Commentary Magazine


Topic: House Armed Services Committee

A Dwindling Band

I share the general joy on the right regarding the outcome of this election, but I am sorry to see go some of the Democrats who wound up losing — in particular, Reps. Ike Skelton of Missouri, John Spratt of South Carolina, and Gene Taylor of Mississippi.

All were longtime members of the House Armed Services Committee (Skelton is the outgoing chairman, Spratt the second-ranking Democrat, Taylor a subcommittee chairman). They are part of a dwindling band of centrist, strong-on-defense Democrats — a tradition stretching back to the days of Stuart Symington and Scoop Jackson. These days, alas, the Democrats are led by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The fact that so many Blue Dog Democrats have been knocked off is good news for the short term, but it will have parlous consequences at some point in the future when Democrats succeed in taking back the House. The Democratic leaders on defense and foreign policy issues in the future are likely to be considerably to the left of today’s crop.

I share the general joy on the right regarding the outcome of this election, but I am sorry to see go some of the Democrats who wound up losing — in particular, Reps. Ike Skelton of Missouri, John Spratt of South Carolina, and Gene Taylor of Mississippi.

All were longtime members of the House Armed Services Committee (Skelton is the outgoing chairman, Spratt the second-ranking Democrat, Taylor a subcommittee chairman). They are part of a dwindling band of centrist, strong-on-defense Democrats — a tradition stretching back to the days of Stuart Symington and Scoop Jackson. These days, alas, the Democrats are led by the likes of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The fact that so many Blue Dog Democrats have been knocked off is good news for the short term, but it will have parlous consequences at some point in the future when Democrats succeed in taking back the House. The Democratic leaders on defense and foreign policy issues in the future are likely to be considerably to the left of today’s crop.

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Debating Israel in Virginia

J Street’s worst nightmare: “Virginia House candidates battle over Israel in final debate.” It seems that candidates who actually are pro-Israel are making the case that their opponents’ records should be scrutinized. What’s wrong with that? Well, those being scrutinized don’t like explaining themselves. In fact, the candidates under attack sound bewildered, as if their J Street backers didn’t fully explain that the positions they were taking and the documents they were signing were, in no meaningful sense, “pro- Israel.”

The Hill reports on a debate sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater between Republican Scott Rigell, Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), and Independent Kenny Golden. With the race neck-and-neck, “many of the questions revolved around Washington’s relationship with Israel and the Muslim world.” Rigell discussed the Juan Williams firing (he was against), the Ground Zero mosque (against), and the Gaza 54 letter (against). The Gaza 54 letter made for an interesting discussion:

Some 300 people crammed into the Simon Family Jewish Community Center in Virginia Beach to hear the candidates’ final debate. The Jewish community, which leaders say numbers about 6,000 families, has some sway in Virginia’s 2nd district. And all three candidates sought to highlight their pro-Israel stances.

“They have a right, a true right and an unquestionable right, in my view, to occupy that land,” Rigell said, before criticizing a letter Nye signed onto that urged President Obama to seek an easing of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. “By sending that letter,” Rigell said, “it is creating doubt of where America stands with our ally, Israel.”

The letter was signed by 54 members of Congress, including Nye, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

“We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups,” the group wrote. “This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”

Rigell said he wouldn’t have signed that letter.

Nye disputed Rigell’s characterization of the letter’s intent and said he supports what Israel has to do to ensure its survival.

“Israel is an important ally; they need our support. We have to continue to work to ensure that they have and maintain a military so their neighbors cannot defeat them,” Nye said.

It’s not a “characterization” of the letter that is at issue. The letter itself takes Israel to task for “de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip” and calls for Israel to relax the blockade that was put in place to, as Nye would say, “ensure its survival.” So Nye was either flim-flamming his audience, or he really didn’t get what the letter was about — another J Street gambit to undermine the Israeli government and help mainstream the Hamas propaganda line.

No wonder J Street is in a tizzy. It’s not easy to explain to informed pro-Israel activists why you are taking money from Richard Goldstone’s handlers and why you’ve signed documents that advocate steps that would imperil the Jewish state.

J Street’s worst nightmare: “Virginia House candidates battle over Israel in final debate.” It seems that candidates who actually are pro-Israel are making the case that their opponents’ records should be scrutinized. What’s wrong with that? Well, those being scrutinized don’t like explaining themselves. In fact, the candidates under attack sound bewildered, as if their J Street backers didn’t fully explain that the positions they were taking and the documents they were signing were, in no meaningful sense, “pro- Israel.”

