world oil markets and has no plausible replacement in this role. And since the U.S. economy remains highly oil-dependent, a Saudi shift into Iran’s camp would effectively put America’s economy at the mercy of the mullahs in Tehran.

That’s a prospect that ought to keep Washington policymakers awake at night.

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The Brzezinski Card — In Play or Not?

This report does not fill one with confidence concerning the administration’s reaction to an Israeli air strike on Iran:

In a town hall on the campus of the University of West Virginia, a young airman asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to respond to a “rumor.” If Israel decided to attack Iran, the speculation went, those jet would need to fly through Iraqi airspace to reach their targets. That airspace is considered a “no-fly” zone by the American military. So might U.S. troops shoot down the Israeli jets, the airmen asked the chairman, if they breached that airspace?

Mullen tried to sidestep the question. “We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterpart in Israel. So we also have a very clear understanding of where we are. And beyond that, I just wouldn’t get into the speculation of what might happen and who might do what. I don’t think it serves a purpose, frankly,” he said. “I am hopeful that this will be resolved in a way where we never have to answer a question like that.”

The airmen followed-up: “Would an airmen like me ever be ordered to fire on an Israeli – aircraft or personnel?”

Mullen’s second answer was much the same as his first. “Again, I wouldn’t move out into the future very far from here. They’re an extraordinarily close ally, have been for a long time, and will be in the future,” the admiral said.

It’s a bit mind-boggling that the answer wouldn’t be “no,” or at least “we’d never reach that point.” Something better than leaving the suggestion hanging that Zbigniew Brzezinski’s advice about shooting down Israeli planes might be in the cards. It’s fascinating, really: the administration goes to great pains to rule out military force against Iran but thinks it’s important to leave strategic ambiguity with respect to our ally Israel. Only in this administration could we reach such a dismal point.

This report does not fill one with confidence concerning the administration’s reaction to an Israeli air strike on Iran:

In a town hall on the campus of the University of West Virginia, a young airman asked Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen to respond to a “rumor.” If Israel decided to attack Iran, the speculation went, those jet would need to fly through Iraqi airspace to reach their targets. That airspace is considered a “no-fly” zone by the American military. So might U.S. troops shoot down the Israeli jets, the airmen asked the chairman, if they breached that airspace?

Mullen tried to sidestep the question. “We have an exceptionally strong relationship with Israel. I’ve spent a lot of time with my counterpart in Israel. So we also have a very clear understanding of where we are. And beyond that, I just wouldn’t get into the speculation of what might happen and who might do what. I don’t think it serves a purpose, frankly,” he said. “I am hopeful that this will be resolved in a way where we never have to answer a question like that.”

The airmen followed-up: “Would an airmen like me ever be ordered to fire on an Israeli – aircraft or personnel?”

Mullen’s second answer was much the same as his first. “Again, I wouldn’t move out into the future very far from here. They’re an extraordinarily close ally, have been for a long time, and will be in the future,” the admiral said.

It’s a bit mind-boggling that the answer wouldn’t be “no,” or at least “we’d never reach that point.” Something better than leaving the suggestion hanging that Zbigniew Brzezinski’s advice about shooting down Israeli planes might be in the cards. It’s fascinating, really: the administration goes to great pains to rule out military force against Iran but thinks it’s important to leave strategic ambiguity with respect to our ally Israel. Only in this administration could we reach such a dismal point.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Mind-boggling: Admiral Mike Mullen proclaims, “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome. …In an area that’s so unstable right now, we just don’t need more of that.” The only difference is that one way there’s a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Priceless: “Goldman Sachs is launching an aggressive response to its political and legal challenges with an unlikely ally at its side — President Barack Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory Craig.”

Suspicious: “The Securities and Exchange Commission fraud case against Goldman Sachs may be settled before it ever sees a courtroom. Yet intentionally or not, the SEC has already secured at least one victory in the court of media opinion. Last Friday, the same day that the government unexpectedly announced its Goldman lawsuit, the SEC’s inspector general released his exhaustive, 151-page report on the agency’s failure to investigate alleged fraudster R. Allen Stanford. Mr. Stanford was indicted last June for operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $8 billion. … But the SEC is very good at nailing politically correct targets like Goldman years after the fact on charges that have little or nothing to do with the investing public. On the Goldman case, by the way, the news broke yesterday that the SEC commissioners split 3-2 on whether to bring the lawsuit — a rare partisan split on such a prominent case and further evidence of its thin legal basis.” And just in the nick of time to help the PR on the financial regulations bill!

