Commentary Magazine


Topic: laser

Evening Commentary

Secret recordings were released this week showing Nixon and Kissinger callously dismissing the plight of Soviet Jews. But Seth Lipsky argues that leaders should be judged by their actions — such as Nixon’s appointment of Jews to high-level posts in his administration and support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War — as opposed to their private prejudices: “Is it better to have a president who loves African Americans and Jews and disappoints them strategically? Or one who privately voices prejudice but defends their rights and supports them strategically?”

There was a time when Ehud Barak could have made this call. Bibi kindly points out that now is not that time.

Reports this week that 25 percent of Gitmo alums have already returned to the battlefield further highlight the necessity of keeping the detention center open: “Contrary to the Gitmo myth, innocent teenagers and wandering goat herders do not fill the base. Last May, an administration task force found that of the 240 detainees at Gitmo when Mr. Obama took office, almost all were leaders, fighters or organizers for al Qaeda, the Taliban or other jihadist groups. None was judged innocent,” write John Yoo and Robert Delahunty in the Wall Street Journal.

Mitch Daniels is known for his laser focus on the economic crisis, but values voters shouldn’t discount his solid track record on social issues, writes Mona Charen.

With Rahm Emanuel gone, Joe Biden will begin playing a much larger role in the Obama administration, reports the New York Times. (Could this translate into even more inside access for Bad Rachel?)

Even as the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing dies down, Republicans are still preparing to battle NPR over public funding next year, reports Politico.

Secret recordings were released this week showing Nixon and Kissinger callously dismissing the plight of Soviet Jews. But Seth Lipsky argues that leaders should be judged by their actions — such as Nixon’s appointment of Jews to high-level posts in his administration and support of Israel during the Yom Kippur War — as opposed to their private prejudices: “Is it better to have a president who loves African Americans and Jews and disappoints them strategically? Or one who privately voices prejudice but defends their rights and supports them strategically?”

There was a time when Ehud Barak could have made this call. Bibi kindly points out that now is not that time.

Reports this week that 25 percent of Gitmo alums have already returned to the battlefield further highlight the necessity of keeping the detention center open: “Contrary to the Gitmo myth, innocent teenagers and wandering goat herders do not fill the base. Last May, an administration task force found that of the 240 detainees at Gitmo when Mr. Obama took office, almost all were leaders, fighters or organizers for al Qaeda, the Taliban or other jihadist groups. None was judged innocent,” write John Yoo and Robert Delahunty in the Wall Street Journal.

Mitch Daniels is known for his laser focus on the economic crisis, but values voters shouldn’t discount his solid track record on social issues, writes Mona Charen.

With Rahm Emanuel gone, Joe Biden will begin playing a much larger role in the Obama administration, reports the New York Times. (Could this translate into even more inside access for Bad Rachel?)

Even as the controversy over Juan Williams’s firing dies down, Republicans are still preparing to battle NPR over public funding next year, reports Politico.

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Debating the Middle East Debacle

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?

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Saudi Arms Sale: Which War in View?

The sheer size of the proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia makes it worth critical reflection. The types of weapon systems in the Saudi shopping list are even more eye-catching. News outlets report that the sale is to be understood as a means of bolstering Saudi defenses and security confidence in the face of the threat from Iran. But the weapon systems in question don’t support that theory.

Other Persian Gulf nations like Bahrain and Kuwait have been loading up on missile-defense systems and air-defense fighters. The proposed Saudi sale, however, is weighted heavily toward strike aircraft (F-15s configured for ground attack) and anti-tank attack helicopters. The proposed sale includes 84 strike-configured F-15s along with the retrofit of the Saudis’ 72 existing F-15s, more than doubling the Royal Saudi Air Force’s (RSAF) inventory of medium-range strikers. Significantly, the purchase extends the range at which the RSAF can conduct ground strikes beyond the shorter, defense-oriented range of its British Tornado force.

The Saudis will also buy 70 Apache Longbow helicopters with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and 72 Black Hawk helicopters for combat transport. It’s not clear if any of these aircraft will supplant some of the 150 attack and multi-purpose helicopters the Saudis negotiated to buy from Russia a year ago. If all are delivered, the Saudis will have increased their heliborne ground combat capability by 500 percent.

The question is what they plan to do with all these aircraft. During the Saddam Hussein years, the threat of land attack against Saudi Arabia was obvious. Today, it’s not. The Saudis are buying for a major armed conflict on land, but nothing indicates that Iran presents a threat of that kind. Iran isn’t prepared militarily to invade the Arabian Peninsula, either by land or sea, nor is it making the effort to be. Iran is building up its navy, missile forces, and nuclear options; its regional “power projection” effort on land is accomplished through sponsoring terrorism. But the counterinsurgency warfare model (e.g., the U.S.’s in Iraq) is inapplicable in this case: population numbers and terrain inhibit the rise on the Arabian Peninsula of insurgencies with the profile of Hezbollah or the Taliban. The number of modern systems the Saudis propose to purchase outstrips such a requirement considerably.

They can’t be contemplating the invasion of Iran, even as a counter to an Iranian attack. Numbers and terrain are decisively arrayed against that as well. Riyadh is buying an unusually large number of weapons with which to project power and fight a land campaign at a greater range than ever before – but the weapons are a mismatch for the likely dimensions of a confrontation with Iran.

Perhaps the Saudis see a potential need to fight Iran on Iraqi or Kuwaiti territory in the future. It would certainly have to be a distant future, given the substantial U.S. military presence in those countries. This expeditionary concept would also be highly uncharacteristic in Saudi strategic thinking.

But Riyadh may be arming as a regional rival to Iran – not for the defense of its own territory but as the leader of an Arab coalition, formed to gain ascendancy over Iran as the power broker in the Levant. Western analysts tend to miss the fact that Iran’s moves against Israel constitute a plan to effectively occupy territory that the Arab nations consider theirs to fight for. The concerns on both sides are more than ethnic and historical: they involve competing eschatological ideas.

The resurgence of Turkey, erstwhile Ottoman ruler, only accelerates the sense of powerful regional rivals polishing up their designs on the Levant. The Saudis’ military shopping list doesn’t match their defensive requirements against Iran, but if the strategic driver is a race to Jerusalem, it contains exactly what they need. Congress should take a critical look at the numbers involved – and the U.S. should take one at our disjointed and increasingly passive approach to the region.