The Hill reports on a debate sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater between Republican Scott Rigell, Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), and Independent Kenny Golden. With the race neck-and-neck, “many of the questions revolved around Washington’s relationship with Israel and the Muslim world.” Rigell discussed the Juan Williams firing (he was against), the Ground Zero mosque (against), and the Gaza 54 letter (against). The Gaza 54 letter made for an interesting discussion:

Some 300 people crammed into the Simon Family Jewish Community Center in Virginia Beach to hear the candidates’ final debate. The Jewish community, which leaders say numbers about 6,000 families, has some sway in Virginia’s 2nd district. And all three candidates sought to highlight their pro-Israel stances.

“They have a right, a true right and an unquestionable right, in my view, to occupy that land,” Rigell said, before criticizing a letter Nye signed onto that urged President Obama to seek an easing of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. “By sending that letter,” Rigell said, “it is creating doubt of where America stands with our ally, Israel.”

The letter was signed by 54 members of Congress, including Nye, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

“We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups,” the group wrote. “This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip.”

Rigell said he wouldn’t have signed that letter.

Nye disputed Rigell’s characterization of the letter’s intent and said he supports what Israel has to do to ensure its survival.

“Israel is an important ally; they need our support. We have to continue to work to ensure that they have and maintain a military so their neighbors cannot defeat them,” Nye said.

It’s not a “characterization” of the letter that is at issue. The letter itself takes Israel to task for “de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip” and calls for Israel to relax the blockade that was put in place to, as Nye would say, “ensure its survival.” So Nye was either flim-flamming his audience, or he really didn’t get what the letter was about — another J Street gambit to undermine the Israeli government and help mainstream the Hamas propaganda line.

No wonder J Street is in a tizzy. It’s not easy to explain to informed pro-Israel activists why you are taking money from Richard Goldstone’s handlers and why you’ve signed documents that advocate steps that would imperil the Jewish state.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Uh oh: “Initial claims for unemployment benefits shot up by 25,000 to 471,000 last week. Economists had expected claims to drop to 440,000. ‘This is horrible,’ Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a note to clients. ‘The Labor Dept told the press that there are no special factors lifting claims, so we are left with the uncomfortable possibility that the trend in claims has not only stopped falling, but may be turning higher.’”

Yikes: “It’s true that Obama ‘encouraged’ Turkey and Brazil to hold discussions with Iran, a White House official tells The Cable, but he never indicated that a deal like the one announced this week would be sufficient to alleviate international concerns or stave off sanctions.”

Panic (for Democratic incumbents): “So far in 2010, an average of 23% of Americans have been satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. That is well below the 40% historical average Gallup has measured since 1979, when it began asking this question. The 2010 average is also the lowest Gallup has measured in a midterm election year, dating to 1982. … Democrats are clearly vulnerable to losing their majority this year.”

Nervous (Republicans) as Rand Paul gets snared on the race issue. “Several senior Senate Republicans seem to be taken aback by Rand Paul’s pronouncements on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The GOP’s Kentucky Senate nominee has suggested that he doesn’t believe the federal government has a role in preventing private businesses from discriminating against racial minorities, and he dodged Wednesday night when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked him whether he would have supported the landmark 1964 act.” Paul then went into damage-control mode. But if this keeps up, Mitch McConnell’s going to look very smart for backing the other guy.

Scary (especially with Iran about to join the nuclear club): “The delicate standoff on the Korean peninsula over charges that North Korea sank a South Korean ship — killing 46 sailors — stands as a compelling example of why rogue states want nuclear weapons. Nobody wants to mess with them.”

Grim (for Obama sycophants): “For the first time since he emerged as a national political figure six years ago, Obama finds himself on the wrong side of the change equation — the status quo side — with challengers in both parties running against him, his policies or his handpicked candidates.”

Defiance: “The House Armed Services Committee’s approval of a $726 billion defense authorization bill sets the stage for a clash with the Obama administration. A veto threat has loomed since defense authorizers started writing the legislation, and now that the bill is headed to the House floor, the question is whether President Barack Obama will follow through.”

