Commentary Magazine


Topic: Boeing

Stinting on Defense

Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, President Obama is stumping for a new round of economic stimulus amounting to $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure spending. On the other hand, he is growing the defense budget at an anemic rate, which is forcing the Pentagon to trim spending. The predictable result: defense contractors are laying off workers. The New York Times reports:

Lockheed has reduced its work force by 10,000, to a total of 136,000, since the beginning of last year.

Boeing, another big Pentagon contractor … has already trimmed 1,700 jobs in its military business as part of a reduction of 10,000 jobs across the company.

And Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to close troubled shipyards as it considers spinning off its $6 billion shipbuilding business.

Northrop announced in late August that it would lay off 642 workers at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., by the end of the year. By 2013, it plans to close a shipyard near New Orleans that employs 4,700 people and shift the work to Pascagoula.

What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad? It’s hard to figure out any other explanation for this loopy imbalance — billions more for make-work projects while stinting on defense projects that are actually needed.

Talk about cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, President Obama is stumping for a new round of economic stimulus amounting to $180 billion in business tax breaks and infrastructure spending. On the other hand, he is growing the defense budget at an anemic rate, which is forcing the Pentagon to trim spending. The predictable result: defense contractors are laying off workers. The New York Times reports:

Lockheed has reduced its work force by 10,000, to a total of 136,000, since the beginning of last year.

Boeing, another big Pentagon contractor … has already trimmed 1,700 jobs in its military business as part of a reduction of 10,000 jobs across the company.

And Northrop Grumman recently announced plans to close troubled shipyards as it considers spinning off its $6 billion shipbuilding business.

Northrop announced in late August that it would lay off 642 workers at its shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., by the end of the year. By 2013, it plans to close a shipyard near New Orleans that employs 4,700 people and shift the work to Pascagoula.

What’s going on here? Is there an assumption in the administration that highway-building jobs are good but weapon-building jobs are bad? It’s hard to figure out any other explanation for this loopy imbalance — billions more for make-work projects while stinting on defense projects that are actually needed.

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Did Israel Just Acquire a New Bombing Capability?

You don’t have to be Carl von Clausewitz to understand this significance of this:

Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

Note, first, that the 20-hour flight figure is almost certainly a dramatic understatement. Other reports put that figure at 36 hours, and the real number is probably higher still.

The Israeli Air Force has not had a long-range bombing capacity. But this new drone not only can easily reach Iran but also can loiter over the country for hours with a full payload. It has always been said that there are two great obstacles to an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program: 1) the IAF’s lack of long-range bombing capability; and 2) the difficulty of destroying equipment that is dispersed across the country in underground bunkers. The Israelis have shown a flair for timing in unveiling a weapon that would appear to significantly solve the first problem.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the unveiling of this new UAV comes only a few days after Russia announced its intention, after many delays, to begin sending the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Presumably the new variant of the Heron would be involved in countering the SAM threat, and could perform limited bombing duties as well. Its payload is small in comparison to even an F-15.

You don’t have to be Carl von Clausewitz to understand this significance of this:

Israel’s air force on Sunday introduced a fleet of huge pilotless planes that can remain in the air for a full day and fly as far as the Persian Gulf, putting rival Iran within its range.

The Heron TP drones have a wingspan of 86 feet (26 meters), making them the size of Boeing 737 passenger jets and the largest unmanned aircraft in Israel’s military. The planes can fly at least 20 consecutive hours and are primarily used for surveillance and carrying diverse payloads.

At the fleet’s inauguration ceremony at a sprawling air base in central Israel, the drone dwarfed an F-15 fighter jet parked beside it. The unmanned plane resembles its predecessor, the Heron, but can fly higher, reaching an altitude of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), and remain in the air longer.

Note, first, that the 20-hour flight figure is almost certainly a dramatic understatement. Other reports put that figure at 36 hours, and the real number is probably higher still.

The Israeli Air Force has not had a long-range bombing capacity. But this new drone not only can easily reach Iran but also can loiter over the country for hours with a full payload. It has always been said that there are two great obstacles to an Israeli strike on the Iranian nuclear program: 1) the IAF’s lack of long-range bombing capability; and 2) the difficulty of destroying equipment that is dispersed across the country in underground bunkers. The Israelis have shown a flair for timing in unveiling a weapon that would appear to significantly solve the first problem.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the unveiling of this new UAV comes only a few days after Russia announced its intention, after many delays, to begin sending the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran. Presumably the new variant of the Heron would be involved in countering the SAM threat, and could perform limited bombing duties as well. Its payload is small in comparison to even an F-15.

