Commentary Magazine


Topic: Air Force

Air Force Hit Hard by Sequester

Sequestration isn’t much in the news anymore, as hopes of repealing the cuts have faded. Instead, Congress passed legislation that gives the Defense Department some more discretion in allocating the cuts, which amount to more than $40 billion in this fiscal year alone. Perhaps, you figure, that means that the issue has been dealt with and we don’t have worry about the impact of sequestration on our armed forces.

Actually, the relief provided by Congress has been minimal. The operations and maintenance budget must still take a significant cut and that means that the armed services unfortunately are being forced to trim back their readiness to respond to national security threats. The severity of these cuts is made clear by the Air Force’s announcement, which has not received the attention it deserves, that roughly a third of all combat aircraft are being grounded because of budget woes.

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Sequestration isn’t much in the news anymore, as hopes of repealing the cuts have faded. Instead, Congress passed legislation that gives the Defense Department some more discretion in allocating the cuts, which amount to more than $40 billion in this fiscal year alone. Perhaps, you figure, that means that the issue has been dealt with and we don’t have worry about the impact of sequestration on our armed forces.

Actually, the relief provided by Congress has been minimal. The operations and maintenance budget must still take a significant cut and that means that the armed services unfortunately are being forced to trim back their readiness to respond to national security threats. The severity of these cuts is made clear by the Air Force’s announcement, which has not received the attention it deserves, that roughly a third of all combat aircraft are being grounded because of budget woes.

As Stars and Stripes notes: “The Air Force’s budget for flying hours was reduced by $591 million for the remainder of fiscal 2013, which makes it impossible to keep all squadrons ready for combat.” Even those aircraft that are kept operational will have reduced flying time, which means that their pilots will be less prepared for combat.

This is a particularly wretched time for such an announcement given the increased tensions on the Korean peninsula. But, frankly, there is never a good time to let our guard down–there are always hot spots that the U.S. armed forces must be prepared to deal with and if they display a lack of readiness, that is an invitation to aggression for our enemies. Let’s just hope that Kim Jong-un doesn’t read Stars and Stripes.

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The Price of Defense Cutbacks Can Be Greater Than We Think

Despite the fact that we are still fighting two wars, even many Republicans (especially some of the new Tea Party members) in Congress seem ready to contemplate serious cuts to the defense budget. That means the armed services are almost certainly going to have to make do in the future with even fewer resources than they have in the past few years. And that is going to put even more of a burden on our solders, sailors, airmen, and marines, who have already been pressed to the breaking point by the need to have so many of them deployed overseas.

While the media generally approaches this problem from the standpoint of a human-interest story and the terrible problems of service personnel and their families, there is another angle to this dilemma that may have an even worse impact on national security: the deployment of individuals to war zones who have no business being anywhere near the enemy or sensitive information and equipment. That appears to be the case with the infamous Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier believed to be responsible for the leak of hundreds of thousands of sensitive reports and diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks organization.

According to a report in McClatchy newspapers, Manning’s supervisor warned higher-ups that the soldier had demonstrated unstable behavior and ought not to be sent to Iraq, where his job would put him in contact with classified material. While the ensuing screw-up saw a few different officers punt on the question because they thought someone else would address it, it appears that the main factor that lead Manning to be sent to Iraq where he would be in position to create the largest single security breach in American history was that the Army was short of qualified personnel. According to the McClatchy story:

The findings in the Manning investigation likely will renew concerns that commanders once again refused to address signs of a troubled soldier because they needed his skills to deploy a fully staffed unit to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Time magazine’s Swampland blog treats this as yet another example of how people who are potentially disturbed are being sent to war and speculates that it “kind of makes you wonder what other surprises await us, either overseas or when these folks return.”

But, as Swampland puts it, the need “for bodies on the front lines” is not just a matter of mean or stupid military officials exploiting or mistreating poor, downtrodden privates. Rather, it is a question of how the armed services have increasingly become starved for resources and personnel even as we ask them to fight the war on Islamist terror in two countries as well as to perform humanitarian, peacekeeping, and other non-military missions.

The price for budget cuts isn’t just paid in unneeded Army or Air Force bases or superfluous high-tech weapons that cost more than we ever thought they would (though we probably have more than a few of both of those kinds of boondoggles). Defense budget cuts primarily affect the ordinary Army, Navy, and Air Force members who are forced to do more for longer periods with even less help. And it also could sometime mean that unqualified people or those who ought never to be put in harm’s way or near an important document are going to get shuffled into those posts. Bradley Manning’s personnel file isn’t just a scandal that will probably get some middle-level officer cashiered. It’s a standing argument against draconian defense cuts.

Despite the fact that we are still fighting two wars, even many Republicans (especially some of the new Tea Party members) in Congress seem ready to contemplate serious cuts to the defense budget. That means the armed services are almost certainly going to have to make do in the future with even fewer resources than they have in the past few years. And that is going to put even more of a burden on our solders, sailors, airmen, and marines, who have already been pressed to the breaking point by the need to have so many of them deployed overseas.

While the media generally approaches this problem from the standpoint of a human-interest story and the terrible problems of service personnel and their families, there is another angle to this dilemma that may have an even worse impact on national security: the deployment of individuals to war zones who have no business being anywhere near the enemy or sensitive information and equipment. That appears to be the case with the infamous Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier believed to be responsible for the leak of hundreds of thousands of sensitive reports and diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks organization.

According to a report in McClatchy newspapers, Manning’s supervisor warned higher-ups that the soldier had demonstrated unstable behavior and ought not to be sent to Iraq, where his job would put him in contact with classified material. While the ensuing screw-up saw a few different officers punt on the question because they thought someone else would address it, it appears that the main factor that lead Manning to be sent to Iraq where he would be in position to create the largest single security breach in American history was that the Army was short of qualified personnel. According to the McClatchy story:

The findings in the Manning investigation likely will renew concerns that commanders once again refused to address signs of a troubled soldier because they needed his skills to deploy a fully staffed unit to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Time magazine’s Swampland blog treats this as yet another example of how people who are potentially disturbed are being sent to war and speculates that it “kind of makes you wonder what other surprises await us, either overseas or when these folks return.”

But, as Swampland puts it, the need “for bodies on the front lines” is not just a matter of mean or stupid military officials exploiting or mistreating poor, downtrodden privates. Rather, it is a question of how the armed services have increasingly become starved for resources and personnel even as we ask them to fight the war on Islamist terror in two countries as well as to perform humanitarian, peacekeeping, and other non-military missions.

The price for budget cuts isn’t just paid in unneeded Army or Air Force bases or superfluous high-tech weapons that cost more than we ever thought they would (though we probably have more than a few of both of those kinds of boondoggles). Defense budget cuts primarily affect the ordinary Army, Navy, and Air Force members who are forced to do more for longer periods with even less help. And it also could sometime mean that unqualified people or those who ought never to be put in harm’s way or near an important document are going to get shuffled into those posts. Bradley Manning’s personnel file isn’t just a scandal that will probably get some middle-level officer cashiered. It’s a standing argument against draconian defense cuts.

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Our Military Personnel System Is in Definite Need of Reform

A snow day (which is what today is in the New York suburb where I live) is the perfect day to catch up on some reading. For those interested in military affairs, I recommend this intriguing article in the Atlantic, which argues that the armed forces are plagued by an antiquated personnel system which drives the best young officers out of the service.

The weakest part of the article, written by Kauffman Foundation fellow Tim Kane (a former Air Force officer), is its claim that “many of the most talented officers are now abandoning military life for the private sector.” There is little evidence that this is the fact; Kane cites the example of counterinsurgency strategist John Nagl, who left the Army as a lieutenant-colonel, and no doubt he was an outstanding officer; but the officers I meet still on active duty are no slouches either. Nevertheless, Kane makes a cogent critique of the out-of-date, top-down, industrial-era, one-size-fits-all personnel system that is an enduring source of frustration for most career officers. He writes:

The military’s problem is a deeply anti-entrepreneurial personnel structure. From officer evaluations to promotions to job assignments, all branches of the military operate more like a government bureaucracy with a unionized workforce than like a cutting-edge meritocracy. …

[T]he military personnel system—every aspect of it—is nearly blind to merit. Performance evaluations emphasize a zero-defect mentality, meaning that risk-avoidance trickles down the chain of command. Promotions can be anticipated almost to the day—regardless of an officer’s competence—so that there is essentially no difference in rank among officers the same age, even after 15 years of service. Job assignments are managed by a faceless, centralized bureaucracy that keeps everyone guessing where they might be shipped next.