Five is the current tally of the times Richard Blumenthal lied about serving in Vietnam. This one is as bad as you can get: “I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back to all kinds of disrespect. Whatever we think of war, we owe the men and women of the armed forces our unconditional support.” When we get to 10, will he resign?

Vile: I wonder if the moral preeners in Hollywood have read “[Roman] Polanski’s probation officer’s report — an extraordinarily revealing document which records in grim and forensic detail how the then 43-year-old went about seducing a girl 30 years his junior with the aid of a good deal of alcohol and a drug that would have rendered her almost incapable of resisting.”

Pathetic: Maureen Dowd writes an entire column on “When does a woman go from being single to unmarried?” Maureen, whatever it is, you’re past it. Which is why she whines: “For some reason, Kagan’s depressing narrative is even more depressing because it’s cast in the past tense, as if, at 50, Kagan has resigned herself to a cloistered, asexual existence ruling in cases that touch on the private lives of all Americans.”

Uh oh: “Initial claims for unemployment benefits shot up by 25,000 to 471,000 last week. Economists had expected claims to drop to 440,000. ‘This is horrible,’ Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, wrote in a note to clients. ‘The Labor Dept told the press that there are no special factors lifting claims, so we are left with the uncomfortable possibility that the trend in claims has not only stopped falling, but may be turning higher.’”

Yikes: “It’s true that Obama ‘encouraged’ Turkey and Brazil to hold discussions with Iran, a White House official tells The Cable, but he never indicated that a deal like the one announced this week would be sufficient to alleviate international concerns or stave off sanctions.”

Panic (for Democratic incumbents): “So far in 2010, an average of 23% of Americans have been satisfied with the way things are going in the United States. That is well below the 40% historical average Gallup has measured since 1979, when it began asking this question. The 2010 average is also the lowest Gallup has measured in a midterm election year, dating to 1982. … Democrats are clearly vulnerable to losing their majority this year.”

Nervous (Republicans) as Rand Paul gets snared on the race issue. “Several senior Senate Republicans seem to be taken aback by Rand Paul’s pronouncements on the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The GOP’s Kentucky Senate nominee has suggested that he doesn’t believe the federal government has a role in preventing private businesses from discriminating against racial minorities, and he dodged Wednesday night when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked him whether he would have supported the landmark 1964 act.” Paul then went into damage-control mode. But if this keeps up, Mitch McConnell’s going to look very smart for backing the other guy.

Scary (especially with Iran about to join the nuclear club): “The delicate standoff on the Korean peninsula over charges that North Korea sank a South Korean ship — killing 46 sailors — stands as a compelling example of why rogue states want nuclear weapons. Nobody wants to mess with them.”

Grim (for Obama sycophants): “For the first time since he emerged as a national political figure six years ago, Obama finds himself on the wrong side of the change equation — the status quo side — with challengers in both parties running against him, his policies or his handpicked candidates.”

Defiance: “The House Armed Services Committee’s approval of a $726 billion defense authorization bill sets the stage for a clash with the Obama administration. A veto threat has loomed since defense authorizers started writing the legislation, and now that the bill is headed to the House floor, the question is whether President Barack Obama will follow through.”

Five is the current tally of the times Richard Blumenthal lied about serving in Vietnam. This one is as bad as you can get: “I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back to all kinds of disrespect. Whatever we think of war, we owe the men and women of the armed forces our unconditional support.” When we get to 10, will he resign?

Vile: I wonder if the moral preeners in Hollywood have read “[Roman] Polanski’s probation officer’s report — an extraordinarily revealing document which records in grim and forensic detail how the then 43-year-old went about seducing a girl 30 years his junior with the aid of a good deal of alcohol and a drug that would have rendered her almost incapable of resisting.”

Pathetic: Maureen Dowd writes an entire column on “When does a woman go from being single to unmarried?” Maureen, whatever it is, you’re past it. Which is why she whines: “For some reason, Kagan’s depressing narrative is even more depressing because it’s cast in the past tense, as if, at 50, Kagan has resigned herself to a cloistered, asexual existence ruling in cases that touch on the private lives of all Americans.”

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Petraeus Is Not Anti-Israel

In the never-ending debate about General Petraeus and Israel, a few more data points are in — and they buttress what I have said earlier, that he is hardly the Israel-basher that some on the Left (and in the Arab world) celebrate and others on the Right denounce.