Definitive (confirmation that the Dems are in a heap of trouble): “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot, tying the GOP’s high for the year recorded the second week in March and their biggest lead in nearly three years of weekly tracking.”

Frightening but not surprising: “It may be too late to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, a former senior US defence official has warned. The official, who has long experience with several US administrations, said President Obama had waited too long to take tough action against Tehran. ‘Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment programme, despite two deadlines set by Obama, which came and went without anything happening,’ the former official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times. ‘Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.’”

Gutsy: “After being stonewalled by the Obama administration for five months, Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me, issued subpoenas Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder for a list of witnesses and documents regarding the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood massacre.”

Irrelevant: “Mitt Romney continues to look like the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. A Public Policy Polling (D) survey shows Romney leading former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in every region except the South, where Huckabee uses his home-field advantage to lead the field.” Ask Rudy Giuliani what early polls mean.

Depressing: “Both left and right [in Israel] are troubled, and both largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program combined with growing tensions with the Obama administration. ‘There is a confluence of two very worrying events,’ said Michael Freund, a rightist columnist for The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. ‘One is the Iranian threat, an existential threat. Add to that the fact that for the first time in recent memory there is a president in the White House who is not overly sensitive to the Jewish state and its interests. You put the two together and it will affect anyone’s mood, even an optimist like me.” Overly? Not at all.

Mind-boggling: Admiral Mike Mullen proclaims, “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome. …In an area that’s so unstable right now, we just don’t need more of that.” The only difference is that one way there’s a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Priceless: “Goldman Sachs is launching an aggressive response to its political and legal challenges with an unlikely ally at its side — President Barack Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory Craig.”

Suspicious: “The Securities and Exchange Commission fraud case against Goldman Sachs may be settled before it ever sees a courtroom. Yet intentionally or not, the SEC has already secured at least one victory in the court of media opinion. Last Friday, the same day that the government unexpectedly announced its Goldman lawsuit, the SEC’s inspector general released his exhaustive, 151-page report on the agency’s failure to investigate alleged fraudster R. Allen Stanford. Mr. Stanford was indicted last June for operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $8 billion. … But the SEC is very good at nailing politically correct targets like Goldman years after the fact on charges that have little or nothing to do with the investing public. On the Goldman case, by the way, the news broke yesterday that the SEC commissioners split 3-2 on whether to bring the lawsuit — a rare partisan split on such a prominent case and further evidence of its thin legal basis.” And just in the nick of time to help the PR on the financial regulations bill!

Definitive (confirmation that the Dems are in a heap of trouble): “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot, tying the GOP’s high for the year recorded the second week in March and their biggest lead in nearly three years of weekly tracking.”

Frightening but not surprising: “It may be too late to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, a former senior US defence official has warned. The official, who has long experience with several US administrations, said President Obama had waited too long to take tough action against Tehran. ‘Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment programme, despite two deadlines set by Obama, which came and went without anything happening,’ the former official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times. ‘Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.’”

Gutsy: “After being stonewalled by the Obama administration for five months, Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me, issued subpoenas Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder for a list of witnesses and documents regarding the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood massacre.”

Irrelevant: “Mitt Romney continues to look like the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. A Public Policy Polling (D) survey shows Romney leading former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in every region except the South, where Huckabee uses his home-field advantage to lead the field.” Ask Rudy Giuliani what early polls mean.

Depressing: “Both left and right [in Israel] are troubled, and both largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program combined with growing tensions with the Obama administration. ‘There is a confluence of two very worrying events,’ said Michael Freund, a rightist columnist for The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. ‘One is the Iranian threat, an existential threat. Add to that the fact that for the first time in recent memory there is a president in the White House who is not overly sensitive to the Jewish state and its interests. You put the two together and it will affect anyone’s mood, even an optimist like me.” Overly? Not at all.

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Merrill McPeak on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Retired General Merrill McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff and a prominent Obama backer in the 2008 campaign, has weighed in with a New York Times op-ed against ending the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I can’t say I find his arguments terribly persuasive.

For one thing, he implicitly threatens that the current military leadership would simply ignore or undermine a presidential order to allow gays to serve openly — “allowing an openly gay presence in ranks will be very difficult until we have committed leadership for it,” he writes, adding, “I certainly had trouble figuring out how to provide such leadership in 1993.” It’s harder to imagine a more blatant threat to subvert the civil-military relationship and, specifically, the oath that all service members swear to “obey the orders of the President of the United States.”