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Iraq Proves the Pessimists Wrong

We often hear about the supposed “unraveling” of Iraq—a regular trope of veteran defense writer Tom Ricks, among others. No doubt there is cause for concern—ranging from bombings that kill dozens, even hundreds, to candidate disqualifications that threaten the integrity of upcoming elections. But as General David Petraeus notes in this interview published last Monday in the Times of London, Iraqi politicians have shown an impressive ability to overcome crises that could lead to the resumption of civil war. Speaking of the 500 candidates disqualified for Baathist links, Petraeus said:

I’m considerably much less worried than I was say last weekend when this was all really appearing that it actually could boil over and result in a reversal of the effect of two and an half years of reconciliation among different groups. It appears however in the last 48 to 72 hours that Iraqi leaders have really gripped this issue.

It turns out now that each party has at least double-digit numbers of individuals on this particular list of over 500 names and that it is reportedly 55 per cent or so Shia and 45 per cent or so Sunni. So if it ever was as was reported a predominately Sunni list and predominately focused on sidelining Sunni candidates that is not the case now and it appears there is going to be, as has been the case in Iraq on a number of previous occasions when there has been quite considerable political drama, that Iraqi leaders will resolve the issue without unhinging and undoing again two and a half years of very hard work at reconciling all of the factions inside the new Iraq.

I noticed another sign of how “the new Iraq” is making progress in this Wall Street Journal article about the rush of foreign airlines to increase service to Iraq at the same time that Iraq Airways is building up its fleet by placing an order with Boeing.

“It’s a good market,” said Turkish Airlines Chief Executive Temel Kotil. Turkish was one of the first foreign carriers to serve Baghdad after the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 and it plans in March to start flights to Basra, in southern Iraq. “We want to serve many Iraqi cities,” Mr. Kotil said, adding that most of the carrier’s passengers are Europeans.

It’s not only Turkish Airlines that thinks Iraq is a good opportunity. Other carriers already flying there include Bahrain’s Gulf Air, Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines, and Austrian Airlines. And, reports the Journal, “German giant Deutsche Lufthansa AG recently announced that it aims this summer to start serving Baghdad and Erbil, pending regulatory approval. Austrian Airlines, a unit of Lufthansa, is increasing flights to Erbil, the one Iraqi city it serves. Upscale Qatar Airways also is examining the Iraqi market, officials said.”

A fragile but working democracy, an increase in foreign investment, a steep decline in attacks over the past several years—all these are signs that Iraq is hardly unraveling. That doesn’t mean that it is on a one-way flight to Nirvana. American vigilance and involvement remain essential. But an awful lot has gone right recently—more than I would have predicted back in 2007, when the surge was just beginning. Perhaps, just once in the Middle East, the pessimists will be proven wrong.

We often hear about the supposed “unraveling” of Iraq—a regular trope of veteran defense writer Tom Ricks, among others. No doubt there is cause for concern—ranging from bombings that kill dozens, even hundreds, to candidate disqualifications that threaten the integrity of upcoming elections. But as General David Petraeus notes in this interview published last Monday in the Times of London, Iraqi politicians have shown an impressive ability to overcome crises that could lead to the resumption of civil war. Speaking of the 500 candidates disqualified for Baathist links, Petraeus said:

I’m considerably much less worried than I was say last weekend when this was all really appearing that it actually could boil over and result in a reversal of the effect of two and an half years of reconciliation among different groups. It appears however in the last 48 to 72 hours that Iraqi leaders have really gripped this issue.

It turns out now that each party has at least double-digit numbers of individuals on this particular list of over 500 names and that it is reportedly 55 per cent or so Shia and 45 per cent or so Sunni. So if it ever was as was reported a predominately Sunni list and predominately focused on sidelining Sunni candidates that is not the case now and it appears there is going to be, as has been the case in Iraq on a number of previous occasions when there has been quite considerable political drama, that Iraqi leaders will resolve the issue without unhinging and undoing again two and a half years of very hard work at reconciling all of the factions inside the new Iraq.