Point 1: at the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 13, Petraeus noted that some commentators had seized on one of the 11 factors he had mentioned to Congress as being important in shaping the Middle East — namely lack of progress “toward a comprehensive Middle East Peace.” He noted of his congressional statement: “It did not say anything about settlements. It didn’t say anything about putting our soldiers at risk or something like that. But it [lack of progress] does create an environment. It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate.” And then he added: “I think it’s fair to say you could have said, ‘General, nonetheless, Israel is — has been, is and will be an important strategic ally of the United States.’ And that is fair enough. And I think that that’s something that we could and should have included in that, just to make sure that there was no missed perception about what we were implying by this.”

Point 2: at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on April 15, Petraeus paid tribute to survivors: “The men and women who walked or were carried out of the death camps, and their descendents, have enriched our world immeasurably in the sciences and in the arts, in literature and in philanthropy. They have made extraordinary contributions in academia, in business, and in government. And, they have, of course, helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies. The survivors have, in short, made our country and our world better, leaving lasting achievements wherever they settled.” The line about building “a nation that stands as one of our great allies” was picked up in a news story by the Jerusalem Post. The newspaper might also have noted another section of his comments, which I intrepret as an oblique reference to Iran: “It is instructive, periodically, that we remember what can happen when demonic dictators are able to hijack a country. We should never forget that.”

Point 3: Petraeus sent a letter on March 30 to Congressman Buck McKeon, ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who had asked for further clarification of the general’s views of Israel. The letter (which has not previously been released) noted Centcom’s “highest priorities… the issues that keep us up at night” are not Israeli-Palestinian relations but rather “militant groups, hostile states, and [weapons of mass destruction," along with "the instability in South Asia, the activities and policies of the Iranian regime, the situation in Iraq and the growth of [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] in Yemen.” Petreaus said that the peace process is important but no more important than “other cross-cutting factors mentioned.” He noted, as well, that neither an internal study that Centcom had conducted of the issue “nor my posture statement assigns blame for this lack of progress [in peace talks], nor do they link the lack of progress with the lives of U.S. service members.”

In sum, while Petraeus may assign greater importance to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process than some analysts (including myself) would, he is hardly anti-Israel. He hasn’t even expressed an opinion on the future of Israeli settlements, much less endorsed President Obama’s push to ban all Israeli building activity in East Jerusalem. That’s not his role. As I’ve said before, those who are (rightly) unhappy with the turn in U.S. policy against Israel should address their concerns to the White House, not to Centcom, where General Petraeus is primarily focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran — not on Israel.

In the never-ending debate about General Petraeus and Israel, a few more data points are in — and they buttress what I have said earlier, that he is hardly the Israel-basher that some on the Left (and in the Arab world) celebrate and others on the Right denounce.

Point 1: at the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 13, Petraeus noted that some commentators had seized on one of the 11 factors he had mentioned to Congress as being important in shaping the Middle East — namely lack of progress “toward a comprehensive Middle East Peace.” He noted of his congressional statement: “It did not say anything about settlements. It didn’t say anything about putting our soldiers at risk or something like that. But it [lack of progress] does create an environment. It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate.” And then he added: “I think it’s fair to say you could have said, ‘General, nonetheless, Israel is — has been, is and will be an important strategic ally of the United States.’ And that is fair enough. And I think that that’s something that we could and should have included in that, just to make sure that there was no missed perception about what we were implying by this.”

Point 2: at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on April 15, Petraeus paid tribute to survivors: “The men and women who walked or were carried out of the death camps, and their descendents, have enriched our world immeasurably in the sciences and in the arts, in literature and in philanthropy. They have made extraordinary contributions in academia, in business, and in government. And, they have, of course, helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies. The survivors have, in short, made our country and our world better, leaving lasting achievements wherever they settled.” The line about building “a nation that stands as one of our great allies” was picked up in a news story by the Jerusalem Post. The newspaper might also have noted another section of his comments, which I intrepret as an oblique reference to Iran: “It is instructive, periodically, that we remember what can happen when demonic dictators are able to hijack a country. We should never forget that.”