Some of these complaints echo issues I raised in a Foreign Affairs article in 2005. I wrote:

Soldiers shuttle through units with dizzying rapidity: two-thirds of army personnel change stations every year, and the average officer spends only 18 months at each assignment over the course of a 25-year career. This system is designed to create a cadre of generalists who will be qualified for the upper echelons of command, but it prevents the kind of unit cohesion and inspired leadership that characterizes the highest-quality armies. Even the best troop leaders do not get to spend very much time with the troops: the average officer spends no more than 30 percent of his or her career in the field, with the rest spent in staff jobs and schools. Ordinary soldiers shuffle in and out of units just as rapidly.

This personnel system makes it especially difficult to cultivate the kind of cultural and linguistic expertise we need in today’s world, where most wars are fought against insurgents who blend into the population. Read More

A snow day (which is what today is in the New York suburb where I live) is the perfect day to catch up on some reading. For those interested in military affairs, I recommend this intriguing article in the Atlantic, which argues that the armed forces are plagued by an antiquated personnel system which drives the best young officers out of the service.

The weakest part of the article, written by Kauffman Foundation fellow Tim Kane (a former Air Force officer), is its claim that “many of the most talented officers are now abandoning military life for the private sector.” There is little evidence that this is the fact; Kane cites the example of counterinsurgency strategist John Nagl, who left the Army as a lieutenant-colonel, and no doubt he was an outstanding officer; but the officers I meet still on active duty are no slouches either. Nevertheless, Kane makes a cogent critique of the out-of-date, top-down, industrial-era, one-size-fits-all personnel system that is an enduring source of frustration for most career officers. He writes:

The military’s problem is a deeply anti-entrepreneurial personnel structure. From officer evaluations to promotions to job assignments, all branches of the military operate more like a government bureaucracy with a unionized workforce than like a cutting-edge meritocracy. …

[T]he military personnel system—every aspect of it—is nearly blind to merit. Performance evaluations emphasize a zero-defect mentality, meaning that risk-avoidance trickles down the chain of command. Promotions can be anticipated almost to the day—regardless of an officer’s competence—so that there is essentially no difference in rank among officers the same age, even after 15 years of service. Job assignments are managed by a faceless, centralized bureaucracy that keeps everyone guessing where they might be shipped next.

Some of these complaints echo issues I raised in a Foreign Affairs article in 2005. I wrote:

Soldiers shuttle through units with dizzying rapidity: two-thirds of army personnel change stations every year, and the average officer spends only 18 months at each assignment over the course of a 25-year career. This system is designed to create a cadre of generalists who will be qualified for the upper echelons of command, but it prevents the kind of unit cohesion and inspired leadership that characterizes the highest-quality armies. Even the best troop leaders do not get to spend very much time with the troops: the average officer spends no more than 30 percent of his or her career in the field, with the rest spent in staff jobs and schools. Ordinary soldiers shuffle in and out of units just as rapidly.

This personnel system makes it especially difficult to cultivate the kind of cultural and linguistic expertise we need in today’s world, where most wars are fought against insurgents who blend into the population.

Kane suggests that the answer is to borrow personnel practices from the private sector, giving officers more power to choose their own assignments and commanders more power to choose their subordinates, rather than delegating these tasks to some faceless, far-off bureaucracy. He suggests:

Each commander would have sole hiring authority over the people in his unit. Officers would be free to apply for any job opening. If a major applied for an opening above his pay grade, the commander at that unit could hire him (and bear the consequences). Coordination could be done through existing online tools such as monster.com or careerbuilder.com (presumably those companies would be interested in offering rebranded versions for the military). If an officer chose to stay in a job longer than “normal” (“I just want to fly fighter jets, sir”), that would be solely between him and his commander.

I am intrigued by these ideas and hope that at least one of the services will experiment with them. Even if the “best and brightest” aren’t necessarily leaving, and even if the services are hardly broken (in fact the armed forces are as good as they have ever been), there is always room for improvement, and the personnel system, which dates back to World War II, is a prime candidate for reform.

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Afternoon Commentary

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

A member of the Iranian Qods force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps, was found to be moonlighting as a Taliban commander. As Stephen Hayes points out at the Weekly Standard, this development is further evidence that the doctrinal differences between Iranians and the Taliban don’t preclude them from working together.

From Scott Brown’s Senate win to Glenn Beck’s big rally, Politico counts down the top 10 political moments of 2010.

While national security experts remain concerned about the growing military capabilities of China’s navy, the Washington Post notes that the country is still struggling with some basic components of its air force technology.

Why do Israelis support a two state solution, but oppose a freeze on settlement construction? Jeremy Sharon argues that it’s because they have become discouraged about the possibility of a peace deal at this point in time: “Support for the notion of ‘two states for two peoples’ remains high at over 60 percent because Israelis acknowledge that ultimately, continued rule over the Palestinians is untenable. But there is no desire to rush into an irreversible agreement which could result not with the shelling of Sderot or Haifa, but of Tel Aviv.”

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Korea at Thanksgiving

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

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Drafting Diplomatic Alternatives for Israel

The one-day-old Israel Security Council, founded by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, seeks to fill a crucial gap in Israeli public discourse by crafting alternatives to accepted diplomatic dogmas.

JCPA chief Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, explained to reporters that Israel’s biggest international-relations problem is its inability to articulate what it actually wants. Any Palestinian Authority official can recite his goals: a Palestinian state, the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem. But “if someone asks an Israeli politician they say, ‘It’s complicated’ or ‘We want peace,’ or ‘a secure peace.’ The Palestinians have clear targets and we have only indistinct goals.”

What Gold didn’t mention, but is equally true, is that the same problem plagues Israel’s internal discourse. Virtually the only Israeli who ever articulated a clear diplomatic vision is the left-wing Yossi Beilin. And this remains the left’s best argument against the center-right. Whenever someone points out the Beilinite vision’s dangers, leftist politicians retort: “So what’s your solution?” And since center-right politicians have no real answer, they wind up adopting Beilinesque solutions once in office.

Granted, a “solution” shouldn’t be necessary. In real life, not all problems have instant solutions, and Israeli politicians should be capable of saying so — just as successive American presidents acknowledged that there was no instant solution to the Soviet problem, so the free world simply had to hold the line against Communist expansion until a solution became possible. This has the great advantage of being true: until the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, no diplomatic solution will be possible.

But Israeli politicians have never succeeded in making this argument. Thus Gold and his colleagues, who represent a broad center-right spectrum, are wise to seek to craft an alternative vision.

The council’s second vital goal is to restore security, and especially Israel’s need for defensible borders, to the center of the diplomatic discourse. At a JPCA symposium on Israel’s security needs earlier this year, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a council member, noted that contrary to accepted dogma, high-trajectory weapons make defensible borders more important, not less.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War demonstrated one reason. The Israel Air Force destroyed all of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range missiles the first day, because these missiles are easier for intelligence to detect. But short-range missiles are almost impossible to detect and destroy by air; the only solution is to keep them out of range by physically occupying territory. That’s why Israel is currently unwilling to leave the West Bank, which is in rocket range of all its major cities.

But Dayan also cited another reason: Israel’s small population means a small standing army, so its defense depends on the reserves. But rocket fire could disrupt their mobilization, requiring the standing army to fight for longer before they arrive. Moreover, the air force might be too busy with the missile threat to help. Both factors make strategic depth critical.

If the council succeeds in changing the diplomatic discourse on these issues, it will make an invaluable contribution to Israel’s future. So wish it luck.

The one-day-old Israel Security Council, founded by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, seeks to fill a crucial gap in Israeli public discourse by crafting alternatives to accepted diplomatic dogmas.