The sheer size of the proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia makes it worth critical reflection. The types of weapon systems in the Saudi shopping list are even more eye-catching. News outlets report that the sale is to be understood as a means of bolstering Saudi defenses and security confidence in the face of the threat from Iran. But the weapon systems in question don’t support that theory.

Other Persian Gulf nations like Bahrain and Kuwait have been loading up on missile-defense systems and air-defense fighters. The proposed Saudi sale, however, is weighted heavily toward strike aircraft (F-15s configured for ground attack) and anti-tank attack helicopters. The proposed sale includes 84 strike-configured F-15s along with the retrofit of the Saudis’ 72 existing F-15s, more than doubling the Royal Saudi Air Force’s (RSAF) inventory of medium-range strikers. Significantly, the purchase extends the range at which the RSAF can conduct ground strikes beyond the shorter, defense-oriented range of its British Tornado force.

The Saudis will also buy 70 Apache Longbow helicopters with laser-guided Hellfire missiles and 72 Black Hawk helicopters for combat transport. It’s not clear if any of these aircraft will supplant some of the 150 attack and multi-purpose helicopters the Saudis negotiated to buy from Russia a year ago. If all are delivered, the Saudis will have increased their heliborne ground combat capability by 500 percent.

The question is what they plan to do with all these aircraft. During the Saddam Hussein years, the threat of land attack against Saudi Arabia was obvious. Today, it’s not. The Saudis are buying for a major armed conflict on land, but nothing indicates that Iran presents a threat of that kind. Iran isn’t prepared militarily to invade the Arabian Peninsula, either by land or sea, nor is it making the effort to be. Iran is building up its navy, missile forces, and nuclear options; its regional “power projection” effort on land is accomplished through sponsoring terrorism. But the counterinsurgency warfare model (e.g., the U.S.’s in Iraq) is inapplicable in this case: population numbers and terrain inhibit the rise on the Arabian Peninsula of insurgencies with the profile of Hezbollah or the Taliban. The number of modern systems the Saudis propose to purchase outstrips such a requirement considerably.

They can’t be contemplating the invasion of Iran, even as a counter to an Iranian attack. Numbers and terrain are decisively arrayed against that as well. Riyadh is buying an unusually large number of weapons with which to project power and fight a land campaign at a greater range than ever before – but the weapons are a mismatch for the likely dimensions of a confrontation with Iran.

Perhaps the Saudis see a potential need to fight Iran on Iraqi or Kuwaiti territory in the future. It would certainly have to be a distant future, given the substantial U.S. military presence in those countries. This expeditionary concept would also be highly uncharacteristic in Saudi strategic thinking.

But Riyadh may be arming as a regional rival to Iran – not for the defense of its own territory but as the leader of an Arab coalition, formed to gain ascendancy over Iran as the power broker in the Levant. Western analysts tend to miss the fact that Iran’s moves against Israel constitute a plan to effectively occupy territory that the Arab nations consider theirs to fight for. The concerns on both sides are more than ethnic and historical: they involve competing eschatological ideas.

The resurgence of Turkey, erstwhile Ottoman ruler, only accelerates the sense of powerful regional rivals polishing up their designs on the Levant. The Saudis’ military shopping list doesn’t match their defensive requirements against Iran, but if the strategic driver is a race to Jerusalem, it contains exactly what they need. Congress should take a critical look at the numbers involved – and the U.S. should take one at our disjointed and increasingly passive approach to the region.

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What if They Got Away?

Eli Lake reports:

U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating. . .

Said one official: “It’s safe to say that Abdulmutallab is not the only bullet in the chamber for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Islamist terrorist group based in Yemen.

“Farouk took a month to get operational. Once he left [training in Yemen], it did not take very long,” the official said.

So in the five weeks of silence, did the other English-speaking terrorists go into hiding? Are the leads still good? We don’t know, but it is precisely this concern and the danger of leads gone cold that strike at the core of the Obami’s approach. They are concerned about extending constitutional principles to terrorists (and gaining convictions); they should have been focused like a laser on getting all the actionable data as soon as possible to prevent future attacks. Now it seems as though we are scrambling to catch up — and the Obami are trying to prepare us in the event we can’t catch up:

The data about the additional terrorist plots is thought to be one factor behind alarming congressional testimony two weeks ago from senior U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

Mr. Blair said he was “certain” that it was al-Qaeda’s priority to attempt an attack on the United States within three to six months.

The increased threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen was outlined in a majority staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made public last month. The report warned that U.S. criminals were migrating to Yemen for terrorist training.

A smart national security observer makes an additional point: “Enhanced interrogation is something also envisioned by Obama and it need not be torture. The HIG–high value interrogation group–was chartered for this kind of non torture/enhanced interrogation. It was not set up. So getting to him need not have meant waterboarding.” Conservatives would dispute whether waterboarding is torture, but the point is correct: even under the Obami’s own interrogation rules, it is hard to condone this missed opportunity.

So the question comes down to this: what if in the five weeks of the Christmas Day bomber’s Mirandized silence other terrorists got away? And if the unimaginable happens and one of these should strike, what then? Even the potential for such a calamity should convince all but the most hardened Obama sycophants that we are in danger now, greater danger than we would otherwise be, had the search for mass-murders-in-training begun weeks earlier.

There is no excuse for such malfeasance. Those officials who came up with this cockeyed scheme and have now put Americans in greater danger should be sacked. And the American people, once the full account comes out, may well conclude that this includes Obama. He is commander in chief after all.

Eli Lake reports:

U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating. . .

Said one official: “It’s safe to say that Abdulmutallab is not the only bullet in the chamber for al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” the Islamist terrorist group based in Yemen.

“Farouk took a month to get operational. Once he left [training in Yemen], it did not take very long,” the official said.

So in the five weeks of silence, did the other English-speaking terrorists go into hiding? Are the leads still good? We don’t know, but it is precisely this concern and the danger of leads gone cold that strike at the core of the Obami’s approach. They are concerned about extending constitutional principles to terrorists (and gaining convictions); they should have been focused like a laser on getting all the actionable data as soon as possible to prevent future attacks. Now it seems as though we are scrambling to catch up — and the Obami are trying to prepare us in the event we can’t catch up:

The data about the additional terrorist plots is thought to be one factor behind alarming congressional testimony two weeks ago from senior U.S. intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair.

