Commentary Magazine


Topic: Leon Panetta

Sequester Isn’t a GOP Achievement

Boy do I miss Leon Panetta. That’s no knock on his successor as defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, who has done a better than expected job. At least he hasn’t done anything that has triggered much controversy. But Panetta has a well-justified reputation for plain speaking, and his voice is now worth listening to, more than ever, because he is one of the few people in Washington still reminding us of the continuing costs of budget sequestration.

The rest of the political class has moved on: the subjects du jour are the aftermath of the government shutdown and yet another looming fight over yet another deadline to raise the debt ceiling yet again. But sequestration–which amounts to $1 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade, half of them hitting the armed forces–remains in effect and the negative consequences continue to pile up.

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Boy do I miss Leon Panetta. That’s no knock on his successor as defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, who has done a better than expected job. At least he hasn’t done anything that has triggered much controversy. But Panetta has a well-justified reputation for plain speaking, and his voice is now worth listening to, more than ever, because he is one of the few people in Washington still reminding us of the continuing costs of budget sequestration.

The rest of the political class has moved on: the subjects du jour are the aftermath of the government shutdown and yet another looming fight over yet another deadline to raise the debt ceiling yet again. But sequestration–which amounts to $1 trillion in budget cuts over the next decade, half of them hitting the armed forces–remains in effect and the negative consequences continue to pile up.

On “Meet the Press” last Sunday; Panetta reminded viewers “our readiness has been badly damaged.” Earlier, in the Washington Post, he elaborated on the impact:

Fewer than half of the Air Force’s frontline fighters are combat-ready; 12 combat squadrons have been grounded; key Combat Training Center rotations have been canceled; multiple ship deployments, including the USS Truman carrier strike group, have been canceled; and furloughs for 650,000 civilian employees continue, resulting in a 20 percent pay reduction during every furlough week. These and other effects of sequestration are weakening the United States’ ability to respond effectively to a major crisis in the world beyond the war zone in Afghanistan.

Panetta concludes correctly: “To have this happen under any circumstance is irresponsible. To have it happen as the result of a self-inflicted wound is outrageous.” He notes that every member of the Congressional leadership he has talked to, whether Republican or Democrat, agrees with his analysis yet they tell him to give up the fight because “Congress is resigned to failure.”

But while the failure may be Congress’s–and the president’s–the consequences will be borne by the entire country. If the armed forces are not ready for future emergencies, the impact on America’s standing will be dire–and, even worse, good men and women in uniform will die needlessly. That is the direct consequences of Washington’s shameful failure to turn off sequestration. That some on the right are now touting sequestration as a major Republican Party achievement shows how far the GOP has lost its way.

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Gates and Panetta Take Obama to Task

It is rare enough for current or former White House aides to publicly criticize a president still in office, as David Stockman and George Stephanopoulos notoriously did in the 1980s and 1990s respectively. It is virtually unheard of for senior cabinet members to do so. Which it makes it all the more shocking and telling that two of President Obama’s former secretaries of defense–both models of discretion–have gone public with criticism of his handling of Syria.

Speaking at a forum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta did not agree on the wisdom of air strikes on Syria–Gates was against them, Panetta for them. (Gates was for arming the moderate opposition and for seeking war crimes indictments against Assad and his goons–something that Obama has failed to do.) But both excoriated the president for asking Congress for authorization for air strikes.

According to the New York Times, Panetta had this to say about recent events:

When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his word. Once the president came to that conclusion, then he should have directed limited action, going after Assad, to make very clear to the world that when we draw a line and we give our word, then we back it up.

As for Gates, the Times quotes him as warning of the dangers of a “no” vote in Congress:

“It would weaken our country. It would weaken us in the eyes of our allies, as well as our adversaries around the world.”

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It is rare enough for current or former White House aides to publicly criticize a president still in office, as David Stockman and George Stephanopoulos notoriously did in the 1980s and 1990s respectively. It is virtually unheard of for senior cabinet members to do so. Which it makes it all the more shocking and telling that two of President Obama’s former secretaries of defense–both models of discretion–have gone public with criticism of his handling of Syria.