JCPA chief Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, explained to reporters that Israel’s biggest international-relations problem is its inability to articulate what it actually wants. Any Palestinian Authority official can recite his goals: a Palestinian state, the 1967 borders, East Jerusalem. But “if someone asks an Israeli politician they say, ‘It’s complicated’ or ‘We want peace,’ or ‘a secure peace.’ The Palestinians have clear targets and we have only indistinct goals.”

What Gold didn’t mention, but is equally true, is that the same problem plagues Israel’s internal discourse. Virtually the only Israeli who ever articulated a clear diplomatic vision is the left-wing Yossi Beilin. And this remains the left’s best argument against the center-right. Whenever someone points out the Beilinite vision’s dangers, leftist politicians retort: “So what’s your solution?” And since center-right politicians have no real answer, they wind up adopting Beilinesque solutions once in office.

Granted, a “solution” shouldn’t be necessary. In real life, not all problems have instant solutions, and Israeli politicians should be capable of saying so — just as successive American presidents acknowledged that there was no instant solution to the Soviet problem, so the free world simply had to hold the line against Communist expansion until a solution became possible. This has the great advantage of being true: until the Arabs accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, no diplomatic solution will be possible.

But Israeli politicians have never succeeded in making this argument. Thus Gold and his colleagues, who represent a broad center-right spectrum, are wise to seek to craft an alternative vision.

The council’s second vital goal is to restore security, and especially Israel’s need for defensible borders, to the center of the diplomatic discourse. At a JPCA symposium on Israel’s security needs earlier this year, Maj. Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, a council member, noted that contrary to accepted dogma, high-trajectory weapons make defensible borders more important, not less.

The 2006 Second Lebanon War demonstrated one reason. The Israel Air Force destroyed all of Hezbollah’s medium- and long-range missiles the first day, because these missiles are easier for intelligence to detect. But short-range missiles are almost impossible to detect and destroy by air; the only solution is to keep them out of range by physically occupying territory. That’s why Israel is currently unwilling to leave the West Bank, which is in rocket range of all its major cities.

But Dayan also cited another reason: Israel’s small population means a small standing army, so its defense depends on the reserves. But rocket fire could disrupt their mobilization, requiring the standing army to fight for longer before they arrive. Moreover, the air force might be too busy with the missile threat to help. Both factors make strategic depth critical.

If the council succeeds in changing the diplomatic discourse on these issues, it will make an invaluable contribution to Israel’s future. So wish it luck.

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More on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

My article taking retired Gen. Merrill McPeak to task for the weakness of his arguments against lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military has generated some heated responses on the Web (e.g., this post on David Horowitz’s website and this post by a retired Air Force NCO). A few points of rebuttal and clarification are in order.

First, I suggested that studies of other armed services that have lifted the gay ban have found no deleterious impact on unit cohesion or performance. This has supporters of the ban fulminating that one of the key studies was conducted by the Palm Center, a research center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is openly committed to gay rights. That’s true, but the motives behind the study shouldn’t matter; what counts is whether the study is accurate, and I haven’t seen anyone suggest any actual distortion of the results. Besides, the Palm Center is not alone in its finding; see this article written by an Air Force colonel and published in Joint Forces Quarterly, an official publication of the National Defense University:

In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.

Critics can also argue that “other countries’ militaries aren’t comparable to the U.S. military. No other military on the planet, after all, can or will do what our military does.” That’s true, but while the Israeli, Australian, or British militaries don’t have the global power projection capabilities of the U.S., the general consensus is that on a unit-for-unit basis, they are just as effective as our own military. If having gays serve openly in their ranks hasn’t hurt their combat performance — and I have seen no indication that it has — I find it hard to believe it would have a major impact on our own forces.

Second, I suggested that allowing openly gay service members would have even less impact on unit cohesion than having women serve in the ranks. This has brought forth arguments that women have in fact contributed to a degradation of combat effectiveness, which has been covered up for “politically correct reasons.” I don’t doubt that pregnancy, sexual harassment, and fraternization have been real problems, but these would have existed even if women had been barred from service altogether, because of the presence of female contractors on all major American bases, even in combat zones. But there are also benefits to having women serve — see this article about how valuable female Marines are in interacting with Afghanistan’s women, something their male counterparts cannot do for reasons of cultural sensitivity.

The larger issue is that tapping into the female half of the population has allowed the military to draw on some great talent, which it would otherwise be denied. The same argument applies to gays (who are admittedly a much smaller percentage of the population). Women still aren’t allowed into some ground-combat jobs, and it may make sense, as I have previously argued, to extend that ban at least for some time to gays. But women are allowed to fill most jobs, and they bring intelligence, dedication, and hard work that the military — which has a hard time filling its all-volunteer ranks in wartime — badly needs. Same with homosexuals. The Joint Forces article notes: “Since 1994, the Services have discharged nearly 12,500 Service members under the law.” That’s a small number in the overall scheme of things, but a number of those had skills, such as Arab-language knowledge, that are very hard to replace. In recent years, the Army in particular has been forced to lower its standards to attract enough recruits. That suggests that we can hardly afford to discharge soldiers for their sexual preference — unless they act in undisciplined ways (e.g., committing sexual harassment), but those prohibitions should be enforced evenhandedly against both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Despite the criticisms against my article, my sense is that most active-duty personnel are in fact comfortable with lifting the gay ban. That’s confirmed by this study, cited in an article by Owen West (himself a combat vet of Iraq): “A 2006 poll of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans showed that 72 percent were personally comfortable interacting with gays.” Given that 80 percent of the overall public favors lifting the ban, those  like Gen. McPeak favor keeping it in place are fighting a losing — and needless — battle.

My article taking retired Gen. Merrill McPeak to task for the weakness of his arguments against lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military has generated some heated responses on the Web (e.g., this post on David Horowitz’s website and this post by a retired Air Force NCO). A few points of rebuttal and clarification are in order.

First, I suggested that studies of other armed services that have lifted the gay ban have found no deleterious impact on unit cohesion or performance. This has supporters of the ban fulminating that one of the key studies was conducted by the Palm Center, a research center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which is openly committed to gay rights. That’s true, but the motives behind the study shouldn’t matter; what counts is whether the study is accurate, and I haven’t seen anyone suggest any actual distortion of the results. Besides, the Palm Center is not alone in its finding; see this article written by an Air Force colonel and published in Joint Forces Quarterly, an official publication of the National Defense University:

In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops.

Critics can also argue that “other countries’ militaries aren’t comparable to the U.S. military. No other military on the planet, after all, can or will do what our military does.” That’s true, but while the Israeli, Australian, or British militaries don’t have the global power projection capabilities of the U.S., the general consensus is that on a unit-for-unit basis, they are just as effective as our own military. If having gays serve openly in their ranks hasn’t hurt their combat performance — and I have seen no indication that it has — I find it hard to believe it would have a major impact on our own forces.

Second, I suggested that allowing openly gay service members would have even less impact on unit cohesion than having women serve in the ranks. This has brought forth arguments that women have in fact contributed to a degradation of combat effectiveness, which has been covered up for “politically correct reasons.” I don’t doubt that pregnancy, sexual harassment, and fraternization have been real problems, but these would have existed even if women had been barred from service altogether, because of the presence of female contractors on all major American bases, even in combat zones. But there are also benefits to having women serve — see this article about how valuable female Marines are in interacting with Afghanistan’s women, something their male counterparts cannot do for reasons of cultural sensitivity.

The larger issue is that tapping into the female half of the population has allowed the military to draw on some great talent, which it would otherwise be denied. The same argument applies to gays (who are admittedly a much smaller percentage of the population). Women still aren’t allowed into some ground-combat jobs, and it may make sense, as I have previously argued, to extend that ban at least for some time to gays. But women are allowed to fill most jobs, and they bring intelligence, dedication, and hard work that the military — which has a hard time filling its all-volunteer ranks in wartime — badly needs. Same with homosexuals. The Joint Forces article notes: “Since 1994, the Services have discharged nearly 12,500 Service members under the law.” That’s a small number in the overall scheme of things, but a number of those had skills, such as Arab-language knowledge, that are very hard to replace. In recent years, the Army in particular has been forced to lower its standards to attract enough recruits. That suggests that we can hardly afford to discharge soldiers for their sexual preference — unless they act in undisciplined ways (e.g., committing sexual harassment), but those prohibitions should be enforced evenhandedly against both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Despite the criticisms against my article, my sense is that most active-duty personnel are in fact comfortable with lifting the gay ban. That’s confirmed by this study, cited in an article by Owen West (himself a combat vet of Iraq): “A 2006 poll of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans showed that 72 percent were personally comfortable interacting with gays.” Given that 80 percent of the overall public favors lifting the ban, those  like Gen. McPeak favor keeping it in place are fighting a losing — and needless — battle.