I noticed another sign of how “the new Iraq” is making progress in this Wall Street Journal article about the rush of foreign airlines to increase service to Iraq at the same time that Iraq Airways is building up its fleet by placing an order with Boeing.

“It’s a good market,” said Turkish Airlines Chief Executive Temel Kotil. Turkish was one of the first foreign carriers to serve Baghdad after the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003 and it plans in March to start flights to Basra, in southern Iraq. “We want to serve many Iraqi cities,” Mr. Kotil said, adding that most of the carrier’s passengers are Europeans.

It’s not only Turkish Airlines that thinks Iraq is a good opportunity. Other carriers already flying there include Bahrain’s Gulf Air, Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines, and Austrian Airlines. And, reports the Journal, “German giant Deutsche Lufthansa AG recently announced that it aims this summer to start serving Baghdad and Erbil, pending regulatory approval. Austrian Airlines, a unit of Lufthansa, is increasing flights to Erbil, the one Iraqi city it serves. Upscale Qatar Airways also is examining the Iraqi market, officials said.”

A fragile but working democracy, an increase in foreign investment, a steep decline in attacks over the past several years—all these are signs that Iraq is hardly unraveling. That doesn’t mean that it is on a one-way flight to Nirvana. American vigilance and involvement remain essential. But an awful lot has gone right recently—more than I would have predicted back in 2007, when the surge was just beginning. Perhaps, just once in the Middle East, the pessimists will be proven wrong.

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Chinese Espionage Techniques

The FBI has stepped up counterintelligence investigations of Chinese espionage in the U.S., reports the Washington Post this morning.

The paper reprises several recent cases, including, that of Chi Mak, convicted of stealing sensitive naval technology plans from a U.S defense contractor; Dongfan Chung, a Boeing engineer arrested in February, accused of funneling classified space shuttle and rocket documents to Chinese officials; Noshir Gowadia, indicted last fall for providing cruise-missile data to Chinese officials; and Gregg W. Bergersen, a Pentagon official who pleaded guilty this week to charges that he gave classified information on U.S. weapons sales to China.

What does this flurry of cases mean? A couple of non-mutually exclusive possibilities suggest themselves. One is that the Chinese are stepping up their collection efforts in the U.S. Another is that the FBI, in stepping up its counterintelligence and its work is bearing fruit. A third — a combination of the first and second — is that Chinese intelligence is not ten-feet tall.

That last possibility is suggested by some of the amateurish spycraft displayed by the Chinese in the Bergersen case. In one sense, the operation was fairly sophisticated. Bergersen was induced to take part in a false-flag operation, that is, an operation in which he believed he was selling secrets to a U.S. ally, Taiwan, when in fact the “businessman” he was dealing with, Tai Shen Kuo, was actually a spy from the mainland.

But there was also some remarkably sloppy behavior by the Chinese in this case. An elementary task of spying is maintaining covert communications. Kuo was eager to do so and he acquired PGP Desktop Home 9.5 for Windows, a commercially available program for encrypting emails. That was smart. It was not smart, on the other hand, to discuss this encryption software on an open phone line with his taskmaster in China. The FBI was listening in on the call.

The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Bergersen contains many other arresting details. One high point occurs when Bergersen returns from a trip to Bulgaria and his wife finds a wad of espionage cash in his wallet. Bergersen told her it was gambling winnings. Her reaction: she insisted on taking half of it “as her share.” Bergersen related this to Kuo who offered to make up the amount that he had lost to his spouse. This generous offer was declined.

The FBI has stepped up counterintelligence investigations of Chinese espionage in the U.S., reports the Washington Post this morning.

The paper reprises several recent cases, including, that of Chi Mak, convicted of stealing sensitive naval technology plans from a U.S defense contractor; Dongfan Chung, a Boeing engineer arrested in February, accused of funneling classified space shuttle and rocket documents to Chinese officials; Noshir Gowadia, indicted last fall for providing cruise-missile data to Chinese officials; and Gregg W. Bergersen, a Pentagon official who pleaded guilty this week to charges that he gave classified information on U.S. weapons sales to China.