Point 3: Petraeus sent a letter on March 30 to Congressman Buck McKeon, ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who had asked for further clarification of the general’s views of Israel. The letter (which has not previously been released) noted Centcom’s “highest priorities… the issues that keep us up at night” are not Israeli-Palestinian relations but rather “militant groups, hostile states, and [weapons of mass destruction," along with "the instability in South Asia, the activities and policies of the Iranian regime, the situation in Iraq and the growth of [al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] in Yemen.” Petreaus said that the peace process is important but no more important than “other cross-cutting factors mentioned.” He noted, as well, that neither an internal study that Centcom had conducted of the issue “nor my posture statement assigns blame for this lack of progress [in peace talks], nor do they link the lack of progress with the lives of U.S. service members.”

In sum, while Petraeus may assign greater importance to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process than some analysts (including myself) would, he is hardly anti-Israel. He hasn’t even expressed an opinion on the future of Israeli settlements, much less endorsed President Obama’s push to ban all Israeli building activity in East Jerusalem. That’s not his role. As I’ve said before, those who are (rightly) unhappy with the turn in U.S. policy against Israel should address their concerns to the White House, not to Centcom, where General Petraeus is primarily focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran — not on Israel.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Obama drops below 50% approval in Gallup.

The cap-and-trade bill is so bad even John McCain opposes it. “McCain refers to the bill as ‘cap and tax,’ calls the climate legislation that passed the House in June ‘a 1,400-page monstrosity’ and dismisses a cap-and-trade proposal included in the White House budget as ‘a government slush fund.’”

A Democrat breaks with the White House on trying KSM in civilian court: “The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee expressed opposition today to Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to give civilian trials to the 9/11 plotters. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) penned a letter to Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggesting military trials would be a more appropriate venue for the accused terrorists. ”

Another slighted democratic ally: “Days before India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to be welcomed in the White House for his first state visit with President Obama, two perceived missteps by the Obama administration have concerned Indian officials that New Delhi suddenly has been relegated to the second tier of U.S.-Asian relations.” When is it that we start “restoring” our standing in the world?

Sen. Jon Kyl wants answers from the Justice Department regarding the NIAC.

Trouble in the “permanent majority“: “The Democratic Party’s broad ruling coalition is starting to fracture as lawmakers come under increasing pressure from the left to respond to voter anger over joblessness and Wall Street bailouts. Tensions boiled over this week, with an angry party caucus meeting Monday in the House, and black lawmakers Thursday threatening to block legislation in protest of President Barack Obama’s economic policies.  . . The squabbling is turning up pressure on the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress to respond, a challenge when their focus is on passing a health-care overhaul.” What a difference a year of one-party Democratic liberal rule makes.

Democrats insist that 2010 won’t be another 1994. However, “danger could lurk if turnout is low, factors that hurt Dem GOV candidates in NJ and VA this year.” In other words, if things keep going the way they have been, a lot of Democrats will be in trouble.

She must not have gotten the new script. This week we are being supportive of the Afghan government: “Calling Afghan President Hamid Karzai an ‘unworthy partner,’ a key Democratic leader warned Friday that Congress cannot fund an expanded military mission without a reliable ally in Kabul. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said moreover she did not think there was political support for sending more US troops to Afghanistan, as President Barack Obama is contemplating.”

The Obama team may not be able to give Big Labor card check but they haven’t run out of goodies: “The National Mediation Board, which oversees labor relations in the air and rail industry, this month moved to overturn 75 years of labor policy. The board plans to stack the deck for organized labor in union elections. Under a proposed rule, unions would no longer have to get the approval of a majority of airline workers to achieve certification. Not even close. Instead, a union could win just by getting a majority of the employees who vote. Thus, if only 1,000 of 10,000 flight attendants vote in a union election, and 501 vote for certification, the other 9,499 become unionized.”

Obama drops below 50% approval in Gallup.

The cap-and-trade bill is so bad even John McCain opposes it. “McCain refers to the bill as ‘cap and tax,’ calls the climate legislation that passed the House in June ‘a 1,400-page monstrosity’ and dismisses a cap-and-trade proposal included in the White House budget as ‘a government slush fund.’”

A Democrat breaks with the White House on trying KSM in civilian court: “The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee expressed opposition today to Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to give civilian trials to the 9/11 plotters. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) penned a letter to Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggesting military trials would be a more appropriate venue for the accused terrorists. ”

Another slighted democratic ally: “Days before India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is to be welcomed in the White House for his first state visit with President Obama, two perceived missteps by the Obama administration have concerned Indian officials that New Delhi suddenly has been relegated to the second tier of U.S.-Asian relations.” When is it that we start “restoring” our standing in the world?