Speaking at a forum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta did not agree on the wisdom of air strikes on Syria–Gates was against them, Panetta for them. (Gates was for arming the moderate opposition and for seeking war crimes indictments against Assad and his goons–something that Obama has failed to do.) But both excoriated the president for asking Congress for authorization for air strikes.

According to the New York Times, Panetta had this to say about recent events:

When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his word. Once the president came to that conclusion, then he should have directed limited action, going after Assad, to make very clear to the world that when we draw a line and we give our word, then we back it up.

As for Gates, the Times quotes him as warning of the dangers of a “no” vote in Congress:

“It would weaken our country. It would weaken us in the eyes of our allies, as well as our adversaries around the world.”

Yet another former Obama appointee, acting CIA Director Michael Morrell, joined in the chorus of criticism in a separate interview expressing skepticism about whether the deal worked out with Russia will be adhered to by Syria: “I think this is the Syrians playing for time,” Mr. Morrell told Foreign Policy magazine. “I do not believe that they would seriously consider giving up their chemical weapons.”

Both Panetta and Gates agreed on another point–that Obama’s irresolution in Syria is sending a dangerous signal to Tehran. “Iran is paying very close attention to what we’re doing,” Mr. Panetta is quoted as saying. “There’s no question in my mind they’re looking at the situation, and what they are seeing right now is an element of weakness.”

Coming from partisan Republicans, such indictments can be dismissed with a shrug and a “business as usual” line from the White House. There is no way, however, to dismiss the comments of such respected elder statesmen–one of them a Democrat, the other the most centrist and nonpartisan of Republicans. What a devastating indictment it is, all the more so because it is irrefutable.

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Panetta’s Revelation

Leon Panetta made a fascinating disclosure in his congressional testimony on Thursday: He revealed that he had backed the proposal by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus last year to arm the Syrian rebels. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed that he too was supportive. So if all of the major players on President Obama’s national security team were in favor, why was nothing done?

As Michael Gordon of the New York Times, who first broke the story about Clinton and Petraeus’s support for arming the rebels, put it: “The White House, however, was worried about the risks of getting more deeply involved in the crisis in Syria. And with President Obama in the midst of a re-election bid, the White House rebuffed the plan, rejecting the advice of most of the key members of Mr. Obama’s national security team.”

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Leon Panetta made a fascinating disclosure in his congressional testimony on Thursday: He revealed that he had backed the proposal by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus last year to arm the Syrian rebels. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed that he too was supportive. So if all of the major players on President Obama’s national security team were in favor, why was nothing done?

As Michael Gordon of the New York Times, who first broke the story about Clinton and Petraeus’s support for arming the rebels, put it: “The White House, however, was worried about the risks of getting more deeply involved in the crisis in Syria. And with President Obama in the midst of a re-election bid, the White House rebuffed the plan, rejecting the advice of most of the key members of Mr. Obama’s national security team.”

No one disputes that the president is commander-in-chief and as such has the right to overrule his advisers: the buck, after all, does stop in the Oval Office. But it behooves the president to more fully explain his reasoning, lest the assumption become prevalent that this was a decision made for political rather than strategic reasons.

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GOP Caving on Sequestration?

Reading this Politico article this morning has really depressed me: “House GOP thinks unthinkable on defense cuts.” It reports: “A new breed of conservatives in the House cares so much about cutting spending they’re willing to extend that to the budget for bullets and bombs, too — in this case, by letting $500 billion in across-the-board automatic budget cuts over 10 years take effect, alongside a similar number for domestic agencies.”

This is crazy on many levels. Start with the policy implications: The Pentagon can’t afford another $500 billion of cuts on top of the $500 billion or so that has already been cut–not at a time when the armed forces must grapple with new missions such as dealing with the spread of al-Qaeda in Africa and an upsurge in cyber attacks.

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Reading this Politico article this morning has really depressed me: “House GOP thinks unthinkable on defense cuts.” It reports: “A new breed of conservatives in the House cares so much about cutting spending they’re willing to extend that to the budget for bullets and bombs, too — in this case, by letting $500 billion in across-the-board automatic budget cuts over 10 years take effect, alongside a similar number for domestic agencies.”