What does this flurry of cases mean? A couple of non-mutually exclusive possibilities suggest themselves. One is that the Chinese are stepping up their collection efforts in the U.S. Another is that the FBI, in stepping up its counterintelligence and its work is bearing fruit. A third — a combination of the first and second — is that Chinese intelligence is not ten-feet tall.

That last possibility is suggested by some of the amateurish spycraft displayed by the Chinese in the Bergersen case. In one sense, the operation was fairly sophisticated. Bergersen was induced to take part in a false-flag operation, that is, an operation in which he believed he was selling secrets to a U.S. ally, Taiwan, when in fact the “businessman” he was dealing with, Tai Shen Kuo, was actually a spy from the mainland.

But there was also some remarkably sloppy behavior by the Chinese in this case. An elementary task of spying is maintaining covert communications. Kuo was eager to do so and he acquired PGP Desktop Home 9.5 for Windows, a commercially available program for encrypting emails. That was smart. It was not smart, on the other hand, to discuss this encryption software on an open phone line with his taskmaster in China. The FBI was listening in on the call.

The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Bergersen contains many other arresting details. One high point occurs when Bergersen returns from a trip to Bulgaria and his wife finds a wad of espionage cash in his wallet. Bergersen told her it was gambling winnings. Her reaction: she insisted on taking half of it “as her share.” Bergersen related this to Kuo who offered to make up the amount that he had lost to his spouse. This generous offer was declined.

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On The Same Team

Since John McCain wrapped up the nomination last week, his campaign and the RNC have effectively merged efforts for the 2008 election. The change is dramatic and affords McCain the assistance and research capabilities of the RNC. For example, in response to the announcement that the AFL-CIO will now spend $53M to target McCain, the RNC has put out a statement:

The AFL-CIO’s campaign against John McCain clearly demonstrates their priorities lie in attack politics as opposed to focusing on American families. Voters looking for something new will find it in John McCain’s campaign to help working families–not the AFL-CIO’s partisan attacks. Considering Senators Obama and Clinton’s frequent denunciations of special interests, they must reject the unions’ campaign against Senator McCain.

And Alex Conant, RNC Press Secretary, has come out with a nicely packaged bit of oppo research questioning whether an attack operation by big labor is really “new politics” or just the same old story of special interest money. Likewise, in response to the attack on McCain’s role in insisting that Boeing not receive a no-bid contract for a U.S. Air Force tanker, the RNC and McCain made sure to circulate this from McCain advisor Steve Schmidt:

Over the past few days, there have been a number of political attacks launched by John McCain’s political opponents attempting to blame him for the Boeing Company not being awarded the USAF tanker contract. Incredibly, several news organizations have parroted the attack. Here are the facts:

John McCain uncovered a massive taxpayer rip-off and evidence leading to corruption convictions for Boeing and Pentagon officials, some of whom went to jail for their crimes. The CEO of Boeing resigned.

John McCain’s investigation saved the taxpayers over $6 billion dollars.

So wrapping up the GOP nomination has many benefits for McCain–watching the Democrats snipe, for example–but one of them should not be underestimated: the full machinery of the the RNC is now at his disposal.

Since John McCain wrapped up the nomination last week, his campaign and the RNC have effectively merged efforts for the 2008 election. The change is dramatic and affords McCain the assistance and research capabilities of the RNC. For example, in response to the announcement that the AFL-CIO will now spend $53M to target McCain, the RNC has put out a statement:

The AFL-CIO’s campaign against John McCain clearly demonstrates their priorities lie in attack politics as opposed to focusing on American families. Voters looking for something new will find it in John McCain’s campaign to help working families–not the AFL-CIO’s partisan attacks. Considering Senators Obama and Clinton’s frequent denunciations of special interests, they must reject the unions’ campaign against Senator McCain.

And Alex Conant, RNC Press Secretary, has come out with a nicely packaged bit of oppo research questioning whether an attack operation by big labor is really “new politics” or just the same old story of special interest money. Likewise, in response to the attack on McCain’s role in insisting that Boeing not receive a no-bid contract for a U.S. Air Force tanker, the RNC and McCain made sure to circulate this from McCain advisor Steve Schmidt:

Over the past few days, there have been a number of political attacks launched by John McCain’s political opponents attempting to blame him for the Boeing Company not being awarded the USAF tanker contract. Incredibly, several news organizations have parroted the attack. Here are the facts:

John McCain uncovered a massive taxpayer rip-off and evidence leading to corruption convictions for Boeing and Pentagon officials, some of whom went to jail for their crimes. The CEO of Boeing resigned.