McPeak also makes the argument that unit cohesion will be undermined by allowing openly gay personnel to serve. His evidence? “We have already seen the fault lines form in the current debate: the individual service chiefs have expressed reservations about Admiral Mullen’s views. This lack of cohesion will likely make the Joint Chiefs less effective in the latest round of this debate.” Uh, right. So perhaps if the chiefs are called upon to undertake hand-to-hand combat against, say, Chinese generals, they may not fight very effectively. Is the implication here that the president should not pursue any policy that the Joint Chiefs do not unanimously support? Again, that’s contrary to all of our civil-military traditions and gives the chiefs authority they are not granted under law — and should not be granted, given the lack of strategic acumen often displayed by service chiefs.

I found two conspicuous absences in McPeak’s article. First, he doesn’t address the studies showing that openly gay personnel have not undermined unit cohesion in allied militaries, including those of Australia, Britain, and Israel. Perhaps the U.S. military is different, but he doesn’t say how.

Second, he makes no mention of the integration of women into the armed services in the 1970s, which occasioned arguments by the likes of Jim Webb (now a U.S. Senator) that were remarkably similar to those advanced by McPeak today. He writes: “We know, or ought to, that warriors are inspired by male bonding, by comradeship, by the knowledge that they survive only through relying on each other. To undermine cohesion is to endanger everyone.” One would think that the presence of women would do even more than the presence of gays to undermine “male bonding.” Yet women have been granted admittance into almost all military occupations, in roles including flying fighter jets as McPeak once did. They are present on all major and most minor bases even in war zones. They frequently and regularly circulate on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. What evidence is there that their presence has undermined combat effectiveness? And if it hasn’t, why would the presence of un-closeted gays be more corrosive than that of women?

Retired General Merrill McPeak, a former Air Force chief of staff and a prominent Obama backer in the 2008 campaign, has weighed in with a New York Times op-ed against ending the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I can’t say I find his arguments terribly persuasive.

For one thing, he implicitly threatens that the current military leadership would simply ignore or undermine a presidential order to allow gays to serve openly — “allowing an openly gay presence in ranks will be very difficult until we have committed leadership for it,” he writes, adding, “I certainly had trouble figuring out how to provide such leadership in 1993.” It’s harder to imagine a more blatant threat to subvert the civil-military relationship and, specifically, the oath that all service members swear to “obey the orders of the President of the United States.”

McPeak also makes the argument that unit cohesion will be undermined by allowing openly gay personnel to serve. His evidence? “We have already seen the fault lines form in the current debate: the individual service chiefs have expressed reservations about Admiral Mullen’s views. This lack of cohesion will likely make the Joint Chiefs less effective in the latest round of this debate.” Uh, right. So perhaps if the chiefs are called upon to undertake hand-to-hand combat against, say, Chinese generals, they may not fight very effectively. Is the implication here that the president should not pursue any policy that the Joint Chiefs do not unanimously support? Again, that’s contrary to all of our civil-military traditions and gives the chiefs authority they are not granted under law — and should not be granted, given the lack of strategic acumen often displayed by service chiefs.

I found two conspicuous absences in McPeak’s article. First, he doesn’t address the studies showing that openly gay personnel have not undermined unit cohesion in allied militaries, including those of Australia, Britain, and Israel. Perhaps the U.S. military is different, but he doesn’t say how.

Second, he makes no mention of the integration of women into the armed services in the 1970s, which occasioned arguments by the likes of Jim Webb (now a U.S. Senator) that were remarkably similar to those advanced by McPeak today. He writes: “We know, or ought to, that warriors are inspired by male bonding, by comradeship, by the knowledge that they survive only through relying on each other. To undermine cohesion is to endanger everyone.” One would think that the presence of women would do even more than the presence of gays to undermine “male bonding.” Yet women have been granted admittance into almost all military occupations, in roles including flying fighter jets as McPeak once did. They are present on all major and most minor bases even in war zones. They frequently and regularly circulate on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. What evidence is there that their presence has undermined combat effectiveness? And if it hasn’t, why would the presence of un-closeted gays be more corrosive than that of women?

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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell? A Reasonable Compromise

I am hard-pressed to see why President Obama feels compelled to revisit the issue of gays in the military now. At the same time I am open to revising the policy — as are, I believe, many in service personnel, including some who supported the ban on gays when President Clinton first tried to lift it almost two decades ago. There are no good measurements of what service personnel are thinking but public opinion has shifted dramatically on the issue. In 1993 only 43% favored lifting the ban on gays; now, according to Gallup, it’s 69% (including 58% of Republicans).