Mr. Blair said he was “certain” that it was al-Qaeda’s priority to attempt an attack on the United States within three to six months.

The increased threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen was outlined in a majority staff report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made public last month. The report warned that U.S. criminals were migrating to Yemen for terrorist training.

A smart national security observer makes an additional point: “Enhanced interrogation is something also envisioned by Obama and it need not be torture. The HIG–high value interrogation group–was chartered for this kind of non torture/enhanced interrogation. It was not set up. So getting to him need not have meant waterboarding.” Conservatives would dispute whether waterboarding is torture, but the point is correct: even under the Obami’s own interrogation rules, it is hard to condone this missed opportunity.

So the question comes down to this: what if in the five weeks of the Christmas Day bomber’s Mirandized silence other terrorists got away? And if the unimaginable happens and one of these should strike, what then? Even the potential for such a calamity should convince all but the most hardened Obama sycophants that we are in danger now, greater danger than we would otherwise be, had the search for mass-murders-in-training begun weeks earlier.

There is no excuse for such malfeasance. Those officials who came up with this cockeyed scheme and have now put Americans in greater danger should be sacked. And the American people, once the full account comes out, may well conclude that this includes Obama. He is commander in chief after all.

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Smart Diplomacy — Watch Out!

Watch out when the Obami use the word smart — or even worse, smarter. It usually means something very silly is in the cards. And it denotes an air of condescension — as if others who came before them practiced dumb or dumber diplomacy and their critics are opposed to being smart. “Smarter diplomacy,” however, brought us such dumb ideas as downplaying human rights, engaging Iran for a year, bullying Israel, backing Hugo Chavez’s lackey in Honduras, and pulling the rug out from under our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic. But the Obami aren’t done being smart. Hillary Clinton tells us what’s in store on Iran sanctions:

”It is clear that there is a relatively small group of decision makers inside Iran,” she told reporters traveling with her on the first leg of a nine-day trip across the Pacific. ”They are in both political and commercial relationships, and if we can create a sanctions track that targets those who actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions. But all that is yet to be decided upon.” …

Clinton mentioned that the meeting, of representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France — plus Germany would meet at the end of the week in New York. She did not cite a specific day. ”They will be exploring the kind and degree of sanctions that we should be pursuing,” she said. She was not specific about those inside Iran who might be targeted with new international sanctions, but her allusion to Iranian leaders with political and commercial ties suggested that she was referring to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite group that is separate from the Iranian military and is charged with protecting the Islamic revolution that brought the clerics to power in 1979.

So with all this time, they haven’t quite decided what would be smart. But they’re positive they can focus like a laser on just the right bad guys, because bad guys rarely know how to set up middle men and third-party relations to evade detection. And even smarter yet, we don’t have any date in mind. Brilliant, huh?

Actually it’s appalling. And it suggests that the Obami were never serious about crippling sanctions to begin with. Apparently they were interested in stringing engagement along until no one could quite keep a straight face. Now it seems that the Obama administration has no interest in regime change and no interest in exacting meaningful sanctions that might alter the mullahs’ nuclear plans. But maybe we all aren’t smart enough to figure out how this is going to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Because it sure looks like the next declaration of “smart” diplomacy will be an admonition that we have to live with Iran in the club of nuclear powers.

Watch out when the Obami use the word smart — or even worse, smarter. It usually means something very silly is in the cards. And it denotes an air of condescension — as if others who came before them practiced dumb or dumber diplomacy and their critics are opposed to being smart. “Smarter diplomacy,” however, brought us such dumb ideas as downplaying human rights, engaging Iran for a year, bullying Israel, backing Hugo Chavez’s lackey in Honduras, and pulling the rug out from under our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic. But the Obami aren’t done being smart. Hillary Clinton tells us what’s in store on Iran sanctions:

”It is clear that there is a relatively small group of decision makers inside Iran,” she told reporters traveling with her on the first leg of a nine-day trip across the Pacific. ”They are in both political and commercial relationships, and if we can create a sanctions track that targets those who actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions. But all that is yet to be decided upon.” …

Clinton mentioned that the meeting, of representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France — plus Germany would meet at the end of the week in New York. She did not cite a specific day. ”They will be exploring the kind and degree of sanctions that we should be pursuing,” she said. She was not specific about those inside Iran who might be targeted with new international sanctions, but her allusion to Iranian leaders with political and commercial ties suggested that she was referring to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite group that is separate from the Iranian military and is charged with protecting the Islamic revolution that brought the clerics to power in 1979.

So with all this time, they haven’t quite decided what would be smart. But they’re positive they can focus like a laser on just the right bad guys, because bad guys rarely know how to set up middle men and third-party relations to evade detection. And even smarter yet, we don’t have any date in mind. Brilliant, huh?

Actually it’s appalling. And it suggests that the Obami were never serious about crippling sanctions to begin with. Apparently they were interested in stringing engagement along until no one could quite keep a straight face. Now it seems that the Obama administration has no interest in regime change and no interest in exacting meaningful sanctions that might alter the mullahs’ nuclear plans. But maybe we all aren’t smart enough to figure out how this is going to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Because it sure looks like the next declaration of “smart” diplomacy will be an admonition that we have to live with Iran in the club of nuclear powers.

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Abe Rosenthal Is Spinning in His Grave

The lead story on the New York Times homepage today: “As Economy Slows, So Do Laser Eye Surgeries.”

The lead story on the New York Times homepage today: “As Economy Slows, So Do Laser Eye Surgeries.”

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Battle For The Narrative

Barack Obama supporter Senator Jay Rockfeller comes out with this:

McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit.What happened when they [the missiles] get to the ground? He doesn’t know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues.

The comment is not only shocking but factually wrong to boot. (Later in the day Rockefeller was forced to apologize.) This follows the drum beat of “100 year” comments from Obama and the “warmonger” jibe from another supporter. If the Obama appeal in the primary was to a different kind of politics and to the public yearning for bipartisan civility, the campaign may have some message confusion going on. The storyline is supposed to be: Clinton is the mean, nasty prevaricator; he’s the nice, uplifting one. Got it?