John McCain’s investigation saved the taxpayers over $6 billion dollars.

So wrapping up the GOP nomination has many benefits for McCain–watching the Democrats snipe, for example–but one of them should not be underestimated: the full machinery of the the RNC is now at his disposal.

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McCain on the Offensive

The McCain campaign just completed a media call with campaign manager Rick Davis, communications director Jill Hazelbaker, and general counsel Trevor Potter. The admitted purpose and main focus of the call? “Don’t buy that smoke Howard Dean is blowing around on our withdrawal from the matching funds system.” They want the focus and the media to turn its attention back to what they consider a problem for Barack Obama: his attempt to wriggle out of his commitment to take public financing and accept the limitations that go along with it for the general election.

They repeatedly pointed out that Dean did exactly the same thing he now attacks McCain for doing, i.e. applying for and then withdrawing from the matching funds program in the primaries before he received the funds. Potter reiterated that they had a right to withdraw even without a vote from the quorum-less FEC, that they received no funds, and that they never used the matching fund certificates as collateral for loans. As for gaining ballot access in several states based on their application for matching funds, Potter contends that this consideration is not relevant for FEC purposes.

Davis put this in political terms, arguing that “the Democrats panicked” when McCain took Obama up on his offer to accept public financing for the general election and therefore cooked up this issue regarding primary matching funds. Davis declared twice that the McCain camp would “be happy to debate all day” who has broken their word on public financing and whose record of commitment to reform is stronger. (He reviewed some highlights of McCain’s career, including the Abramoff and Boeing investigations and the passage of campaign finance reform laws–which he accomplished over objections from his party and to his political detriment.)

The bottom line: the McCain people recognize they are essentially entering the general election battle and want to prevent Obama (as he did with Hillary Clinton) from stealing the mantle of reformer/change agent. I would expect to hear far more of the McCain camp line that “there is only one candidate” who broke his promise regarding campaign funding.

The McCain campaign just completed a media call with campaign manager Rick Davis, communications director Jill Hazelbaker, and general counsel Trevor Potter. The admitted purpose and main focus of the call? “Don’t buy that smoke Howard Dean is blowing around on our withdrawal from the matching funds system.” They want the focus and the media to turn its attention back to what they consider a problem for Barack Obama: his attempt to wriggle out of his commitment to take public financing and accept the limitations that go along with it for the general election.

They repeatedly pointed out that Dean did exactly the same thing he now attacks McCain for doing, i.e. applying for and then withdrawing from the matching funds program in the primaries before he received the funds. Potter reiterated that they had a right to withdraw even without a vote from the quorum-less FEC, that they received no funds, and that they never used the matching fund certificates as collateral for loans. As for gaining ballot access in several states based on their application for matching funds, Potter contends that this consideration is not relevant for FEC purposes.

Davis put this in political terms, arguing that “the Democrats panicked” when McCain took Obama up on his offer to accept public financing for the general election and therefore cooked up this issue regarding primary matching funds. Davis declared twice that the McCain camp would “be happy to debate all day” who has broken their word on public financing and whose record of commitment to reform is stronger. (He reviewed some highlights of McCain’s career, including the Abramoff and Boeing investigations and the passage of campaign finance reform laws–which he accomplished over objections from his party and to his political detriment.)

The bottom line: the McCain people recognize they are essentially entering the general election battle and want to prevent Obama (as he did with Hillary Clinton) from stealing the mantle of reformer/change agent. I would expect to hear far more of the McCain camp line that “there is only one candidate” who broke his promise regarding campaign funding.

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Chinese Chess

Are We Ready for China?” That is the title of Aaron Friedberg’s characteristically provocative essay in the October COMMENTARY. Friedberg, who teaches politics at Princeton and was from 2003 to 2005 a key foreign-policy adviser to Dick Cheney, is currently at work on a book—certain to be highly controversial and the subject of intense interest in both Washington and Beijing—about the U.S.-China rivalry. 