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates are taking a reasonable step by announcing “that the military will no longer aggressively pursue disciplinary action against gay service members whose orientation is revealed against their will by third parties.” How much further the gay-rights policy should go is unclear. The key issue is not simply a matter of gay rights but also of military efficiency. To what extent would the good order of our armed services be upset by allowing gays to serve more openly than they currently do? In most situations I don’t believe doing so would be disruptive. It is certainly silly to be discharging Arabic linguists sitting in some Washington office just because they happen to be gay.

The vast majority of service personnel are stationed at giant bases, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Texas and North Carolina, where it is not hard to get privacy and where their jobs resemble those of civilian workers in many ways. Going to the bathroom involves, literally, a visit to the bathroom — not to a slit trench. Sexual issues are already raised on those bases by the presence of women. In fact the problem is more serious because women in heterosexual relationships have the potential to get pregnant — as some servicewomen do, thereby having to go home and creating a vacancy that has to be filled by someone else. There are also issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that need to be tightly policed — whether involving homosexuals or heterosexuals.

One of the adaptations the military has made is to allow women into most billets but not into tight-knit combat formations — nuclear submarine crews or infantry squads. They live in close quarters and often-unpleasant conditions where privacy is nonexistent and trust and esprit de corps are all-important. I remember discussing the issue last year with a Special Forces team deployed in the field and was struck by the unanimity of opinion against lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The special operators were horrified at the thought of gays in their ranks. This may be rank prejudice, and perhaps the result of ignorance, since there are already probably some gays in their midst. But the attitude still exists and higher authority can tamper with the policy only at the risk of causing a drop in morale.

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

I am hard-pressed to see why President Obama feels compelled to revisit the issue of gays in the military now. At the same time I am open to revising the policy — as are, I believe, many in service personnel, including some who supported the ban on gays when President Clinton first tried to lift it almost two decades ago. There are no good measurements of what service personnel are thinking but public opinion has shifted dramatically on the issue. In 1993 only 43% favored lifting the ban on gays; now, according to Gallup, it’s 69% (including 58% of Republicans).

Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates are taking a reasonable step by announcing “that the military will no longer aggressively pursue disciplinary action against gay service members whose orientation is revealed against their will by third parties.” How much further the gay-rights policy should go is unclear. The key issue is not simply a matter of gay rights but also of military efficiency. To what extent would the good order of our armed services be upset by allowing gays to serve more openly than they currently do? In most situations I don’t believe doing so would be disruptive. It is certainly silly to be discharging Arabic linguists sitting in some Washington office just because they happen to be gay.

The vast majority of service personnel are stationed at giant bases, whether in Iraq and Afghanistan or in Texas and North Carolina, where it is not hard to get privacy and where their jobs resemble those of civilian workers in many ways. Going to the bathroom involves, literally, a visit to the bathroom — not to a slit trench. Sexual issues are already raised on those bases by the presence of women. In fact the problem is more serious because women in heterosexual relationships have the potential to get pregnant — as some servicewomen do, thereby having to go home and creating a vacancy that has to be filled by someone else. There are also issues of sexual harassment and discrimination that need to be tightly policed — whether involving homosexuals or heterosexuals.

One of the adaptations the military has made is to allow women into most billets but not into tight-knit combat formations — nuclear submarine crews or infantry squads. They live in close quarters and often-unpleasant conditions where privacy is nonexistent and trust and esprit de corps are all-important. I remember discussing the issue last year with a Special Forces team deployed in the field and was struck by the unanimity of opinion against lifting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The special operators were horrified at the thought of gays in their ranks. This may be rank prejudice, and perhaps the result of ignorance, since there are already probably some gays in their midst. But the attitude still exists and higher authority can tamper with the policy only at the risk of causing a drop in morale.

Special Forces is one of the areas in which women are still not allowed to serve even though most jobs in the military have been opened to them. Why not simply extend to gays the same policy applied to women? That is, let gays serve openly in most billets but not in a few combat designations. It seems like a reasonable compromise.