Sen. Jon Kyl wants answers from the Justice Department regarding the NIAC.

Trouble in the “permanent majority“: “The Democratic Party’s broad ruling coalition is starting to fracture as lawmakers come under increasing pressure from the left to respond to voter anger over joblessness and Wall Street bailouts. Tensions boiled over this week, with an angry party caucus meeting Monday in the House, and black lawmakers Thursday threatening to block legislation in protest of President Barack Obama’s economic policies.  . . The squabbling is turning up pressure on the White House and Democratic leaders in Congress to respond, a challenge when their focus is on passing a health-care overhaul.” What a difference a year of one-party Democratic liberal rule makes.

Democrats insist that 2010 won’t be another 1994. However, “danger could lurk if turnout is low, factors that hurt Dem GOV candidates in NJ and VA this year.” In other words, if things keep going the way they have been, a lot of Democrats will be in trouble.

She must not have gotten the new script. This week we are being supportive of the Afghan government: “Calling Afghan President Hamid Karzai an ‘unworthy partner,’ a key Democratic leader warned Friday that Congress cannot fund an expanded military mission without a reliable ally in Kabul. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said moreover she did not think there was political support for sending more US troops to Afghanistan, as President Barack Obama is contemplating.”

The Obama team may not be able to give Big Labor card check but they haven’t run out of goodies: “The National Mediation Board, which oversees labor relations in the air and rail industry, this month moved to overturn 75 years of labor policy. The board plans to stack the deck for organized labor in union elections. Under a proposed rule, unions would no longer have to get the approval of a majority of airline workers to achieve certification. Not even close. Instead, a union could win just by getting a majority of the employees who vote. Thus, if only 1,000 of 10,000 flight attendants vote in a union election, and 501 vote for certification, the other 9,499 become unionized.”

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Can We Leave Yet?

It sounds like a joke: Obama has agonized for months already on his Afghanistan war strategy and has yet to make a decision, so he skipped to the exit strategy. No, really:

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have turned the focus of Afghan war planning toward an exit strategy, publicly declaring that the U.S. and its allies can’t send additional troops without a plan for getting them out.

The shift has unnerved some U.S. and foreign officials, who say that planning a pullout now — with or without a specific timetable — encourages the Taliban to wait out foreign forces and exacerbates fears in the region that the U.S. isn’t fully committed to their security.

“It’s not a good idea,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (D., Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Not a good idea at all. This simply reinforces the image of an irresolute president who’d rather not do what it takes to win a war that he once declared to be critical. As Skelton explains: “When the area has been stabilized … then it’s time to go home. But to set up a timetable for people in that neck of the woods, they’ll just wait us out.” But there’s no firm deadline for withdrawal, the Obami hastened to add. Well, that’s a good thing, perhaps one lesson learned from their Iraq posturing. But Obama’s image still remains: can’t manage to commit and can’t wait to get out. Not good in a potential spouse, horrid in a commander in chief.

It sounds like a joke: Obama has agonized for months already on his Afghanistan war strategy and has yet to make a decision, so he skipped to the exit strategy. No, really:

President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have turned the focus of Afghan war planning toward an exit strategy, publicly declaring that the U.S. and its allies can’t send additional troops without a plan for getting them out.

The shift has unnerved some U.S. and foreign officials, who say that planning a pullout now — with or without a specific timetable — encourages the Taliban to wait out foreign forces and exacerbates fears in the region that the U.S. isn’t fully committed to their security.

“It’s not a good idea,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (D., Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Not a good idea at all. This simply reinforces the image of an irresolute president who’d rather not do what it takes to win a war that he once declared to be critical. As Skelton explains: “When the area has been stabilized … then it’s time to go home. But to set up a timetable for people in that neck of the woods, they’ll just wait us out.” But there’s no firm deadline for withdrawal, the Obami hastened to add. Well, that’s a good thing, perhaps one lesson learned from their Iraq posturing. But Obama’s image still remains: can’t manage to commit and can’t wait to get out. Not good in a potential spouse, horrid in a commander in chief.

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Buchanan’s Iran Pretzel

Today in World Net Daily, Pat Buchanan ties himself into a knot about the prospects of a war with Iran. He begins, “The neocons may yet get their war on Iran,” and then runs through the signs of impending military action:

Iran, Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee, has “fueled the recent violence in a particularly damaging way through its lethal support of the special groups.”