Barack Obama supporter Senator Jay Rockfeller comes out with this:

McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit.What happened when they [the missiles] get to the ground? He doesn’t know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues.

The comment is not only shocking but factually wrong to boot. (Later in the day Rockefeller was forced to apologize.) This follows the drum beat of “100 year” comments from Obama and the “warmonger” jibe from another supporter. If the Obama appeal in the primary was to a different kind of politics and to the public yearning for bipartisan civility, the campaign may have some message confusion going on. The storyline is supposed to be: Clinton is the mean, nasty prevaricator; he’s the nice, uplifting one. Got it?

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Disarming Space

This morning the New York Times came out in favor of a treaty banning all weapons in space. “The United States, as the nation most dependent on satellites, should be working to ban all anti-satellite weapons,” the paper said. “That is the best way to protect America’s security and its credibility.”

The Russians and Chinese introduced a draft space treaty this Tuesday at a disarmament conference in Geneva, and the Times thought they did not go far enough toward the cause of bringing peace to the heavens. I generally am in favor of multilateral treaties to get rid of weapons, but I want to tell you that Moscow, Beijing, and New York’s paper of record are all wrong on this one.

Prohibiting space weapons sounds like a good idea, but promises to do so are utterly meaningless because they are virtually impossible to verify. There is one overriding reality: any object in space can be used as a space weapon if you can maneuver it to arrange a collision. The Russians and Chinese know this and are only trying to make us look bad because they know we will never accept their proposed deal. Moreover, they have no intention of implementing their idea either because they will never allow international inspectors to examine every satellite they launch and sit at every control panel they have. Unfortunately, it’s easier to conceal a space weapon than a nuclear warhead.

So this is all you have to know about a space treaty: If you want to ban all weapons in space, you will have to do away with every maneuverable object in space. And if you like the Times’s idea that a treaty should cover ground- and sea-based weapons too, then you will have to do away with every rocket, missile, and powerful laser. Unless you are willing to do all this, you are not serious about completely disarming the high ground of space.

The Chinese and Russians, of course, are not. The Times, unfortunately, is.

This morning the New York Times came out in favor of a treaty banning all weapons in space. “The United States, as the nation most dependent on satellites, should be working to ban all anti-satellite weapons,” the paper said. “That is the best way to protect America’s security and its credibility.”

The Russians and Chinese introduced a draft space treaty this Tuesday at a disarmament conference in Geneva, and the Times thought they did not go far enough toward the cause of bringing peace to the heavens. I generally am in favor of multilateral treaties to get rid of weapons, but I want to tell you that Moscow, Beijing, and New York’s paper of record are all wrong on this one.

Prohibiting space weapons sounds like a good idea, but promises to do so are utterly meaningless because they are virtually impossible to verify. There is one overriding reality: any object in space can be used as a space weapon if you can maneuver it to arrange a collision. The Russians and Chinese know this and are only trying to make us look bad because they know we will never accept their proposed deal. Moreover, they have no intention of implementing their idea either because they will never allow international inspectors to examine every satellite they launch and sit at every control panel they have. Unfortunately, it’s easier to conceal a space weapon than a nuclear warhead.

So this is all you have to know about a space treaty: If you want to ban all weapons in space, you will have to do away with every maneuverable object in space. And if you like the Times’s idea that a treaty should cover ground- and sea-based weapons too, then you will have to do away with every rocket, missile, and powerful laser. Unless you are willing to do all this, you are not serious about completely disarming the high ground of space.

The Chinese and Russians, of course, are not. The Times, unfortunately, is.

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Don’t Worry, North Korea Really Means Well

Today’s Washington Post carries good news about the Hermit Kingdom. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, and Jacqueline Shire, a former State Department official, tell us there’s no reason for us to worry about the lack of North Korean progress in meeting its obligations under the various agreements it has signed. Indeed, the “finger-wagging, told-you-so naysayers in and out of the Bush administration should take a deep breath.”

To begin with, they argue, North Korea’s full declaration detailing the scope of its nuclear program, due on December 31, and now 24 days late, is not really late at all: “After some tail-chasing, it emerged that North Korea had quietly shared an initial declaration with the United States in November.” The North Koreans there admitted came clean about their plutonium stockpile but they denied having “a uranium enrichment program.”

Albright and Shire acknowledge the “ample evidence that North Korea acquired components for a centrifuge-enrichment program” but they explain that few observers now believe that it actually managed to enrich any uranium. In any case, their efforts in this area are nothing to worry about: “The success or failure of this latest agreement with North Korea must not hinge on the uranium issue,” even if the full declaration was not really full at all.

Then there is North Korean cooperation with a covert Syrian nuclear program. This is “troubling,” Albright and Shire tell us, but “must also be kept in context.” What is the context? The necessity of keeping North Korea engaged in dialogue. In the face of Pyongyong’s provision of “sensitive or dual-use equipment to Syria,” the main imperative is “keeping the deal together.” This will help bring “North Korea into the fold, bit by bit, making it harder for it to slip back into the arena of illicit deals and keeping a bright light on its activities.”

As for the nuclear facility in Syria that Israel bombed in September after a North Korean shipment of some unknown sort arrived there, this also must be kept in context, and in any case “it is gone now and whatever has replaced it is almost certainly not a reactor.” Reports that North Korea provided plutonium to Syria “are baseless.” The evidence: “The transfer of such material for weapons would be a casus belli with dire consequences for both countries, and this surely is understood by both Kim Jong Il and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Albright and Shire complain that the advocates of the “the six-party process” have been “unfairly maligned.” Perhaps. But perhaps they are maligning themselves. In their op-ed, these advocates of the six-party process are adducing evidence that is not really evidence to explain away every North Korean transgression, large and small. Where they have no evidence, not even the tissue-paper-thin kind, they adapt a slightly different approach: they simply tell us to close our eyes to the North Korean violations in order to keep “a laser-like focus” on the talks.

Connecting the Dots has asked readers the same question before: What is the best word to describe such an approach to the North Korean nuclear problem?

Today’s Washington Post carries good news about the Hermit Kingdom. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, and Jacqueline Shire, a former State Department official, tell us there’s no reason for us to worry about the lack of North Korean progress in meeting its obligations under the various agreements it has signed. Indeed, the “finger-wagging, told-you-so naysayers in and out of the Bush administration should take a deep breath.”