“Though our leaders are loath to admit it,” writes Friedberg,

the United States is almost two decades into what is likely to prove a protracted geopolitical rivalry with the People’s Republic of China. The PRC is fast acquiring military capabilities that will allow it to contest America’s long-standing preponderance in the Western Pacific. In Asia and beyond, Beijing is working assiduously to enhance its own influence while at the same time seeking quietly to weaken that of the United States. Meanwhile, China continues to run huge trade surpluses with the United States, accumulating vast dollar holdings and advancing rapidly up the technological ladder into ever more sophisticated industries.

As Friedberg notes, the implications of China’s rise for America’s position in the world are profound, and are extending from one realm into the next.

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Are We Ready for China?” That is the title of Aaron Friedberg’s characteristically provocative essay in the October COMMENTARY. Friedberg, who teaches politics at Princeton and was from 2003 to 2005 a key foreign-policy adviser to Dick Cheney, is currently at work on a book—certain to be highly controversial and the subject of intense interest in both Washington and Beijing—about the U.S.-China rivalry. 

“Though our leaders are loath to admit it,” writes Friedberg,

the United States is almost two decades into what is likely to prove a protracted geopolitical rivalry with the People’s Republic of China. The PRC is fast acquiring military capabilities that will allow it to contest America’s long-standing preponderance in the Western Pacific. In Asia and beyond, Beijing is working assiduously to enhance its own influence while at the same time seeking quietly to weaken that of the United States. Meanwhile, China continues to run huge trade surpluses with the United States, accumulating vast dollar holdings and advancing rapidly up the technological ladder into ever more sophisticated industries.

As Friedberg notes, the implications of China’s rise for America’s position in the world are profound, and are extending from one realm into the next.

In the past year, in one of many developments in the military arena where it is spending far more money than it publicly acknowledges, China tested an anti-satellite weapon, blowing up one of its own satellites in space, and revealing a growing potential to blind the United States in a future conflict.

In the commercial and technological arena, China continues to stride forward. Growth and trade figures speak for themselves. But there are numerous developments that are going relatively unnoticed. “Birth of a Giant” was the Aviation Week & Space Technology headline in September for an article taking note of China’s progress in constructing an indigenously produced regional passenger jet, the ARJ21.

This aircraft is not intended to become another export item or to will compete, at least initially, with Boeing and Airbus, whose A300 is its equivalent. Rather, says Aviation Week, the ARJ 21 “is important as the occasion in which Chinese industry is learning to develop a commercial aircraft to full Western standards and with its own intellectual-property rights, to coordinate with many subcontractors, to gain certification from the U.S. FAA, to establish an international marketing operation, and—crucially—to prove that it will support aircraft in service.”

There is yet another arena where China is forging ahead. It is far less significant to U.S. policymakers, but fascinating for what it reveals about the potential of a country with population in excess of a billion to take extraordinary strides in a realm in which it has been historically backward.

Up until its collapse, the USSR was virtually the sole superpower in chess, the ultimate game of strategy and war. But with the Soviet Union’s disintegration, many of the USSR’s best players now live in Europe and the United States. Meanwhile, China has been rising out of almost nowhere.

In late August, a Chinese team trounced Russia handily in an annual competition held this year in Nizniy Novgorod. It then defeated the British national team in Liverpool. As the American grandmaster Andy Soltis notes, the Chinese accomplished these feats “without having a single player among the world’s 20 highest-rated grandmasters.” They simply have an enormous base of young talent from which to draw. 

“If China stays on its current path,” concludes Aaron Friedberg in COMMENTARY, “if it continues to grow richer and stronger while remaining autocratic, it will likely become bolder, more assertive, and possibly more aggressive than it is today. . . . We are going to have to run faster just to stay in place. But we are unlikely to do so if we cannot even acknowledge to ourselves that we are in a race.”

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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?

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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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Let’s Help al Qaeda to Kill Americans

What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.

Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming

20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.

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What is the best way for terrorists to wreak havoc in the United States? That was the question posed, and answered, yesterday on the New York Times website by Steven D. Levitt, the University of Chicago professor of economics and author of the best-selling book, Freakonomics.