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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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Extreme Opinions Regarding the Future of Our Military

Mark Helprin, meet John Arquilla. Helprin is a gifted novelist who, in his spare time, offers strategic commentary. Arquilla is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School who coined the term “net war” and has become an influential strategist. They have just published articles with diametrically opposing — and equally wrong-headed — messages.

Helprin in the Wall Street Journal bemoans our having “recalibrated the armed forces to deal with perhaps a division’s worth of fluid irregulars worldwide, thus granting China, Russia, and Iran military holidays in which to redirect the balance of power.” He thinks we are losing conventional-combat power and warns of dire consequences: “This year, the Air Force will keep 150 fighters in all of Europe, as at one time, while it declined but before it burned, Rome kept only a shadow of legions upon the Rhine and Danube.” Really? The U.S. will fall like the Roman Empire did because we don’t have enough fighter aircraft in Europe? Helprin thinks so, and demands that the F-22 production line be restarted, even though we have another ultra-modern aircraft, the F-35, in the pipeline. The large picture he misses is that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined; our edge can’t be taken for granted but it won’t disappear soon either.

Arquilla, by contrast, thinks the U.S. military remains too conventional. His preferred analogy is not to Rome but rather to World War I: “When militaries don’t keep up with the pace of change, countries suffer. In World War I, the failure to grasp the implications of mass production led not only to senseless slaughter, but also to the end of great empires and the bankruptcy of others.” Today, he argues in Foreign Policy, the U.S. Navy is spending too much on surface warfare ships “whose aluminum superstructures will likely burn to the waterline if hit by a single missile”; the Army, on “a grab bag of new weapons, vehicles, and communications gadgets now seen by its own proponents as almost completely unworkable for the kind of military operations that land forces will be undertaking in the years ahead”; and the Air Force, on “extremely advanced and extremely expensive fighter aircraft — despite losing only one fighter plane to an enemy fighter in nearly 40 years.”

His solution is a radical one: cut defense spending by 10 percent a year, declare “a moratorium … on all legacy-like systems (think aircraft carriers, other big ships, advanced fighters, tanks, etc.),” and cut military manpower (more than 2 million serve today) by two thirds. “The model for military intervention,” he writes, “would be the 200 Special Forces ‘horse soldiers’ who beat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan late in 2001. Such teams would deploy quickly and lethally, with ample reserves for relieving ‘first waves’ and dealing with other crises.”

Give Arquilla props for “out of the box” thinking — as well as for demonstrating why it usually makes sense to stay in the box. The “Afghan model” he cites has been found wanting since 2001 — a few Special Forces troopers could help overthrow the Taliban but couldn’t keep them down. That requires dispatching lots of more troops, which is what President Obama is wisely doing today. Likewise, the projection of U.S. power around the world requires more, not fewer, soldiers. And I wouldn’t be so quick to junk the “legacy weapons system,” which for years to come will give us an invaluable edge over potential adversaries. Helprin goes too far in the other direction, however, by focusing exclusively on the F-22 and its ilk while ignoring developments in robotics (more advanced unmanned aircraft) and the need for effective counterinsurgency forces.

As usual, between the two extremes they represent — extreme unconventionality and extreme conventionality — the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Mark Helprin, meet John Arquilla. Helprin is a gifted novelist who, in his spare time, offers strategic commentary. Arquilla is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School who coined the term “net war” and has become an influential strategist. They have just published articles with diametrically opposing — and equally wrong-headed — messages.

Helprin in the Wall Street Journal bemoans our having “recalibrated the armed forces to deal with perhaps a division’s worth of fluid irregulars worldwide, thus granting China, Russia, and Iran military holidays in which to redirect the balance of power.” He thinks we are losing conventional-combat power and warns of dire consequences: “This year, the Air Force will keep 150 fighters in all of Europe, as at one time, while it declined but before it burned, Rome kept only a shadow of legions upon the Rhine and Danube.” Really? The U.S. will fall like the Roman Empire did because we don’t have enough fighter aircraft in Europe? Helprin thinks so, and demands that the F-22 production line be restarted, even though we have another ultra-modern aircraft, the F-35, in the pipeline. The large picture he misses is that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined; our edge can’t be taken for granted but it won’t disappear soon either.

Arquilla, by contrast, thinks the U.S. military remains too conventional. His preferred analogy is not to Rome but rather to World War I: “When militaries don’t keep up with the pace of change, countries suffer. In World War I, the failure to grasp the implications of mass production led not only to senseless slaughter, but also to the end of great empires and the bankruptcy of others.” Today, he argues in Foreign Policy, the U.S. Navy is spending too much on surface warfare ships “whose aluminum superstructures will likely burn to the waterline if hit by a single missile”; the Army, on “a grab bag of new weapons, vehicles, and communications gadgets now seen by its own proponents as almost completely unworkable for the kind of military operations that land forces will be undertaking in the years ahead”; and the Air Force, on “extremely advanced and extremely expensive fighter aircraft — despite losing only one fighter plane to an enemy fighter in nearly 40 years.”

His solution is a radical one: cut defense spending by 10 percent a year, declare “a moratorium … on all legacy-like systems (think aircraft carriers, other big ships, advanced fighters, tanks, etc.),” and cut military manpower (more than 2 million serve today) by two thirds. “The model for military intervention,” he writes, “would be the 200 Special Forces ‘horse soldiers’ who beat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan late in 2001. Such teams would deploy quickly and lethally, with ample reserves for relieving ‘first waves’ and dealing with other crises.”

Give Arquilla props for “out of the box” thinking — as well as for demonstrating why it usually makes sense to stay in the box. The “Afghan model” he cites has been found wanting since 2001 — a few Special Forces troopers could help overthrow the Taliban but couldn’t keep them down. That requires dispatching lots of more troops, which is what President Obama is wisely doing today. Likewise, the projection of U.S. power around the world requires more, not fewer, soldiers. And I wouldn’t be so quick to junk the “legacy weapons system,” which for years to come will give us an invaluable edge over potential adversaries. Helprin goes too far in the other direction, however, by focusing exclusively on the F-22 and its ilk while ignoring developments in robotics (more advanced unmanned aircraft) and the need for effective counterinsurgency forces.

As usual, between the two extremes they represent — extreme unconventionality and extreme conventionality — the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

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A Balanced China Policy

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Anonymous and smart analysis on the prospects for health-care reform: “When this debate spills into January still unresolved, voters are going to say: ‘Enough! Where are the jobs. Where is the economic plan?'”

Meanwhile, the media is catching on: “Barack Obama ran for president on a promise of saving the typical family $2,500 a year in lower health care premiums. But that was then. No one in the White House is making such a pledge now.”

Jamie Fly: “Even if the president eventually sends a significant number of additional troops and allows General McChrystal to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, this painfully drawn out process has had negative consequences and does not bode well for the future U.S. commitment in Afghanistan.” As a retired Air Force chief master sergeant tells Fly: “Our service members are dying and the president is dithering. I have been in the military while a president dithered or failed to make a tough decision, it is eviscerating, and a rot settles in. ‘Commander in Chief’  is not just a fancy title.”

Even if the Obami and the chattering class are playing dumb, the American people are not: “Sixty percent (60%) of likely voters nationwide say last week’s shootings at Fort Hood should be investigated by military authorities as a terrorist act.”

James Taranto: “Willful ignorance of the enemy’s ideology is of no help in fighting the enemy–or preventing future attacks. In any case clarity, not obfuscation, is the enemy of prejudice.”