This is crazy on many levels. Start with the policy implications: The Pentagon can’t afford another $500 billion of cuts on top of the $500 billion or so that has already been cut–not at a time when the armed forces must grapple with new missions such as dealing with the spread of al-Qaeda in Africa and an upsurge in cyber attacks.

President Obama’s defense secretary, noted budget hawk Leon Panetta, has said that sequestration would be a “disaster” with “a devastating effect on not only national defense but I think on the rest of the country.”

This isn’t to say that it’s impossible to make any cuts in defense. Former Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy has some good suggestions in the Wall Street Journal for cutting bloated headquarters, eliminating unneeded bases, making military medical benefits less generous, and paring back the civilian workforce. But significantly she attaches no price tag to the reductions she seeks. The likelihood is that all of her savings, even if enacted, would not make a significant dent in the defense budget given that our military capabilities must grow to deal with threats from Africa to China. In any case sequestration is a mindless process of across-the-board hacking that will do major damage to vital programs; it is the very antithesis of the kind of rational pruning and rebalancing that Fluornoy suggests.

Now to the politics: In the last election, there was evidence that Republicans had lost their decades-old advantage on foreign policy and national security to a party led by the president who ordered the Osama bin Laden raid. How on earth will Republicans ever regain their advantage on these crucial issues if they come out as more anti-defense than Obama’s own defense secretary on the issue of sequestration?

I sympathize with the concerns of House Republicans about runaway spending. The growing public debt is a major concern that if left unaddressed could hamper American productivity and power in the long term. But the way to deal with this issue isn’t to whack away at the defense budget, which even if entirely eliminated would still not close our staggering, trillion-dollar-plus budget deficits. Congress needs to tackle entitlement reform, like it or not. President Obama’s opposition may make that impossible in the short-term but eviscerating our defense capabilities–and thereby making the world a more dangerous place–isn’t a viable alternative.

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Extremists’ Role in Syria Was Not Inevitable

The Obama administration is only beginning its second term, but it is already clear that its mishandling of Syria is turning out to be one of its biggest foreign policy failures. The evidence accumulates every day–whether in the form of more dead bodies piling up in Syria, or more refugees crowding neighboring countries, or more foreign jihadists rushing into Syria. Just yesterday the New York Times ran this interview with Hajji Marea, one of the most potent rebel commanders to emerge out of the fighting, who is quoted as follows:

“America keeps silent,” he said. “The way we see it as Arabs: If you are silent, then you are agreeing with what is happening.”

Sitting nearby, Abdel-Aziz Salameh, Al Tawhid’s political leader, warned that time was running short for the United States. “All the world has abandoned us,” he said. “If the revolution lasts for another year, you’ll see all the Syrian people like Al Qaeda; all the people will be like Al Qaeda.”

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The Obama administration is only beginning its second term, but it is already clear that its mishandling of Syria is turning out to be one of its biggest foreign policy failures. The evidence accumulates every day–whether in the form of more dead bodies piling up in Syria, or more refugees crowding neighboring countries, or more foreign jihadists rushing into Syria. Just yesterday the New York Times ran this interview with Hajji Marea, one of the most potent rebel commanders to emerge out of the fighting, who is quoted as follows:

“America keeps silent,” he said. “The way we see it as Arabs: If you are silent, then you are agreeing with what is happening.”

Sitting nearby, Abdel-Aziz Salameh, Al Tawhid’s political leader, warned that time was running short for the United States. “All the world has abandoned us,” he said. “If the revolution lasts for another year, you’ll see all the Syrian people like Al Qaeda; all the people will be like Al Qaeda.”

As some of us have been saying since the start of the revolt, there was nothing inevitable about the growing prominence of al-Qaeda; the extremists might have been sidelined by a more active American policy of support for the more moderate rebel factions.

The Times reveals this morning that this was precisely the policy option advocated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus last summer. “But,” the story continues, “with the White House worried about the risks, and with President Obama in the midst of a re-election bid, they were rebuffed.”