To begin with, they argue, North Korea’s full declaration detailing the scope of its nuclear program, due on December 31, and now 24 days late, is not really late at all: “After some tail-chasing, it emerged that North Korea had quietly shared an initial declaration with the United States in November.” The North Koreans there admitted came clean about their plutonium stockpile but they denied having “a uranium enrichment program.”

Albright and Shire acknowledge the “ample evidence that North Korea acquired components for a centrifuge-enrichment program” but they explain that few observers now believe that it actually managed to enrich any uranium. In any case, their efforts in this area are nothing to worry about: “The success or failure of this latest agreement with North Korea must not hinge on the uranium issue,” even if the full declaration was not really full at all.

Then there is North Korean cooperation with a covert Syrian nuclear program. This is “troubling,” Albright and Shire tell us, but “must also be kept in context.” What is the context? The necessity of keeping North Korea engaged in dialogue. In the face of Pyongyong’s provision of “sensitive or dual-use equipment to Syria,” the main imperative is “keeping the deal together.” This will help bring “North Korea into the fold, bit by bit, making it harder for it to slip back into the arena of illicit deals and keeping a bright light on its activities.”

As for the nuclear facility in Syria that Israel bombed in September after a North Korean shipment of some unknown sort arrived there, this also must be kept in context, and in any case “it is gone now and whatever has replaced it is almost certainly not a reactor.” Reports that North Korea provided plutonium to Syria “are baseless.” The evidence: “The transfer of such material for weapons would be a casus belli with dire consequences for both countries, and this surely is understood by both Kim Jong Il and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

Albright and Shire complain that the advocates of the “the six-party process” have been “unfairly maligned.” Perhaps. But perhaps they are maligning themselves. In their op-ed, these advocates of the six-party process are adducing evidence that is not really evidence to explain away every North Korean transgression, large and small. Where they have no evidence, not even the tissue-paper-thin kind, they adapt a slightly different approach: they simply tell us to close our eyes to the North Korean violations in order to keep “a laser-like focus” on the talks.

Connecting the Dots has asked readers the same question before: What is the best word to describe such an approach to the North Korean nuclear problem?

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The Yom Kippur War—for Kids!

Video games loosely based on historic wars are nothing new. But the recently released “October War,” which invites children to “fight the Israeli Air Force starting from Swais [sic] til Barliv [sic] Line,” offers a new twist to the genre: it is available exclusively on the Anwar Sadat website’s “Kids Corner,” thus making it the first war-themed video game to be released on the official website of a former head-of-state. Indeed, dedicated gamers will be disappointed to find that the Harry S. Truman Library’s kids page lacks similarly inappropriate atomic bomb video games, while other typically dry former head-of-state websites won’t even arouse their curiosity.

Compared to far bloodier video games, “October War” might seem harmless. In the two-dimensional game, players command a tank across various swaths of the Sinai Desert, shooting at an assortment of Israeli bombers, helicopters, trucks, and warships. The game seems deliberately unrealistic: the Egyptian tank is able to arm itself with nuclear weapons and laser beams, while a Star-of-David-clad, King Kong-like gorilla confronts players at the end of the fifth level. (On the other hand, just like in 1973, the Egyptian tank is severely overpowered and destined to lose.) Were it not for the Israeli insignias prominently displayed on every enemy vehicle, “October War” would seem like a more colorful version of Space Invaders.

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Video games loosely based on historic wars are nothing new. But the recently released “October War,” which invites children to “fight the Israeli Air Force starting from Swais [sic] til Barliv [sic] Line,” offers a new twist to the genre: it is available exclusively on the Anwar Sadat website’s “Kids Corner,” thus making it the first war-themed video game to be released on the official website of a former head-of-state. Indeed, dedicated gamers will be disappointed to find that the Harry S. Truman Library’s kids page lacks similarly inappropriate atomic bomb video games, while other typically dry former head-of-state websites won’t even arouse their curiosity.

Compared to far bloodier video games, “October War” might seem harmless. In the two-dimensional game, players command a tank across various swaths of the Sinai Desert, shooting at an assortment of Israeli bombers, helicopters, trucks, and warships. The game seems deliberately unrealistic: the Egyptian tank is able to arm itself with nuclear weapons and laser beams, while a Star-of-David-clad, King Kong-like gorilla confronts players at the end of the fifth level. (On the other hand, just like in 1973, the Egyptian tank is severely overpowered and destined to lose.) Were it not for the Israeli insignias prominently displayed on every enemy vehicle, “October War” would seem like a more colorful version of Space Invaders.

But as “October War” represents an attempt to introduce children to the legacy of Anwar Sadat, it is a deeply pernicious game. By using the video game to emphasize Sadat’s surprise attack on Israel over his subsequent Nobel Prize-winning peace overture, the site’s webmasters are imbuing Egyptian children with disturbing nostalgia for Arab-Israeli war. Of course, “October War” merely reinforces the sentimentality for wars with Israel that Egyptian children would have been taught long before they got hooked on “October War.” Such sentiment can be found in textbooks and commemorative war murals plastered along Egyptian highways. Egyptian students enjoy October 6 holiday weekends and participate in school trips to the North Korean-funded October War Panorama (where visitors are told that Egypt defeated Israel).

This vitriol for Israel—even in a country enjoying nearly thirty years of peace with the Jewish State—is, pathetically, par for the course in the Arab world. One hopes, however, that young “October War” players will see the game—and persistent hatred for Israel more generally—for what it is: a distraction from their homework and, ultimately, a gross waste of time.

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Learning to Love Anthrax

Who was behind the anthrax attacks of 2001? The FBI has still not solved the case and, at this rate, it probably never will. But even if we never solve the mystery, we still were taught a terrifying lesson in the perils of biological terrorism. We really do need to worry about biowarfare (BW) agents like anthrax and botulinum falling into the hands of groups like al Qaeda.

Or do we? Perhaps not as much as we think. Last year, Christian Enemark, a national-security expert at the Australian National University in Sydney, prepared a comprehensive evaluation, “Biological Attacks and the Non-State actor: A Threat Assessment.” Focusing on the use of salmonella bacteria by the Rajneesh cult in Washington State in 1984, the Aum Shinrikyo attacks in Japan in the early 1990’s, and the U.S. anthrax attacks, it offers a complete balance sheet of the pros and cons of using BW agents for terrorist purposes.