Thomas Joscelyn sums up: “So we know that: the Fort Hood Shooter attended the same mosque that Anwar al Awlaki preached at in 2001; Maj. Hasan had clearly adopted jihadist views very similar to those Awlaki has espoused, including the idea that Muslims cannot truly serve in a foreign army that is supposedly attacking all of Islam, by June of 2007; Maj. Hasan contacted Awlaki between ’10 to 20 times’ beginning in December 2008; Maj. Hasan may have posted on Awlaki’s Facebook page on Dec. 14, 2008; and, in July 2009, Awlaki again said that true Muslims cannot serve these armies and called on Muslims to turn against them. Is there really any mystery about what drove Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to commit mass murder?”

David Axelrod wants to “nationalize” the 2010 elections. Really. Republicans reply: “Super.” Someone should ask Red State senators and Blue Dog congressmen if they want to be nationalized.

Another democratic ally, another strained relationship. “President Obama will arrive in Tokyo on Friday, at a time when America’s relations with Japan are at their most contentious since the trade wars of the 1990s.”

Anonymous and smart analysis on the prospects for health-care reform: “When this debate spills into January still unresolved, voters are going to say: ‘Enough! Where are the jobs. Where is the economic plan?'”

Meanwhile, the media is catching on: “Barack Obama ran for president on a promise of saving the typical family $2,500 a year in lower health care premiums. But that was then. No one in the White House is making such a pledge now.”

Jamie Fly: “Even if the president eventually sends a significant number of additional troops and allows General McChrystal to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, this painfully drawn out process has had negative consequences and does not bode well for the future U.S. commitment in Afghanistan.” As a retired Air Force chief master sergeant tells Fly: “Our service members are dying and the president is dithering. I have been in the military while a president dithered or failed to make a tough decision, it is eviscerating, and a rot settles in. ‘Commander in Chief’  is not just a fancy title.”

Even if the Obami and the chattering class are playing dumb, the American people are not: “Sixty percent (60%) of likely voters nationwide say last week’s shootings at Fort Hood should be investigated by military authorities as a terrorist act.”

James Taranto: “Willful ignorance of the enemy’s ideology is of no help in fighting the enemy–or preventing future attacks. In any case clarity, not obfuscation, is the enemy of prejudice.”

Thomas Joscelyn sums up: “So we know that: the Fort Hood Shooter attended the same mosque that Anwar al Awlaki preached at in 2001; Maj. Hasan had clearly adopted jihadist views very similar to those Awlaki has espoused, including the idea that Muslims cannot truly serve in a foreign army that is supposedly attacking all of Islam, by June of 2007; Maj. Hasan contacted Awlaki between ’10 to 20 times’ beginning in December 2008; Maj. Hasan may have posted on Awlaki’s Facebook page on Dec. 14, 2008; and, in July 2009, Awlaki again said that true Muslims cannot serve these armies and called on Muslims to turn against them. Is there really any mystery about what drove Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to commit mass murder?”

David Axelrod wants to “nationalize” the 2010 elections. Really. Republicans reply: “Super.” Someone should ask Red State senators and Blue Dog congressmen if they want to be nationalized.

Another democratic ally, another strained relationship. “President Obama will arrive in Tokyo on Friday, at a time when America’s relations with Japan are at their most contentious since the trade wars of the 1990s.”

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Nothing to See Here

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

Not long after Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign policy advisory team last year, liberal bloggers and journalists cried that the group represented “AIPAC’s Dream Team” (Harper’s Ken Silverstein), was ginning to implement “bloody, bloody, bloody foreign policy” (Matthew Yglesias) and that “RUDY GIULIANI WILL KILL US ALL” (The American Prospect). One could simultaneously disagree with such unhinged assessments of what a Giuliani foreign policy might look like and still believe that the essence of liberal criticism was not unfair: to a large degree, we can divine what a candidate thinks based upon the sort of people from whom he seeks counsel.

This non-partisan analytical instrument is useless, apparently, when it comes to the people advising Barack Obama. Over the past few months, several of Barack Obama’s advisers (foreign policy advisers in particular) have entered the spotlight for things they have said or written which are supposedly at odds with the beliefs of the candidate for whom they work. First, there was the incident in which Obama’s top economics advisor, Austan Goolsbee, reassured Canadian consular officials in Chicago that Obama’s anti-NAFTA position wasn’t sincere. Then, there was the now-departed Samantha Power, who told the BBC that Barack Obama’s real position on Iraq withdrawal was not, in actual fact, what he’d been saying on the campaign trail. Like Goolsbee, we were told at the time that Ms. Power was “just” an adviser — a past one, at this point — and that what she said about the Iraq War is ultimately irrelevant.

On a similar note, last week we discovered — thanks to the tireless reporting of the New York Sun’s Eli Lake — that Colin Kahl, head of Obama’s Iraq working group, wrote a paper calling for 80,000 American troops to stay in Iraq until at least 2010. Susan Rice, another Obama foreign policy adviser, told Lake that, “Barack Obama cannot be held accountable for what we all write.” Finally, a 2003 interview with top Obama adviser Tony McPeak recently surfaced in which the former Chief of Staff of the Air Force said of Iraq, “We’ll be there a century, hopefully. If it works right.” This is the exact same sentiment that John McCain expressed in his much-distorted “100 years” remark.

Of course, given the pattern I’ve elucidated, I presume that we cannot hastily jump to the conclusion that McPeak — like Power, Kahl and Goolsbee before him, and who knows how many advisers into the future — necessarily represents the views of Barack Obama. A great journalistic assignment for an enterprising young reporter would be to find out what Obama does believe.

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New Allegations against Iran

“For those who believe—as I do—that the clerics who rule Iran must never have an arsenal of nuclear weapons, the United States’ course of action ought to be clear: The Bush administration should advocate direct, unconditional talks between Washington and Tehran.” So writes AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht in yesterday’s New York Times in “Attack Iran, With Words.” His point is simple: “If the mullahs don’t want to negotiate, fine: making the offer is something that must be checked off before the next president could unleash the Air Force and the Navy.” Moreover, he thoughtfully argues that we need to wage a war of ideas, put Iranian leaders on the defensive, and open the country to internal debate.

I am all for knocking Tehran’s leaders off balance, but Gerecht is wrong about the best means of doing so, at least at this moment. Last week, the Associated Press reported that the Bush administration is sharing with the International Atomic Energy Agency additional information proving that Iran once maintained a bomb-building program. Washington hopes that the agency’s inspectors will then confront the Iranians with the evidence. Over the last two years, the United States has provided to the IAEA material from an Iranian laptop, smuggled out of Iran in 2004, that showed the country had been working on, among other things, the best altitudes for detonating nuclear warheads.

We have not been the only ones lending a hand to the IAEA. Yesterday, the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran charged that Tehran was speeding up its nuclear weapons program, it has obtained the assistance of North Korea, it is developing at a location in southeastern Tehran a nuclear warhead for its medium-range missile, and it has set up a command and research facility near a Tehran university. The NCRI said it provided substantiation to the IAEA on Tuesday. In 2002, this dissident group alerted the world to Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program and since then has provided information, some considered reliable and others still unverified. The information released yesterday, if true, would indicate that the National Intelligence Estimate released in early December is incorrect insofar as it states that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003.

Are the latest NCRI allegations correct? We don’t know at this moment. Yet we can see that these charges put the mullahs on the defensive. So we should not, as Gerecht suggests, try to begin a new round of talking to them. In short, there’s nothing more to discuss with Tehran’s clerics. We shouldn’t attack them with words. We need to hit them with facts.

“For those who believe—as I do—that the clerics who rule Iran must never have an arsenal of nuclear weapons, the United States’ course of action ought to be clear: The Bush administration should advocate direct, unconditional talks between Washington and Tehran.” So writes AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht in yesterday’s New York Times in “Attack Iran, With Words.” His point is simple: “If the mullahs don’t want to negotiate, fine: making the offer is something that must be checked off before the next president could unleash the Air Force and the Navy.” Moreover, he thoughtfully argues that we need to wage a war of ideas, put Iranian leaders on the defensive, and open the country to internal debate.