In other words, President Obama was so committed to his “tide of war is receding” mantra that he was willing to ignore a growing war in Syria so as not to run political risks during his reelection. The proposal to arm the rebels might have been given a serious look after the election were it not for the scandal which brought down Petraeus and the concussion which sidelined Clinton.

So now the White House appears committed indefinitely to a “lead from behind” strategy in Syria even as the evidence of that policy’s failure becomes starker every day.

One suspects that Clinton and Petraeus–along with Leon Panetta and, before him, Bob Gates–will be sorely missed in the second term. They were important advocates of a more moderate, centrist, activist American foreign policy. With their departure, there seems to be little standing in the way of a policy of retreat and retrenchment for which the U.S. and our allies are certain to pay a heavy price in the years ahead.

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Women in Combat and the Status Quo

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s decision, taken at the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to lift the ban on women in combat is hardly “radical social engineering,” as some critics claim. It is, more than anything, a recognition of what is and has been the status quo.

Roughly three-quarters of military jobs have already been opened to women. They are serving in combat zones as pilots, intelligence analysts, logisticians, military police officers, and in other specialties that expose them to considerable risk—all the more so because the kind of war we are fighting today is a guerrilla war in which the enemy can strike anywhere and there are no defined front lines. In the army and Marine Corps women are still forbidden from serving in combat units at the battalion and below level, but there are many women—not just military personnel but also contractors—on Forward Operating Bases where brigades and higher headquarters are to be found. This means that there is plenty of interaction today between men and women in uniform.

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s decision, taken at the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to lift the ban on women in combat is hardly “radical social engineering,” as some critics claim. It is, more than anything, a recognition of what is and has been the status quo.

Roughly three-quarters of military jobs have already been opened to women. They are serving in combat zones as pilots, intelligence analysts, logisticians, military police officers, and in other specialties that expose them to considerable risk—all the more so because the kind of war we are fighting today is a guerrilla war in which the enemy can strike anywhere and there are no defined front lines. In the army and Marine Corps women are still forbidden from serving in combat units at the battalion and below level, but there are many women—not just military personnel but also contractors—on Forward Operating Bases where brigades and higher headquarters are to be found. This means that there is plenty of interaction today between men and women in uniform.

This has, in truth, created some issues with “fraternization” and sexual assault, but those are being dealt with by the chain of command. On the whole the integration of women has been a positive experience for the armed forces, expanding the pool of talented individuals who can contribute to the fight.

It is not clear how radical the change imposed by Panetta’s decree will actually be. He is not mandating, as I understand it, that every service open every job to women; he is simply shifting the burden of proof by requiring the services to make compelling arguments as to why women should not serve in certain jobs instead of assuming they will be excluded. There could very well be a strong case made that women should still be kept out of small infantry and Special Operations units where accommodations and hygiene are primitive and where sexual tensions could harm esprit de corps.

And opening up jobs to women doesn’t necessarily mean that they will flock to fill those slots or, even if they volunteer, that they will be found qualified. It is vitally important that physical standards not be watered down in order to increase the number of women in certain units. Being a grunt is still hard, physical labor—you have to hump 80 pounds or more of equipment and to walk long distances in punishing heat or cold. That is not something most men could do, let alone most women.

But as long as standards are enforced evenhandedly—along with rules against sexual harassment, assault and other offenses—the new Department of Defense policy should be implemented with little difficulty and is likely to win the support of most service personnel, as has been the case already with the lifting of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rules.

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Why Is Gen. Allen Still Under Investigation?

General John Allen is now back in Kabul, directing a major military campaign involving 68,000 U.S. troops and 37,000 allied troops. But he would have to be superhuman to keep his focus entirely on the war effort, for he is still under fire from the home front. According to the New York Times, “some 15 investigators” are “working seven days a week in the Pentagon inspector general’s office,” poring over emails exchanged between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who struck up friendships with many senior military officers.