On the pro side from the terrorist’s point of view, one of the attractive features of using biological weapons is the effect on the “worried well.” Even small attacks, like the 2001 anthrax episode, which sickened seventeen people and killed five, play upon “the visceral human fear of infection” so that even a modest attack generates a huge impact:

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Who was behind the anthrax attacks of 2001? The FBI has still not solved the case and, at this rate, it probably never will. But even if we never solve the mystery, we still were taught a terrifying lesson in the perils of biological terrorism. We really do need to worry about biowarfare (BW) agents like anthrax and botulinum falling into the hands of groups like al Qaeda.

Or do we? Perhaps not as much as we think. Last year, Christian Enemark, a national-security expert at the Australian National University in Sydney, prepared a comprehensive evaluation, “Biological Attacks and the Non-State actor: A Threat Assessment.” Focusing on the use of salmonella bacteria by the Rajneesh cult in Washington State in 1984, the Aum Shinrikyo attacks in Japan in the early 1990’s, and the U.S. anthrax attacks, it offers a complete balance sheet of the pros and cons of using BW agents for terrorist purposes.

On the pro side from the terrorist’s point of view, one of the attractive features of using biological weapons is the effect on the “worried well.” Even small attacks, like the 2001 anthrax episode, which sickened seventeen people and killed five, play upon “the visceral human fear of infection” so that even a modest attack generates a huge impact:

People are acutely sensitive to the prospect of infection, as distinct from other health risks in everyday life such as smoking and high fat consumption. In addition, we tend to distinguish between types of infection based on the historical reputation of a disease, whether it is characterized by grotesque symptoms and/or high fatality rates, and how common or familiar it is. Cities function normally in the midst of a community-wide epidemic of regular influenza. But an outbreak of plague, responsible for the 14th-century Black Death in Europe, would be likely to cause widespread panic. And the highly lethal Ebola virus, although not easily transmissible between humans, inspires particular dread because it causes massive hemorrhaging in its victims. New or unfamiliar diseases can also engender a level of fear out of proportion to the threat they pose, in morbidity and mortality terms, relative to other diseases. This is demonstrated by the panic reaction to SARS in 2003. In China alone, over 100,000 people die each year from tuberculosis, and there are projected to be 10 million Chinese with HIV/AIDS by 2010.Yet SARS, which ultimately resulted in fewer than 400 Chinese deaths, generated dread to an extent vastly disproportionate to the disease’s ability to kill.

On the other side of the ledger–and I have drawn only small snippets from Enemark’s comprehensive accounting–if biological weapons can easily cause terror, they cannot readily be employed by non-state actors to kill on a mass scale.

Enemark cites research showing that cult-like organizations, “may be the least suited to meet the complex requirements for a BW program.” The Aum Shinrikyo case, in particular, “illustrates that a paranoid, fantasy-prone, and sometimes violent atmosphere [inside a cult] is not conducive to the sound scientific judgments needed to produce and weaponize biological agents.”

Aum’s leaders reinforced the cult’s doctrines among members through the use of physical isolation, beatings, physical torture, and the administration of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD. As an organization, Aum was also fickle by nature and inclined to embark on numerous expensive, and sometimes bizarre, ventures rather than concentrate on perfecting a particular weapon. Its activities in pursuit of producing mass casualties included an expedition to acquire the Ebola virus during an outbreak in Zaire in October 1992. Aum also attempted to build a high-power laser weapon and sought a device for generating earthquakes.

Like Aum, al Qaeda is arguably “paranoid” and “fantasy-prone,” and its scientists–if it currently has any in its ranks–would definitely have to operate inside a violent environment. Even though al Qaeda has been able to plan some terrorism spectaculars, as on 9/11, its skills inside a bio-warfare lab might well lag.

Of course, states (like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) face far fewer obstacles in developing biological weapons, and Enemark examines the possibility that a Saddam-like regime would provide a toxic agent to a group like al Qaeda. But he concludes that “any state anxious for its own survival would be most unlikely to entrust a BW capability to ruthless outsiders.”

Is Enemark right? Are we worrying too much about BW when we should be worrying about other things? However one answers that question, this is a paper deserving close attention.

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The Star-Wars Fantasy

Back in June, the Democratic-controlled Congress was reported by Aviation Week to be planning to cut funding for the Airborne Laser (ABL), an essential element in American efforts to develop a shield against missile attacks. I wrote at the time in Anti- Anti- Anti- Missile Defense that “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.”

The good news now is that prudence has prevailed and the program continues fully funded.

The even better news is that on August 31 the Airborne Laser completed one of its most significant test to date. A Boeing-747 was rigged up with a low-power laser and used to detect, track, and then engage a target–in this case, another aircraft.

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Back in June, the Democratic-controlled Congress was reported by Aviation Week to be planning to cut funding for the Airborne Laser (ABL), an essential element in American efforts to develop a shield against missile attacks. I wrote at the time in Anti- Anti- Anti- Missile Defense that “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.”

The good news now is that prudence has prevailed and the program continues fully funded.

The even better news is that on August 31 the Airborne Laser completed one of its most significant test to date. A Boeing-747 was rigged up with a low-power laser and used to detect, track, and then engage a target–in this case, another aircraft.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency statement reports that this test included a number of history-making firsts, which include:

lasing an external airborne target using all three ABL lasers–the Tracking Illuminator Laser to track the airborne target; the Beacon Illuminator to compensate for atmospheric distortion, and the Surrogate High Energy Laser to engage the target, called “Big Crow,” a modified NC-135 aircraft loaded with test instrumentation and equipped with a missile-shaped profile painted on the side of the aircraft to provide an aimpoint for the three lasers. Cameras onboard Big Crow verified all laser beams hit their intended locations, and data analysis has verified ABL’s performance is adequate to enter the program’s next phase. This is the first time in history an airborne directed-energy platform has successfully engaged a non-cooperative airborne target at significant ranges.

Surprisingly–or should I say unsurprisingly–this major milestone was not reported by any newspaper in this country. Why not?

When Ronald Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983, it was widely ridiculed. The New York Times editorial page mocked it as “a pipe dream, a projection of fantasy into policy.” Having invested heavily in the proposition that SDI was nothing more than a “Star Wars” fantasy, is the Times, and the American media as a whole, reluctant now to take losses?