I am all for knocking Tehran’s leaders off balance, but Gerecht is wrong about the best means of doing so, at least at this moment. Last week, the Associated Press reported that the Bush administration is sharing with the International Atomic Energy Agency additional information proving that Iran once maintained a bomb-building program. Washington hopes that the agency’s inspectors will then confront the Iranians with the evidence. Over the last two years, the United States has provided to the IAEA material from an Iranian laptop, smuggled out of Iran in 2004, that showed the country had been working on, among other things, the best altitudes for detonating nuclear warheads.

We have not been the only ones lending a hand to the IAEA. Yesterday, the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran charged that Tehran was speeding up its nuclear weapons program, it has obtained the assistance of North Korea, it is developing at a location in southeastern Tehran a nuclear warhead for its medium-range missile, and it has set up a command and research facility near a Tehran university. The NCRI said it provided substantiation to the IAEA on Tuesday. In 2002, this dissident group alerted the world to Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program and since then has provided information, some considered reliable and others still unverified. The information released yesterday, if true, would indicate that the National Intelligence Estimate released in early December is incorrect insofar as it states that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program in fall 2003.

Are the latest NCRI allegations correct? We don’t know at this moment. Yet we can see that these charges put the mullahs on the defensive. So we should not, as Gerecht suggests, try to begin a new round of talking to them. In short, there’s nothing more to discuss with Tehran’s clerics. We shouldn’t attack them with words. We need to hit them with facts.

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Are Nuclear Weapons Boring?

In the cold war, they were certainly not. U.S. nuclear forces were almost continually on a state of high alert, with land- and submarine-based missile crews always preparing for imminent action and B-52 pilots readying to take off at a moment’s notice. The men and women involved in maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons were a uniquely important force, with a high sense of purpose and élan. They understood that their mission was strategic deterrence and that success at maintaining a state of readiness would help ensure that their terribly destructive weapons would never be used in anger.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. nuclear forces, including the units responsible for care of the weapons, have been reduced in size, there have been no modernization programs, and responsibility for nuclear forces has been dispersed throughout the Pentagon; there is no one command with overall authority over the weapons.

These factors helped to underpin the “Broken Arrow” episode of August 30, 2007, in which the Air Force essentially lost control of a handful of nuclear-armed cruise missiles, with a B-52 flying them across the country under the mistaken belief that the warheads were disarmed or carried conventional explosives.

The immediate cause of the incident was a breakdown of procedures at the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. But a study by the Defense Science Board suggests that even if tight procedures are put back in place, the safe care and maintenance of these fearsome weapons is going to be a difficult long-term challenge. Since the end of the cold war, it reports,

there has been a marked decline in the level and intensity of focus on the nuclear enterprise and the nuclear  mission. The decline in focus took place gradually as changes were made to policies, procedures, and processes. Now, when comparing the current level of focus to that of 1990, the aggregate change is dramatic. The Task Force and several of the senior DoD people interviewed believe that the decline in focus has been more pronounced than realized and too extreme to be acceptable. The decline is characterized by embedding nuclear mission forces in non-nuclear organizations, markedly reduced levels of leadership whose daily focus is the nuclear enterprise, and a general devaluation of the nuclear mission and those who perform the mission.

This is frightening stuff. And doubly frightening because there is no quick fix. The Defense Science Board has offered a whole series of recommendations designed to change the culture of U.S. nuclear forces and restore to them a sense of mission. But the inescapable truth is that with the end of the cold war, the primary task of U.S. nuclear forces is no longer deterrence but keeping accidents from happening within our own arsenal. This is an essential mission, but it is not a glorious one, and it will remain difficult to attract the most talented men and women in our armed forces into this branch of service. 

The problem is triply frightening because if U.S. nuclear forces are suffering from such difficulties, what is going on elsewhere in the world, in Russia, say, or in Pakistan?

In light of all this, I have a question for readers. Which of the following problems is most worrying?

1. Global warming.

2. The Bush administration’s alleged violations of FISA. 

3. Loose nuclear weapons.

 

In the cold war, they were certainly not. U.S. nuclear forces were almost continually on a state of high alert, with land- and submarine-based missile crews always preparing for imminent action and B-52 pilots readying to take off at a moment’s notice. The men and women involved in maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons were a uniquely important force, with a high sense of purpose and élan. They understood that their mission was strategic deterrence and that success at maintaining a state of readiness would help ensure that their terribly destructive weapons would never be used in anger.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. nuclear forces, including the units responsible for care of the weapons, have been reduced in size, there have been no modernization programs, and responsibility for nuclear forces has been dispersed throughout the Pentagon; there is no one command with overall authority over the weapons.

These factors helped to underpin the “Broken Arrow” episode of August 30, 2007, in which the Air Force essentially lost control of a handful of nuclear-armed cruise missiles, with a B-52 flying them across the country under the mistaken belief that the warheads were disarmed or carried conventional explosives.

The immediate cause of the incident was a breakdown of procedures at the Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. But a study by the Defense Science Board suggests that even if tight procedures are put back in place, the safe care and maintenance of these fearsome weapons is going to be a difficult long-term challenge. Since the end of the cold war, it reports,

there has been a marked decline in the level and intensity of focus on the nuclear enterprise and the nuclear  mission. The decline in focus took place gradually as changes were made to policies, procedures, and processes. Now, when comparing the current level of focus to that of 1990, the aggregate change is dramatic. The Task Force and several of the senior DoD people interviewed believe that the decline in focus has been more pronounced than realized and too extreme to be acceptable. The decline is characterized by embedding nuclear mission forces in non-nuclear organizations, markedly reduced levels of leadership whose daily focus is the nuclear enterprise, and a general devaluation of the nuclear mission and those who perform the mission.

This is frightening stuff. And doubly frightening because there is no quick fix. The Defense Science Board has offered a whole series of recommendations designed to change the culture of U.S. nuclear forces and restore to them a sense of mission. But the inescapable truth is that with the end of the cold war, the primary task of U.S. nuclear forces is no longer deterrence but keeping accidents from happening within our own arsenal. This is an essential mission, but it is not a glorious one, and it will remain difficult to attract the most talented men and women in our armed forces into this branch of service. 

The problem is triply frightening because if U.S. nuclear forces are suffering from such difficulties, what is going on elsewhere in the world, in Russia, say, or in Pakistan?

In light of all this, I have a question for readers. Which of the following problems is most worrying?

1. Global warming.

2. The Bush administration’s alleged violations of FISA. 

3. Loose nuclear weapons.

 

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Bring the Boys Home

All Americans, Right and Left, want America to exit from Iraq. No one wants to see another year of carnage, of American casualties, of mourning families. But when and how should we bring them back?

Last March, Barack Obama was roundly criticized, and compelled to apologize, for saying that “[w]e’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, “over there” in Iraq. If Obama’s choice of words was poor, his point was sound — but only in an ironic sense. For if his own proposal for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq were ever implemented, the lives of our boys and girls would indeed have been wasted as Iraq disintegrated into chaos, becoming the kind of breeding ground for terrorists that would undoubtedly compel us one day to return.

Now another presidential candidate, John Edwards, has set forward his own proposal for wasting American lives. According to a story by Michael Gordon in today’s New York Times, Edwards says “that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.” This of course goes further than Hillary Clinton and Obama; both of them say they would keep American trainers and counterterrorism forces in Iraq for some unspecified period.

What would be the likely consequences of following Edwards’ — or for that matter, Hillary Clinton or Obama’s — advice? Gordon points out that a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq “warned that the withdrawal of American troops over the ensuing 12 to 18 months would probably lead to ‘massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.’” True, some NIE’s lately have been very wide of the mark; but given the impressive but still precarious nature of the security improvements brought about by the surge, the January 2007 assessment remains pertinent.

But there are ways to bring some forces home now without wasting the precious lives of our soldiers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that the Air Force’s usage of remotely piloted drones has significantly increased over the past year, and the total flight time has now reached 500,000 hours in the sky.

Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide [these] assets,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned-aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

The pilots flying these craft, operating out of bases in less-than-dangerous locations like Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, are able to do some very dangerous things.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ7nw1v3LUc[/youtube]

If anything, the boys who can do such things stateside are the ones to bring home. But Connecting the Dots is still left with one question: is it really possible that next November American voters would go for a man with a plan to bring home even the U.S. trainers of the fledgling Iraqi army and police? Would that be an act of statesmanship, or of dishonor and even madness?

All Americans, Right and Left, want America to exit from Iraq. No one wants to see another year of carnage, of American casualties, of mourning families. But when and how should we bring them back?

Last March, Barack Obama was roundly criticized, and compelled to apologize, for saying that “[w]e’ve wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives, “over there” in Iraq. If Obama’s choice of words was poor, his point was sound — but only in an ironic sense. For if his own proposal for a hasty withdrawal from Iraq were ever implemented, the lives of our boys and girls would indeed have been wasted as Iraq disintegrated into chaos, becoming the kind of breeding ground for terrorists that would undoubtedly compel us one day to return.

Now another presidential candidate, John Edwards, has set forward his own proposal for wasting American lives. According to a story by Michael Gordon in today’s New York Times, Edwards says “that if elected president he would withdraw the American troops who are training the Iraqi army and police as part of a broader plan to remove virtually all American forces within 10 months.” This of course goes further than Hillary Clinton and Obama; both of them say they would keep American trainers and counterterrorism forces in Iraq for some unspecified period.

What would be the likely consequences of following Edwards’ — or for that matter, Hillary Clinton or Obama’s — advice? Gordon points out that a January 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq “warned that the withdrawal of American troops over the ensuing 12 to 18 months would probably lead to ‘massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement.’” True, some NIE’s lately have been very wide of the mark; but given the impressive but still precarious nature of the security improvements brought about by the surge, the January 2007 assessment remains pertinent.

But there are ways to bring some forces home now without wasting the precious lives of our soldiers. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports today that the Air Force’s usage of remotely piloted drones has significantly increased over the past year, and the total flight time has now reached 500,000 hours in the sky.

Air Force officials said Predator flights steadily increased last year, from about 2,000 hours in January to more than 4,300 in October. They are expected to continue to escalate when hours are calculated for November and December, because the number of combat air patrols increased from about 14 per day to 18.

“The demand far exceeds all of the Defense Department’s ability to provide [these] assets,” said Lt. Col. Larry Gurgainous, deputy director of the Air Force’s unmanned-aircraft task force. “And as we buy and field more systems, you will see it continue to go up.”

The pilots flying these craft, operating out of bases in less-than-dangerous locations like Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, are able to do some very dangerous things.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ7nw1v3LUc[/youtube]

If anything, the boys who can do such things stateside are the ones to bring home. But Connecting the Dots is still left with one question: is it really possible that next November American voters would go for a man with a plan to bring home even the U.S. trainers of the fledgling Iraqi army and police? Would that be an act of statesmanship, or of dishonor and even madness?

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Mistakes Were Made

The United States military has lately been having a string of bad luck in its handling of things nuclear. But is it merely bad luck, or something else?

First came the “Bent Spear” incident of August 29, in which the Air Force lost effective control of the whereabouts of a handful of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, the most serious such episode in decades. An Air Force briefing explaining in detail what happened can be found here

Now comes word that the Navy has been derelict as well. Sailors on the submarine USS Hampton neglected required daily safety checks on the ship’s nuclear reactor for a month. They then forged records to cover up their neglect.

The Navy Times broke the story. It quotes a former submarine commander explaining what is at stake:

It’s not that it’s dangerous at the instant. Blowing off the chem sample that day isn’t what’s dangerous, but the operational philosophy adopted by people who would do that, if applied to the other aspects of operating the nuclear-propulsion plant-watch stations or other aspects of the submarine, could be dangerous. That’s what’s scary. Besides, why the hell wouldn’t you check the chem levels? First, that’s the ELT and the CRA’s job. Second, it takes about an hour and a half each day to do it. Third, you’re on a submarine, so it’s not like you’re going to get away with doing nothing on your free time.

At a time when the military is said to be spread thin by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these stories are not going to go away. Nor should they. This is an area where the Defense Department simply has to get things right.

The United States military has lately been having a string of bad luck in its handling of things nuclear. But is it merely bad luck, or something else?

First came the “Bent Spear” incident of August 29, in which the Air Force lost effective control of the whereabouts of a handful of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, the most serious such episode in decades. An Air Force briefing explaining in detail what happened can be found here

Now comes word that the Navy has been derelict as well. Sailors on the submarine USS Hampton neglected required daily safety checks on the ship’s nuclear reactor for a month. They then forged records to cover up their neglect.

The Navy Times broke the story. It quotes a former submarine commander explaining what is at stake:

It’s not that it’s dangerous at the instant. Blowing off the chem sample that day isn’t what’s dangerous, but the operational philosophy adopted by people who would do that, if applied to the other aspects of operating the nuclear-propulsion plant-watch stations or other aspects of the submarine, could be dangerous. That’s what’s scary. Besides, why the hell wouldn’t you check the chem levels? First, that’s the ELT and the CRA’s job. Second, it takes about an hour and a half each day to do it. Third, you’re on a submarine, so it’s not like you’re going to get away with doing nothing on your free time.

At a time when the military is said to be spread thin by commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these stories are not going to go away. Nor should they. This is an area where the Defense Department simply has to get things right.

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The Tittering at Columbia

There are no homosexuals in Iran, Iran’s president said yesterday at Columbia University, and there are also no—or there will not ever be any—nuclear weapons.

Although Columbia’s president said that the purpose of inviting the Iranian leader was to foster dialogue and the clash of ideas, as Bret Stephens points out in a brilliant column in today’s Wall Street Journal, it is questionable whether the university president’s “confidence in ‘dialogue and reason’ is well placed.” It is even more questionable “whether confronting ideas is a sufficient condition for understanding the world,” let alone for protecting ourselves from the menace represented by those ideas as they are expressed in the strategic and theological aspirations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Of course, it pays to listen to Ahmadinejad’s statements—including his false ones—with great care. But is it required of us to listen to them at the podium of an Ivy League university? And to pretend to be engaging in an academic “dialogue” with the Holocaust-denying, homosexual-denying, nuclear-weapons-denying, genocide-bent Iranian leader is something even worse.

The English language has a rich supply of words to label the Columbia dean, John Coatsworth, who said, in defending the invitation, that the university would also have been happy to invite Hitler to a debate in 1939. Which is the best term?

Read More

There are no homosexuals in Iran, Iran’s president said yesterday at Columbia University, and there are also no—or there will not ever be any—nuclear weapons.

Although Columbia’s president said that the purpose of inviting the Iranian leader was to foster dialogue and the clash of ideas, as Bret Stephens points out in a brilliant column in today’s Wall Street Journal, it is questionable whether the university president’s “confidence in ‘dialogue and reason’ is well placed.” It is even more questionable “whether confronting ideas is a sufficient condition for understanding the world,” let alone for protecting ourselves from the menace represented by those ideas as they are expressed in the strategic and theological aspirations of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Of course, it pays to listen to Ahmadinejad’s statements—including his false ones—with great care. But is it required of us to listen to them at the podium of an Ivy League university? And to pretend to be engaging in an academic “dialogue” with the Holocaust-denying, homosexual-denying, nuclear-weapons-denying, genocide-bent Iranian leader is something even worse.

The English language has a rich supply of words to label the Columbia dean, John Coatsworth, who said, in defending the invitation, that the university would also have been happy to invite Hitler to a debate in 1939. Which is the best term?

“Imbecile,” according to Webster’s, suggests someone “incapable of earning a living”—so that is not right because our Columbia dean’s accounts at TIAA-CREF are undoubtedly doing quite well.

Is “idiot” better? Perhaps, because it is defined as someone who is “incapable of avoiding the common dangers of life.” But since the term also refers to someone who is “incapable of connected speech,” it too is inaccurate. Coatsworth’s words may be deficient in various ways, but they are certainly connected; indeed, as Stephens shows, they are a constituent element of an entire worldview.

“Simpleton” implies “silliness or lack of sophistication,” and while Coatsworth is worse than silly, he is certainly sophisticated; indeed, he is a dean at one of our leading universities.