These “special groups” are “funded, trained, armed and directed by Iran’s Quds Force with help from Lebanese Hezbollah. It was these groups that launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraq’s seat of government (the Green Zone) … causing loss of innocent life and fear in the capital.”

Is the Iranian government aware of this – and behind it?

“President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders” promised to end their “support for the special groups,” said the general, but the “nefarious activities of the Quds force have continued.”

Are Iranians then murdering Americans, asked Joe Lieberman:

“Is it fair to say that the Iranian-backed special groups in Iraq are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians?”

“It certainly is. . . . That is correct,” said Petraeus.

The following day, Petraeus told the House Armed Services Committee, “Unchecked, the ‘special groups’ pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.”
Translation: The United States is now fighting the proxies of Iran for the future of Iraq.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is a convincing case that Iran has already started a war with the U.S. Next, Buchanan takes some shots at the Iraq War and declares “Iran has nothing to gain by war.” He concludes:

No, it is not Iran that wants a war with the United States. It is the United States that has reasons to want a short, sharp war with Iran.

So, in Buchanan’s vision, the ill-conceived Iraq War has enabled the Iranians to engage in an undeclared war with the U.S. But the Iranians also, somehow, don’t want war with us. He may be right about the increasing likelihood of U.S. military action against Iran: the case against it has never looked so topsy-turvy.

Today in World Net Daily, Pat Buchanan ties himself into a knot about the prospects of a war with Iran. He begins, “The neocons may yet get their war on Iran,” and then runs through the signs of impending military action:

Iran, Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee, has “fueled the recent violence in a particularly damaging way through its lethal support of the special groups.”

These “special groups” are “funded, trained, armed and directed by Iran’s Quds Force with help from Lebanese Hezbollah. It was these groups that launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraq’s seat of government (the Green Zone) … causing loss of innocent life and fear in the capital.”

Is the Iranian government aware of this – and behind it?

“President Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders” promised to end their “support for the special groups,” said the general, but the “nefarious activities of the Quds force have continued.”

Are Iranians then murdering Americans, asked Joe Lieberman:

“Is it fair to say that the Iranian-backed special groups in Iraq are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians?”

“It certainly is. . . . That is correct,” said Petraeus.

The following day, Petraeus told the House Armed Services Committee, “Unchecked, the ‘special groups’ pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.”
Translation: The United States is now fighting the proxies of Iran for the future of Iraq.

I don’t know about you, but I think this is a convincing case that Iran has already started a war with the U.S. Next, Buchanan takes some shots at the Iraq War and declares “Iran has nothing to gain by war.” He concludes:

No, it is not Iran that wants a war with the United States. It is the United States that has reasons to want a short, sharp war with Iran.

So, in Buchanan’s vision, the ill-conceived Iraq War has enabled the Iranians to engage in an undeclared war with the U.S. But the Iranians also, somehow, don’t want war with us. He may be right about the increasing likelihood of U.S. military action against Iran: the case against it has never looked so topsy-turvy.

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Bring Back the OSS?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take – risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?

We’ve frequently criticized the performance of the intelligence community in this space. Criticism is easy, especially when things as bad they are. But criticism of something so vital to our security can only take one so far. At some point, one has to turn and look for solutions. That’s where I run into trouble.

When thinking about institutions so complicated, so secretive, so self-protective, so entangled with Congress, so impervious to genuine reform, it becomes difficult to conceive of a plan that would be radical enough and also politically feasible.

Presumably, one approach would be build some new and highly functional institutions from scratch to accomplish narrowly tailored purposes — like fighting terrorists.

My friend Max Boot has been giving the matter some serious thought and that is the direction he has proposed.  In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, he presented the bold idea of resurrecting the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)  “that was created in 1942 to gather and analyze intelligence as well as to conduct low-intensity warfare behind enemy lines in occupied Europe and Asia.”

OSS was disbanded after World War II; both the Green Berets and the CIA trace their lineage to this august ancestor. My proposal is to re-create OSS by bringing together under one roof not only Army Special Forces, civil-affairs, and psy-ops but also the CIA’s paramilitary Special Activities Division, which has always been a bit of a bureaucratic orphan at Langley (and which is staffed largely by Special Operations veterans). This could be a joint civil-military agency under the combined oversight of the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, like the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency. It would bring together in one place all of the key skill sets needed to wage the softer side of the war on terror. Like SOCOM [U.S. Special Operations Command], it would have access to military personnel and assets; but like the CIA’s Special Activities Division, its operations would contain a higher degree of “covertness,” flexibility, and “deniability” than those carried out by the uniformed military.