The question is: Why? Is there some credible evidence that Allen somehow compromised our national security by his interactions with Kelley? Is Kelley suspected of being an al-Qaeda mole? Is Allen suspected of being another Benedict Arnold? Not that I’m aware of. To judge by the numerous leaks that have accompanied this puzzling investigation, an outgrowth of the same investigation that already forced David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director, the worst that could have occurred is that Allen and Kelley might have exchanged a few emails judged to be flirtatious or even salacious. Is this really a matter that should be occupying the full-time attention of 15 investigators—and diverting the attention of a general in command of a war zone?

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General John Allen is now back in Kabul, directing a major military campaign involving 68,000 U.S. troops and 37,000 allied troops. But he would have to be superhuman to keep his focus entirely on the war effort, for he is still under fire from the home front. According to the New York Times, “some 15 investigators” are “working seven days a week in the Pentagon inspector general’s office,” poring over emails exchanged between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who struck up friendships with many senior military officers.

The question is: Why? Is there some credible evidence that Allen somehow compromised our national security by his interactions with Kelley? Is Kelley suspected of being an al-Qaeda mole? Is Allen suspected of being another Benedict Arnold? Not that I’m aware of. To judge by the numerous leaks that have accompanied this puzzling investigation, an outgrowth of the same investigation that already forced David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director, the worst that could have occurred is that Allen and Kelley might have exchanged a few emails judged to be flirtatious or even salacious. Is this really a matter that should be occupying the full-time attention of 15 investigators—and diverting the attention of a general in command of a war zone?

Unless there is some bombshell here waiting to explode, the answer is a definitive no. So why did Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller permit the FBI to waste time on this investigation—and why is Defense Secretary Leon Panetta wasting time on it now? I can’t answer those questions, but Congress should ask for itself and demand answers.

The biggest scandal in the whole Petraeus-Allen affair is that we are wasting taxpayer resources hounding two great generals who have dedicated their lives to defending our country over purely personal matters of no concern to their public duties.

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Benghazi Revelations Show Lack of Preparation After Gaddafi’s Fall

The administration spent almost two months releasing as little public information as possible about the Benghazi attack, presumably for reasons both strategic and political–it is sensitive information from a national security standpoint and from a campaign standpoint. But now a deluge of new information is pouring out of the government, thanks in part to what looks like finger-pointing between the State Department and CIA over who bears responsibility for not preventing or stopping the attack which left four Americans dead.

The Wall Street Journal is in the forefront with this long article, which has an anti-Petraeus spin because it leads with the information that the CIA director did not attend the funerals of two of his security contractors who were killed in Benghazi (he did not want to blow their covers, even posthumously). See also this David Ignatius column and an article in the New York Times.

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The administration spent almost two months releasing as little public information as possible about the Benghazi attack, presumably for reasons both strategic and political–it is sensitive information from a national security standpoint and from a campaign standpoint. But now a deluge of new information is pouring out of the government, thanks in part to what looks like finger-pointing between the State Department and CIA over who bears responsibility for not preventing or stopping the attack which left four Americans dead.

The Wall Street Journal is in the forefront with this long article, which has an anti-Petraeus spin because it leads with the information that the CIA director did not attend the funerals of two of his security contractors who were killed in Benghazi (he did not want to blow their covers, even posthumously). See also this David Ignatius column and an article in the New York Times.

The picture painted by all of these articles is complex but overall, despite the anti-Petraeus spin noted in the Journal piece, it serves to exonerate the CIA of culpability for the attack response–it turns out that pretty much all of the security response came from the CIA annex in Benghazi and from the CIA station in Tripoli. The CIA security personnel did what they could, but they obviously lacked transportation, heavy weaponry, and other essentials that the military could have provided. They were also hoping for assistance from Libyan militias that never arrived.

Why wasn’t there more military assistance? That remains murky, but the best explanation–and the one most exonerating to the administration–has come from none other than Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense. He writes, based on information that apparently comes from senior military figures (albeit second hand), that “decision makers in Washington appear to have been leaning forward, as they should have been.” He goes on to to note that:

The military’s most capable rescue force, based on the East Coast, was deployed immediately (something that is very rarely done), but – given the distances involved – arrived at Sigonella only after the crisis was over.