Read Less

Peace in Our Time: Moscow

National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, resumed START talks with the Russians in Moscow on Thursday. Remarkably, the negotiations are not backstopped by an existing treaty still in force. The old START treaty expired on December 5, 2009. The U.S. verification team left Russia’s ICBM production facility in Votkinsk the day the treaty expired; mutual agreement to other verification measures can no longer be assumed. As of January 2010, we have an agreement in principle by presidents Obama and Medvedev to reduce nuclear warheads, but we don’t have a binding treaty.

It’s hard to characterize this as anything but a step backward. Although the 2002 “SORT” Treaty remains in effect until 2012, it differs from START in containing no verification provisions. Russia has participated in it largely to acquire a bargaining position against Bush’s missile-defense plan for Europe; but Obama obviated that negotiating dynamic by renouncing Bush’s plan in September. With much now riding on the 2010 START negotiations, we bring few bargaining chips. The Russians have an incentive to keep us in talks because that will effectively suspend U.S. decisions about modernizing our nuclear forces, but they now have no incentive to make important concessions. Their demands, meanwhile, will be unpalatable to the U.S. Senate, which warned Obama in December that the ratification of a new treaty will be contingent on a plan for modernizing our forces.

The conditions are thus developing for an impasse in START negotiations. In the interim, we are without a functioning plan for strategic stability. With his September decision on the European missile site, Obama rejected the Bush concept of centering our global security on American national missile defense. The fallback position – the one the Russians continue to favor – is a rough balance of strategic nuclear forces; but the START treaty has expired. There is no basis for demanding compliance with it.

Instead of a plan, what we have at present is inertia. Trusting to inertia is always a risky policy, particularly when wild cards are already in the picture. China’s subtle policy shift on strategic stability last week is a change in conditions that will affect the relevance of a bilateral arms-reduction process just as much as it affects the postures of the START parties.

Obama isn’t to blame for all the conditions that have developed since 1991 – but he is accountable for abandoning our previous strategic-security policies without replacing them. His focus on reducing nuclear warheads is a noble goal, and by no means unrealistic. However, the uncompensated loss in 2009 of both the START treaty and our plan for a comprehensive national missile defense has proved that his focus is too narrow. With five nuclear-armed Asian powers and Iran trying to become the sixth, there is nothing America needs more than a comprehensive concept for strategic security. At the moment we don’t have one.

National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, resumed START talks with the Russians in Moscow on Thursday. Remarkably, the negotiations are not backstopped by an existing treaty still in force. The old START treaty expired on December 5, 2009. The U.S. verification team left Russia’s ICBM production facility in Votkinsk the day the treaty expired; mutual agreement to other verification measures can no longer be assumed. As of January 2010, we have an agreement in principle by presidents Obama and Medvedev to reduce nuclear warheads, but we don’t have a binding treaty.

It’s hard to characterize this as anything but a step backward. Although the 2002 “SORT” Treaty remains in effect until 2012, it differs from START in containing no verification provisions. Russia has participated in it largely to acquire a bargaining position against Bush’s missile-defense plan for Europe; but Obama obviated that negotiating dynamic by renouncing Bush’s plan in September. With much now riding on the 2010 START negotiations, we bring few bargaining chips. The Russians have an incentive to keep us in talks because that will effectively suspend U.S. decisions about modernizing our nuclear forces, but they now have no incentive to make important concessions. Their demands, meanwhile, will be unpalatable to the U.S. Senate, which warned Obama in December that the ratification of a new treaty will be contingent on a plan for modernizing our forces.

The conditions are thus developing for an impasse in START negotiations. In the interim, we are without a functioning plan for strategic stability. With his September decision on the European missile site, Obama rejected the Bush concept of centering our global security on American national missile defense. The fallback position – the one the Russians continue to favor – is a rough balance of strategic nuclear forces; but the START treaty has expired. There is no basis for demanding compliance with it.

Instead of a plan, what we have at present is inertia. Trusting to inertia is always a risky policy, particularly when wild cards are already in the picture. China’s subtle policy shift on strategic stability last week is a change in conditions that will affect the relevance of a bilateral arms-reduction process just as much as it affects the postures of the START parties.

Obama isn’t to blame for all the conditions that have developed since 1991 – but he is accountable for abandoning our previous strategic-security policies without replacing them. His focus on reducing nuclear warheads is a noble goal, and by no means unrealistic. However, the uncompensated loss in 2009 of both the START treaty and our plan for a comprehensive national missile defense has proved that his focus is too narrow. With five nuclear-armed Asian powers and Iran trying to become the sixth, there is nothing America needs more than a comprehensive concept for strategic security. At the moment we don’t have one.

Read Less




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