Levitt’s advice to al Qaeda, based upon the economic principle of generating the greatest quantity of harm with the least possible input of resources, would be to learn from the Washington D.C snipers of 2002. He suggests arming

20 terrorists with rifles and cars, and arrang[ing] to have them begin shooting randomly at pre-set times all across the country. Big cities, little cities, suburbs, etc. Have them move around a lot. No one will know when and where the next attack will be. The chaos would be unbelievable, especially considering how few resources it would require of the terrorists. It would also be extremely hard to catch these guys. The damage wouldn’t be as extreme as detonating a nuclear bomb in New York City, of course; but it sure would be a lot easier to obtain a handful of guns than a nuclear weapon.

This does indeed sound like a terrifying scenario and perhaps there is a terrorist cell hidden here that will carry it out.

Levitt believes that putting such suggestions in print for terrorists to read is “a form of public service.” By thinking of plausible ways of causing violent destruction, he writes, “it gives terror fighters a chance to consider and plan for these scenarios before they occur.”

Levitt’s column generated what he says today, in a subsequent posting on the Times website, was an immense amount of hate mail: “The people e-mailing me can’t decide whether I am a moron, a traitor, or both.”

But there are also quite a few letters on the site applauding Levitt, like this one from a person who identifies herself simply as Kelly: “I think you are doing a terrific job actually THINKING about our situation rather than reacting like so many of our fellow Americans.”

Is Levitt indeed performing a public service, or is he a moron, traitor, or both?

Answering this is not as easy as it might appear at first glance. The fact is that we do need to think carefully about the manifold ways terrorists might attack us again. The U.S. government has failed abysmally at that task in the past.

In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, CIA Director George Tenet recalls with some pride how on the evening of September 12, 2001, he was sitting in his office “kicking around ideas” with a senior agency official when they hit upon the idea of creating “a group with the CIA whose sole purpose in life would be to think contrarian thoughts.” Such a unit, duly created by Tenet and dubbed the “Red Cell,” was given the assignment of “speculat[ing] on what was going through Osama bin Laden’s mind.”

In other words, up until September 11, it never occurred to the clueless Tenet or anyone else in a position of responsibility at our premier intelligence agency to perform the elementary task of thinking systematically about how our terrorist adversaries were thinking about us, including about how they might attack us.

There is thus a case for a public discussion of the issue raised by Levitt. But raising the issue and generating actual scenarios in public are two different things. Levitt defends himself on this point by noting that “a lot of the angry responses [he received made] me wonder what everyday Americans think terrorists do all day. My guess is that they brainstorm ideas for terrorist plots. And you have to believe that terrorists are total idiots if it never occurred to them after the Washington D.C. sniper shootings that maybe a sniper plot wasn’t a bad idea.”

True enough. Or is it true at all?

Yes, there are terrorist masterminds out there who do not need our help cooking up the most intricate and lethal plots against the United States. The attacks of September 11 alone are sufficient evidence of that.

But there are also more than a few terrorists and would-be terrorists roaming around who might qualify as “idiots,” or something close. Most recruits for terrorist action in the Islamist cause are not sophisticated planner types like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed but angry, ignorant, low-level figures, used by the higher-level terrorist plotters as expendable “muscle.”

Richard Reid is one such figure. If he had been smart enough to set off his shoe-bomb in the privacy of the bathroom instead of while remaining in his seat, American Airlines Flight 63 might now be resting quietly on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean with all of it 197 passengers and crew.

Then there was Zacharias Moussaoui, who was encountering trouble in his Minnesota flight school. This deranged fanatic might have only needed scant prompting, perhaps by stumbling across a clever scenario cooked up by Steven Levitt, to find a way to work al Qaeda’s will that was easier than poring through aviation manuals and struggling to operate a Boeing 747 simulator.

There was also el Sayyid Nosair, an operative in the nascent al Qaeda operation, part of the band that was to attack the World Trade Center the first time around in 1993. In 1990, Nosair spent his time and energy planning and carrying out the assassination of the firebrand rabbi Meir Kahane. Given the combination of Kahane’s extremist views and marginal status, this act was senseless, and even counterproductive, from the point of view of Nosair’s own cause. In choosing his victim, Nosair could well have used some help from an economist like Levitt. Will Levitt now offer to provide a public list of superior human targets, whose deaths would be far more useful to the Islamist cause? The logic of his argument suggests that the answer would be yes.

But beyond the logic or illogic of Levitt’s argument, there is something else. Thousands of Americans died on September 11. Although Levitt minimizes the dangers that lie ahead, blithely writing that his guess is that “the terrorism threat just isn’t that great,” the fact is that, like everyone else, he does not know what he does not know. It is entirely possible that the United States will be hit again, and hit harder than we were on September 11.