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America is From Mars, Iran is Not

How worried should we be about Iran and its raging president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Can developments on Mars or in other locations in outer-space help us ward off the danger? This is not a facetious question.

It is quite clear that the ayatollahs are determined to acquire nuclear weapons. In the face of this challenge, and assuming that diplomacy fails to stop them, we are likely to have two non-exclusive options: strike at their nuclear facilities or build defensive systems like the Airborne Laser.

But from time to time, it helps to step back from the intricate problems connected with either option and remind ourselves of the essential nature of this conflict. That essential nature is asymmetric, and here is where Mars and outer space come in.

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How worried should we be about Iran and its raging president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Can developments on Mars or in other locations in outer-space help us ward off the danger? This is not a facetious question.

It is quite clear that the ayatollahs are determined to acquire nuclear weapons. In the face of this challenge, and assuming that diplomacy fails to stop them, we are likely to have two non-exclusive options: strike at their nuclear facilities or build defensive systems like the Airborne Laser.

But from time to time, it helps to step back from the intricate problems connected with either option and remind ourselves of the essential nature of this conflict. That essential nature is asymmetric, and here is where Mars and outer space come in.

In January 2004, we landed two mobile vehicles on the surface of Mars to explore the planet. Both had ninety-day warranties, and were thought likely to fail shortly thereafter. Three years later, both rovers are going strong.

One of them–Opportunity–has driven more than six miles across a rocky plain to arrive early last month at the edge of the Victoria Crater, 2,500 feet wide and 230 feet deep. Opportunity is now beginning a dangerous descent into the crater to see what it can find. The other craft–Spirit–is on the opposite side of the planet, in an area dubbed Silica Valley (the soil is rich in that substance) grinding up rocks to see what is inside.

Closer to home, but still quite far away, is our Lacrosse-2. This reconnaissance satellite was launched in 1991 and has been wrapped in deep secrecy ever since. But the Russian military has now taken photographs of it, giving us a fuller picture of its capabilities. Aviation Week & Space Technology (AWST) tells us, among other things, that Lacrosse-2 has the capability to capture images of objects on earth, even at night and through clouds, that are as small as a chair.

Five Lacrosse satellites were launched, with three currently in orbit, making eight to nine overflights of Iran every day. AWST also tells us that they “are used to see potential terrorist vechicles operating in isolated areas of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. Such vehicles are sometimes attacked using data” from the satellites’ radar. In addition to Lacrosse-2, there are other even more advanced reconnaisance satellites up there as well.

American scientists and engineers are truly miracle makers. Of course, as we know, there are many security problems that technology cannot solve. But in thinking about the challenges posed by the ayatollahs, we should not forget that the United States is a superpower, in engineering and in many other realms.

If we are politically serious about stopping the ayatollahs from developing nuclear weapons, one way or another, we can clean their clock. We need to remind ourselves of this more often, and we need to remind the ayatollahs as well.

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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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What is MTHEL?

What should be done about the “the ignominy of Sderot”? That is Hillel Halkin’s term for the fact that a “reasonably prosperous city of some 20,000 inhabitants, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, [has been] reduced to a state of shell-shocked panic by scattershot Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip, its life paralyzed . . . while the country’s government and army seem powerless to do anything about it.”

How can the Qassam rockets be countered?
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What should be done about the “the ignominy of Sderot”? That is Hillel Halkin’s term for the fact that a “reasonably prosperous city of some 20,000 inhabitants, an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, [has been] reduced to a state of shell-shocked panic by scattershot Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip, its life paralyzed . . . while the country’s government and army seem powerless to do anything about it.”

How can the Qassam rockets be countered?

That is a vital question, requiring an urgent answer. Writing in the New York Sun, Halkin suggested three: none of them at all appealing.

The first is using air power to destroy rocket launchers as they are discovered and killing the organizers of such attacks with targeted assassinations. But Halkin is not convinced this will be successful: “the anarchy in Palestinian society has reached the point that not even the heads of Hamas or Islamic Jihad, were they to seek to stop the Qassam attacks because they feared for their own lives, would necessarily be able to do so.”

A second approach would be to reoccupy Gaza. But this has significant drawbacks: “the price Israel would pay for this in terms of military casualties would be high” and the last thing Israel needs “is once again to have to police this tiny, overpopulated strip of human misery that is an ideal place for urban guerrilla warfare.”

Another idea is for Israel to answer rocket attacks with artillery fire, leveling those portions of the Gaza strip from which the rocket-fire emanates. Halkin finds this solution to be “ugly,” but also the “best” of the three. It might, he suggests, “put an end to violence very quickly, once Palestinians in Gaza became as panicky as Israelis in Sderot and screamed at their leaders to put an end to it.”

Halkin might well be right in his ranking, but there is a fourth approach that should be considered—not just considered but made an urgent priority. It has implications not just for facing down the terrorists of Hamastan but also for pacifying the rocket-rich territory of Hizbollahland to the north and for contending with other dangers yet to emerge.

It is called MTHEL. Both the Pentagon and Israel were investing heavily in it up until 2005, when spending was abruptly cut. Although not much discussed, that decision seems to have been a far worse Israeli blunder than any committed in the course of last summer’s war. But what is MTHEL? It stands for Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser. To watch it in action, click on the video below.

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Striking Iran: Cakewalk or Slam-Dunk?

In 1981, Israel hit Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak. Eight F-16 fighter-bombers and eight F-15 fighters swooped in to carry out a precision strike that set back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions by more than a decade.

As the whole world knows, Israel now faces a similar challenge from Iran, which has an ambitious nuclear program of its own, and whose president has threatened to wipe Israel from the map. Unlike Osirak, however, the Iranian program is housed in multiple sites, with the most critical ones hardened against attack from the air, and all of them situated much further away from Israel than Osirak was.

A key question therefore is whether Israel possesses the military means to attack the Iranian facility on its own, or whether it would depend upon the far mightier United States to help it or do the job in its entirety. This question is being analyzed in defense ministries and intelligence agencies around the world. But the central issues have been laid out for the public in great detail by two MIT military analysts, Whitney Raas and Austin Long, in a paper that appears in the spring issue of International Security.