Also, the European command (EUCOM) deployed its number one counter terrorism force, which was training in central Europe, as quickly as possible, but it arrived in Sigonella after the evacuation of the Annex was complete.

Other special forces deployed to Sigonella but arrived on the 12th after it was too late to make a difference in Benghazi.

There was no AC-130 gunship in the region. The only drone available in Libya was an unarmed surveillance drone which was quickly moved from Darna to Benghazi, but the field of view of these drones is limited and, in any case, this one was not armed.

The only other assets immediately available were F-16 fighter jets based at Aviano, Italy. These aircraft might have reached Benghazi while the fight at the Annex was still going on, but they would have had difficulty pinpointing hostile mortar positions or distinguishing between friendly and hostile militias in the midst of a confused firefight in a densely populated residential area where there would have been a high likelihood of civilian casualties. While two more Americans were tragically killed by a mortar strike on the Annex, it’s not clear that deploying F-16’s would have prevented that.

If accurate, Wolfowitz’s account would certainly explain why more wasn’t done and would appear to exonerate senior decision makers during the heat of the crisis. It is actually a much better defense of the administration action (or lack thereof) than the lame explanation offered by Defense Secretary Panetta that “you don’t deploy forces into harm’s way without knowing what’s going on.”

However, it still leaves major questions unanswered about why more wasn’t done to prepare for an emergency such as this, and in particular–a point I stressed in a recent Los Angeles Times oped–why wasn’t more done to help Libyan security forces stand up after Gaddafi’s fall? It also leaves unanswered the question about why the administration hasn’t been more forthcoming, at least until recently, about what exactly transpired. There is still a need for a major independent report that addresses these issues.

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Intel Officials Push Back on Fox Story

The Associated Press reports that intelligence officials are pushing back on the Fox News story from last week, which reported that CIA officials in Washington told its officers in Benghazi to stand down when the attack on the consulate began, and that requests from security officers for military support were rejected:

According to the detailed timeline senior officials laid out Thursday, the first call to the CIA base came in at about 9:40 p.m., and less than 25 minutes later about the team headed to the consulate. En route they tried to get additional assistance, including some heavier weapons, but were unable to get much aid from the Libyan militias. 

The team finally got to the consulate, which was engulfed in heavy diesel smoke and flames, and they went in to get the consulate staff out. By 11:30 p.m., all of the U.S. personnel, except Stevens, left and drove back to the annex, with some taking fire from militants along the way.

By that time, one of the Defense Department’s unarmed Predator drones had arrived to provide overhead surveillance. … 

The second CIA team headed to the annex, and arrived after 5 a.m., just before the base came under attack again.

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The Associated Press reports that intelligence officials are pushing back on the Fox News story from last week, which reported that CIA officials in Washington told its officers in Benghazi to stand down when the attack on the consulate began, and that requests from security officers for military support were rejected:

According to the detailed timeline senior officials laid out Thursday, the first call to the CIA base came in at about 9:40 p.m., and less than 25 minutes later about the team headed to the consulate. En route they tried to get additional assistance, including some heavier weapons, but were unable to get much aid from the Libyan militias. 

The team finally got to the consulate, which was engulfed in heavy diesel smoke and flames, and they went in to get the consulate staff out. By 11:30 p.m., all of the U.S. personnel, except Stevens, left and drove back to the annex, with some taking fire from militants along the way.

By that time, one of the Defense Department’s unarmed Predator drones had arrived to provide overhead surveillance. … 

The second CIA team headed to the annex, and arrived after 5 a.m., just before the base came under attack again.

That’s not military support; it’s CIA support. We already knew there was a second CIA security team sent in. The question is, who denied military backup? Fox reported that the security officers on the ground were asking for Spectre gunships and air support. The intelligence officers pushing back on the Fox story didn’t deny that these requests were made — in fact, they didn’t even mention them in the AP story at all. 