To Levitt, however, this solemn subject is not solemn at all. He writes about it in a glib and flippant tone, as in his summons to the public to come up with even more lethal scenarios by which al Qaeda might wreak death and destruction on the United States: “I’m sure many readers have far better ideas. I would love to hear them.”

One of the better ripostes to Levitt on the Times website came from a reader named Steve: “Sir, unable to determine if you are demonic, but your actions are demonic. Contemplate this name, Christine Lee Hanson.”

Christine Lee Hanson was a two-year old who perished on board United Airlines Flight 175 when it plowed into the World Trade Center on September 11.

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Anti-Anti-Anti-Missile Defense

As always in the realm of national security, we do not know what we do not know. But one thing we do know–perhaps not to a certainty, but to a high degree of probability–is that next year, or in the next few years at most, unless it is stopped by diplomacy or force, Iran will develop a nuclear weapon. We also know, or should know, that if we permit this catastrophe to happen, we will urgently need defensive weapons to protect ourselves and our allies.

But are programs to develop such weapons on track, or are they being held back by those who would prefer to keep us defenseless?

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As always in the realm of national security, we do not know what we do not know. But one thing we do know–perhaps not to a certainty, but to a high degree of probability–is that next year, or in the next few years at most, unless it is stopped by diplomacy or force, Iran will develop a nuclear weapon. We also know, or should know, that if we permit this catastrophe to happen, we will urgently need defensive weapons to protect ourselves and our allies.

But are programs to develop such weapons on track, or are they being held back by those who would prefer to keep us defenseless?

Much in the news recently, on account of Vladimir Putin’s harsh reaction to it, has been one European component of such a defense, involving a radar station in the Czech republic and interceptor missiles based in Poland.

But the Pentagon has also been developing an Airborne Laser. Carried aboard a Boeing 747, it would be primarily aimed at stopping shorter-range ballistic missiles that could strike allies in Europe or the Middle East, including Israel.

The actual development and testing of an Airborne Laser was first funded in 1996, and the system has made considerable progress in the decade since. Earlier this month, an aircraft equipped with a low-powered laser was able to simulate the operation of a chemical high-powered laser of the kind that is already quite workable on the ground. Here, according to airforce-technology.com, is how that high-power system would work:

The primary laser beam is generated by a megawatt Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) located at the rear of the fuselage, which lases at 1.315 micron wavelength. The high-power laser beam travels toward the front of the aircraft through a pipe. The pipe passes through a Station 1000 bulkhead / airlock, which separates the rear fuselage from the forward cabins. The high-power beam passes through the fine-beam control system mounted on a vibration isolated optical bench. Beam pointing is achieved with very fast, lightweight steering mirrors, which are tilted to follow the target missile.

When the laser beam hits the target missile, it will heat a spot on its fuel tank, causing catastrophic failure in the missile during its boost phase, leading it to fall back with a bang onto the country that launched it.

Of course, as with any major new weapons system, there are technical problems, uncertainties, and issues involving trade-offs and costs. But the fact remains that more than thirty countries have some 10,000 or more ballistic missiles in their arsenals. Some of them are hostile. Some of them are very hostile. Though Iran is the most significant menace, it is not the entire problem.

Existing plans call for a “lethality test” of the Airborne Laser in 2009–right around the corner–entailing the actual shoot-down of a live missile. This if successful, would then allow us to use the system almost immediately in a national emergency.

Which makes one wonder all the more why the now-Democratic-controlled Congress, according to the indispensable Aviation Week & Space Technology, wants to cut funding and delay this lethality test by two years. This delay, unsurprisingly, has not been discussed in the mainstream media at all. What is it all about?

Ever since Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative, widely mocked at the time by leading Democrats as a “Star Wars” fantasy, liberals have been reflexively opposed to missile defense. As the dangers have grown, many have moderated their rhetorical stance, and some have voted for experimental forays in this area. But a distinct lack of enthusiasm remains.

If the U.S. or one of its allies falls victim to a nuclear-missile attack that we are unable to avert, it will be much too late for finger-pointing at the people responsible for delaying–or killing–our defensive capabilities. It is better to do the finger-pointing now.

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