In the end, perhaps “fool”—a person “lacking in judgment or prudence”—is the most appropriate word. But as Webster’s points out, when all of these terms are used in their most general way, they all fit the bill insofar as they are often applied interchangeably to refer “to anyone regarded as lacking sense or good judgment.”

Fortunately, there are other and better solutions being developed than anything in the works at Columbia to deal with Ahmadinejad’s nuclear-weapons program, elements of which are buried deep underground in hardened facilities across Iran.

Defense Daily reports today that Northrop-Grumman is making rapid progress in bringing on board a new weapon. Here is its dispatch based upon an interview with Harry Heimple, a company spokesman:

By next year a 30,000-pound bomb capable of blasting into subterranean tunnels will begin operating in the Air Force’s bomber fleet, according to industry officials.

The Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) built by Boeing will be integrated by Northrop Grumman on both the B-2A Spirit stealth bomber and the B-52 Stratofortress. . .

The B-2A can carry two MOPs, one in each of its weapon bays. The munition Northrop Grumman calls “like” the Joint Direct Attack Munition with a guidance system aided by the Global Positioning System, MOP contains more than 5,300 pounds of conventional explosives inside of a 20.5-foot-long steel enclosure. The weapon is said to be able to penetrate up to about 60 feet of dirt and concrete.

The mass makes it three and a half times as powerful as the Air Force’s heaviest weapons, Heimple said. After extensive testing to gauge whether it is better to drop multiple bombs in the same spot or to drop one enormous bomb, the Air Force has opted for the MOP, saying more mass is the right answer, Heimple said.

The first lethality test of the weapon took place at the end of March at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in a tunnel complex with helicopters and jeeps inside. The bomb was placed nose-down in the complex and fired. The Air Force measured the blast for pressure and temperature.

“The results were pretty amazing,” Heimple said.

The private sector is thus doing things that are far more significant than the laughter on Morningside Heights which greeted the Iranian president’s remarks about homosexuality. Since Columbia continues to exclude ROTC from campus, the complacent tittering at Ahmadinejad is the university’s only contribution, thus far, to our common defense.

 

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A New Bomber?

The National Journal has an interesting article in the current issue on “The Air Force’s Next Bomber,” by Sydney Freedberg. Unfortunately, it’s not available for free online. (For the paid version, see here). But the gist is that the Air Force, after years of pressure from Congress and political appointees in the Department of Defense, reluctantly has agreed to begin developing a new bomber by 2018. Yet many analysts doubt whether the Air Force is serious.

To an outsider this might seem like a head-scratcher. Why wouldn’t the Air Force want a new airplane? The need for a new bomber seems clear given that, of the current bomber fleet of 180 aircraft, more than half are B-52’s that were last built in 1962. They still perform admirably, but it’s not clear how much longer we can continue to rely for our defense on aircraft that are older than the pilots. Yet the Air Force hasn’t been planning to get any more bombers for decades—not until 2037, when the B-52 turns 75. (Would you drive a 75-year-old car?) The last addition to its bomber fleet was the B-2 stealth bomber, of which it now has 21, the last having arrived in 1997.

Read More

The National Journal has an interesting article in the current issue on “The Air Force’s Next Bomber,” by Sydney Freedberg. Unfortunately, it’s not available for free online. (For the paid version, see here). But the gist is that the Air Force, after years of pressure from Congress and political appointees in the Department of Defense, reluctantly has agreed to begin developing a new bomber by 2018. Yet many analysts doubt whether the Air Force is serious.

To an outsider this might seem like a head-scratcher. Why wouldn’t the Air Force want a new airplane? The need for a new bomber seems clear given that, of the current bomber fleet of 180 aircraft, more than half are B-52’s that were last built in 1962. They still perform admirably, but it’s not clear how much longer we can continue to rely for our defense on aircraft that are older than the pilots. Yet the Air Force hasn’t been planning to get any more bombers for decades—not until 2037, when the B-52 turns 75. (Would you drive a 75-year-old car?) The last addition to its bomber fleet was the B-2 stealth bomber, of which it now has 21, the last having arrived in 1997.

All of the Air Force’s creative energy has been poured into acquiring super-expensive, short-range fighter-bombers—the F-22 and F-35. Both are sexy and fun to fly, but have small bomb capacities and flight ranges. The National Journal notes their limitations in a prospective war with China:

Even from the nearest U.S. bases, in South Korea, the F-22 and the F-35 may well penetrate the outer layers of enemy defenses only to run out of fuel long before they reach any target. Slow, bulky tankers can refuel the short-range fighters in midair, but would never perform this delicate operation in full view of hostile radars. Thus, strike planes must rely on their internal fuel tanks once they enter enemy airspace. The F-22 has an estimated combat radius—the maximum distance it can fly before it must return to base—of 540 nautical miles; the still-in-development F-35 will be slightly better, at about 633 miles. Either fighter could hit, say, Tehran from bases in Kuwait, or Beijing from South Korea. But if U.S. allies balked, or if the bases came under fire, or if, in China’s case, key targets were hidden deep in Central Asia—like the Xichang space facility from which China test-launched an anti-satellite missile in January—the fighters would simply run out of gas.

By contrast, the article notes, the B-2 has a combat radius of 3,000 miles. During the Kosovo conflict, B-2’s flew all the way to Belgrade from Missouri and back without ever landing (but with multiple in-flight refuelings). So why doesn’t the Air Force want more bombers like the B-2?

The service advances plenty of arguments for its preference, but none is particularly convincing. More germane may be a fact noted by the National Journal: “Nearly half of all Air Force generals are fighter pilots, but less than 5 percent have bomber backgrounds.”

This is one case where it’s imperative that civilian leaders not defer to the preferences of the uniformed services. The Air Force needs more bombers—and more UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles)—even if it’s not what the fighter jocks prefer.

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Raptors to Japan

On Saturday, the New York Times criticized the Pentagon’s spending plans for buying, among other things, the F-22 stealth fighter, also known as the Raptor. According to the paper, that’s just concentrating on “the kind of weapons that might have made sense during the cold war but have little use in the kind of conflicts America is involved in and is likely to face in the foreseeable future.”

The Air Force acquired the F-22 to penetrate the Soviet Union and face its fleet of Su-27 fighters. The Times reasons that, because the USSR disappeared, so did our need for the Raptor. Even if the paper is correct—it’s not—there is one nation that indisputably requires the plane today. Japan at this moment is threatened by China’s growing fleet of Su-27s and has to replace aging F-4’s.

Read More

On Saturday, the New York Times criticized the Pentagon’s spending plans for buying, among other things, the F-22 stealth fighter, also known as the Raptor. According to the paper, that’s just concentrating on “the kind of weapons that might have made sense during the cold war but have little use in the kind of conflicts America is involved in and is likely to face in the foreseeable future.”

The Air Force acquired the F-22 to penetrate the Soviet Union and face its fleet of Su-27 fighters. The Times reasons that, because the USSR disappeared, so did our need for the Raptor. Even if the paper is correct—it’s not—there is one nation that indisputably requires the plane today. Japan at this moment is threatened by China’s growing fleet of Su-27s and has to replace aging F-4’s.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe raised the F-22 issue with President Bush during their summit this April. Japan would like to buy or build them under license from Lockheed Martin, the plane’s prime contractor. U.S. law prohibits the sale or license of America’s most capable fighter, and a recent attempt to end the ban failed earlier this year. Nonetheless, talk of Raptor sales just won’t go away.

Not only do the Japanese need to buy them, we have a compelling need to sell them. The Air Force has scaled back substantially its plans to acquire F-22’s, in part because of their cost—about $130 million per plane. The cutback not only threatens the Raptor program and jobs in Georgia, Texas, and California, but also undermines our industrial base. Selling F-22’s to Japan today preserves our capacity to build even more sophisticated fighters tomorrow.

Japan is just about the only suitable purchaser. Its wallet is large enough; it’s an ally that can be counted on to keep the plane’s secrets safe. We should arm allies that will fight on our side in the event of a large-scale conflict in Asia, which is increasingly likely, despite what the Times may think. America needs Raptors, and we need Japan to have them, too.

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