One of the problems entailed in such a raid would be dealing with the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Raas and Long call “one of the most difficult and important targets.” It is 23 meters underground and covered by multiple layers of concrete, such that “only a very robust strike could hope to destroy or at least render unusable” the centrifuges that it houses. Read More

In 1981, Israel hit Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak. Eight F-16 fighter-bombers and eight F-15 fighters swooped in to carry out a precision strike that set back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions by more than a decade.

As the whole world knows, Israel now faces a similar challenge from Iran, which has an ambitious nuclear program of its own, and whose president has threatened to wipe Israel from the map. Unlike Osirak, however, the Iranian program is housed in multiple sites, with the most critical ones hardened against attack from the air, and all of them situated much further away from Israel than Osirak was.

A key question therefore is whether Israel possesses the military means to attack the Iranian facility on its own, or whether it would depend upon the far mightier United States to help it or do the job in its entirety. This question is being analyzed in defense ministries and intelligence agencies around the world. But the central issues have been laid out for the public in great detail by two MIT military analysts, Whitney Raas and Austin Long, in a paper that appears in the spring issue of International Security.

One of the problems entailed in such a raid would be dealing with the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Raas and Long call “one of the most difficult and important targets.” It is 23 meters underground and covered by multiple layers of concrete, such that “only a very robust strike could hope to destroy or at least render unusable” the centrifuges that it houses.

To attack such a target, Israel would need to use penetrating warheads that are either “delay-fused bombs that have been modified to have a more ‘pointed’ shape and extensively structurally reinforced,” or even more advanced  warheads that “detonate in stages to increase penetration.” To destroy Natanz effectively, one technique, write Raas and Long, would be to use such weapons

targeted on the same aimpoint but separated slightly in release time to “burrow” into the target. Essentially one bomb hits the crater made by the previous weapon, a technique contemplated by the U.S. Air Force in the first Gulf war. This takes advantage of the extremely high accuracy of LGB’s [laser-guided bombs] in combination with a penetrating warhead. The IAF [Israeli Air Force] appears to have purchased penetrating LGB’s with this technique in mind. General Eitan Ben-Elyahu, former commander of the IAF and a participant in the Osirak strike, commented on this method of attacking hardened facilities in Jane’s Defense Weekly: “Even if one bomb would not suffice to penetrate, we could guide other bombs directly to the hole created by the previous ones and eventually destroy any target.”

Is Israel going to strike Iran? We do not yet know the answer, and there are many imponderables, including its calculation of whether the U.S. will strike first and its additional calculation of Tehran’s likely response.

Not only does Iran have long-range missiles but it also has Hizballah cells all over the world poised to carry out terror missions in the event of an attack. We ourselves are not exempt; according to the State Department’s 2006 annual report on terrorism, Hizballah has “established cells in Europe, Africa, South America, North America, and Asia.” If that were not enough, FBI Director Robert Mueller has confirmed that Hizballah “retains the capability to strike in the U.S.”

In response to Israeli attacks on its leaders in the early 1990’s, Hizballah, in separate incidents, bombed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29, and the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, killing 85. Of course, once Iran has nuclear weapons, we would not be worrying about the lives of hundreds but the lives of hundreds of thousands and even millions. The dangers posed to Israel and to the rest of the world would thus seem to be intolerable, except of course to some of the writers at Vanity Fair—see my Learning to Love the Islamic Bomb.

However one judges Israeli intentions vis-a-vis Iran, the Raas-Long paper is of the view that the Jewish state has the capability to go it alone. Their conviction is that despite all the complexities of the Iranian target set, the advent of precision-guided munitions means that such an assault today would appear “to be no more risky than the earlier attack on Osirak.”

Of course, it should be obvious, at the same time, that such a military operation would be neither a slam-dunk nor a cakewalk. Thus, one does not have to be a Vanity Fair writer, or to love the Islamic bomb, to see that Israel’s decision, whatever it is, will be one of the biggest rolls of the dice in the sixty-year history of the Jewish state.

 

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Boot and Hanson, Round Three: Just Enough to Stave Off Defeat

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

Dear Victor,

There is a sense of urgency within the armed forces—especially within the Army and the Marine Corps—but it’s hard to see it in the rest of the country or in Washington. Even the Pentagon seems to be, in many respects, on a peacetime footing.

While our soldiers and marines are fighting and dying in Iraq, it’s rather amazing to see that repair depots needed to fix badly damaged vehicles are still not operating on a 24/7 schedule, that armored vehicles (such as the Cougar, designed to deflect bomb blasts) are only now being ordered in substantial numbers, that promotion remains as slow as ever even for many of those soldiers who have proven their merit in combat, and that vital pieces of gear (ranging from PDA’s to identify insurgents to laser deflectors to warn civilian motorists in front of checkpoints) are still MIA. Not to mention the difficulties of setting up new Provincial Reconstruction Teams because of insufficient resources and undercommitment at the State Department and other civilian agencies.

Only a handful of politicians—notably President Bush and Senators McCain and Lieberman—seems to realize that we need to exert ourselves to the utmost to avoid a catastrophic defeat. Yet even Bush’s last-ditch effort—sending 21,000 more troops—bespeaks a lack of complete commitment.

If we’re truly on the verge of disaster—and I think we are—is a force of 150,000 troops (most of them rear-echelon support personnel) the most that a country of 300 million people can muster? Why not mobilize the reserves and the National Guard and raise new units of volunteers as was done during the Spanish-American War?

Based on the traditional formula laid out in the new Army-Marine counterinsurgency manual of one counterinsurgent per 40-50 civilians, we need at least 260,000 troops and police to pacify Baghdad and the Sunni Triangle (population: around 12 million). We’re not even close, unless you put more stock than I do in the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to carry on the fight. (They have some good units, but, given their leave policies and other shortcomings, the number of effective soldiers at any one time is probably well under 50,000.) I realize that more troops do not necessarily guarantee more success (as Vietnam proved), but a sound counterinsurgency strategy is manpower-intensive. The Boer War and other successful counterinsurgencies have shown that victory is more likely if more troops are sent and employed intelligently.

My fear is that, even at this late date, all we’re willing to do is just enough to stave off defeat for the time being—not enough to win. I hope I’m wrong.

Cordially,
MB

Boot IHanson IBoot IIHanson IIBoot IIIHanson IIIBoot IVHanson IV

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