Max is not only a super-smart guy, he’s also an influential one: lately, he’s been whispering into the ear of one of the candidates for the presidency of the United States.

This if from a speech by that candidate:

I would also set up a new civil-military agency patterned after the Office of Strategic Services in World War II. A modern-day OSS could draw together unconventional warfare, civil-affairs, paramilitary and psychological-warfare specialists from the military together with covert-action operators from our intelligence agencies and experts in anthropology, advertising, foreign cultures, and numerous other disciplines from inside and outside government. In the spirit of the original OSS, this would be a small, nimble, can-do organization that would fight terrorist subversion across the world and in cyberspace. It could take risks that our bureaucracies today are afraid to take – risks such as infiltrating agents who lack diplomatic cover into terrorist organizations. It could even lead in the front-line efforts to rebuild failed states. A cadre of such undercover operatives would allow us to gain the intelligence on terrorist activities that we don’t get today from our high-tech surveillance systems and from a CIA clandestine service that works almost entirely out of our embassies abroad.

Does this sound familiar?

The question of the day is: which candidate has embraced Max Boot’s proposal: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or John McCain?

The second question of the day: will meaningful intelligence reform ever come about or will it take a second September 11 to get rid of the clowns?

Read Less

Time to Short China?

In China in Revolt in the December COMMENTARY, Gordon Chang took note of the turbulent nature of Chinese society. Three decades of reform have transformed a regimented totalitarian society into a dynamic hybrid: free and unfree, assertive and repressed, at once.

As these antimonies suggest, China is not a society in a stable equilibrium. What is more, its social, political, and economic system is under sustained pressure from many directions. One of the least noted but most significant sources of future trouble is the changing composition of the Chinese population.

Read More

In China in Revolt in the December COMMENTARY, Gordon Chang took note of the turbulent nature of Chinese society. Three decades of reform have transformed a regimented totalitarian society into a dynamic hybrid: free and unfree, assertive and repressed, at once.

As these antimonies suggest, China is not a society in a stable equilibrium. What is more, its social, political, and economic system is under sustained pressure from many directions. One of the least noted but most significant sources of future trouble is the changing composition of the Chinese population.

As of this month, China is estimated by the CIA to be inhabited by 1,321,851,888 people. The CIA’s precision here can certainly be questioned—indeed, it is preposterous—but what is not at all in doubt is that these 1,321,851,888 people, like the rest of us, are getting older every day. But unlike the rest of us—or at least those of us here in the United States—they are not being replenished.

Thanks in large measure to China’s one-child policy, the Chinese population growth rate has fallen to a low of .606 percent annually. (The U.S. rate, by contrast, is .95 percent). While the total Chinese population will continue to expand, in about fifteen years, unless some unforeseen factor intervenes, it will begin to contract. And as it contracts, it will also begin to age. In fact, according to the CIA, China will come to have ”one of the most rapidly aging populations in the world.”

What are the implications of that? Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on July 11, Thomas Fingar of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, notes that with “a couple of generations of one-child families, no social-security safety net, a shrinking pool to support an ever-larger group without the normal family—[the] one-child family [policy] means there aren’t aunts and uncles and cousins and others that will be part of the support system.” All this will serve to inject “at least the potential for fragility to the social system.”

That may well be an understatement. Writing in Policy Review, the demographer Nicholas Eberstadt calls the problem a “triple bind”:

Without a broad-coverage national pension system, and with only limited filial resources to fall back on, paid work will of necessity loom large as an option for economic security for many older Chinese. But employment in China, today and tomorrow, will be more physically punishing than in OECD countries, and China’s older cohorts are simply less likely to be up to the task. The aggregation of hundreds of millions of individual experiences with this triple bind over the coming generation will be a set of economic, social, and political constraints on Chinese development—and power augmentation—that have not as yet been fully appreciated in Beijing, much less overseas.

Is this good news for the rest of the world, or bad? The composite index of the Shanghai stock exchange was up 130 percent last year and is rising still. One question is: should one sell Chinese stocks short now, or wait until the population implosion begins in about fifteen years?

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