AP also reports that the Pentagon had moved assets into place in Sicily, but couldn’t move them in without a request from the State Department and a green light from the Libyan transitional government:

As the events were unfolding, the Pentagon began to move special operations forces from Europe to Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily. U.S. aircraft routinely fly in and out of Sigonella and there are also fighter jets based in Aviano, Italy. But while the U.S. military was at a heightened state of alert because of 9/11, there were no American forces poised and ready to move immediately into Benghazi when the attack began. 

The Pentagon would not send forces or aircraft into Libya — a sovereign nation — without a request from the State Department and the knowledge or consent of the host country. And Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said the information coming in was too jumbled to risk U.S. troops.

The timeline provided to the AP doesn’t contradict the crux of the Fox News report. Requests for military backup were made, and they were denied. The question is, who denied it? Did Panetta make the decision or the State Department? Was the Libyan government contacted about this, and did they reject it?

The White House also says President Obama ordered troops into the region in preparation for an intervention shortly after the attack began. Obviously, he would have the final say over the State Department and the Libyan government if he wanted to send them into Benghazi. Was he given updates on the situation, and told about the requests? If not, why not? If so, what was his response?

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Report: Help in Benghazi was Available, Waved Off

Earlier today I wrote about the baffling failure to call in the U.S. military to rescue our diplomats besieged in Benghazi. That failure becomes even more puzzling if this Fox News article is right. Reporter Jennifer Griffin writes that former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were working as CIA security personnel at a CIA annex not far from the consulate, and they not only saw the entire attack unfold, but communicated what they saw to Washington in real time.

They wanted to aid the diplomats at the consulate but were told to “stand down”; they ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate and brought back the remaining diplomats, minus the ambassador, who was already dead. Then they took more fire at the CIA annex–this was where Woods and Doherty were killed by a mortar shell at 4 a.m., nearly seven hours after the initial assault began. But their urgent cries for help were not answered. Griffin writes:

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Earlier today I wrote about the baffling failure to call in the U.S. military to rescue our diplomats besieged in Benghazi. That failure becomes even more puzzling if this Fox News article is right. Reporter Jennifer Griffin writes that former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were working as CIA security personnel at a CIA annex not far from the consulate, and they not only saw the entire attack unfold, but communicated what they saw to Washington in real time.

They wanted to aid the diplomats at the consulate but were told to “stand down”; they ignored those orders and made their way to the consulate and brought back the remaining diplomats, minus the ambassador, who was already dead. Then they took more fire at the CIA annex–this was where Woods and Doherty were killed by a mortar shell at 4 a.m., nearly seven hours after the initial assault began. But their urgent cries for help were not answered. Griffin writes:

In fact, at least one member of the team was on the roof of the annex manning a heavy machine gun when mortars were fired at the CIA compound. The security officer had a laser on the target that was firing and repeatedly requested back-up support from a Specter gunship, which is commonly used by U.S. Special Operations forces to provide support to Special Operations teams on the ground involved in intense firefights. The fighting at the CIA annex went on for more than four hours — enough time for any planes based in Sigonella Air base, just 480 miles away, to arrive. Fox News has also learned that two separate Tier One Special operations forces were told to wait, among them Delta Force operators.

This would seem to directly contradict Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s contention that the Pentagon knew too little about what was going on to scramble military forces. As does this tidbit from Griffin’s article: “Fox News has learned that there were two military surveillance drones redirected to Benghazi shortly after the attack on the Consulate began. They were already in the vicinity. The second surveillance craft was sent to relieve the first drone, perhaps due to fuel issues. Both were capable of sending real time visuals back to U.S. officials in Washington, D.C.”

Assuming this account is accurate, it is downright mystifying–and alarming–that in spite of real-time knowledge about the assault as it was happening, and the presence only a short flight time away of considerable military resources, someone in the government (one wonders who?) decided to limit the response to sending 22 lightly armed personnel from Tripoli. Someone at a senior level needs to be held to account for this failure.

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More Evidence of the Administration’s Failure in Benghazi

As Jonathan wrote earlier, Charles Woods, father of the former SEAL Tyrone Woods, is questioning why the Obama administration did not respond with military force to rescue the Americans trapped in Benghazi on September 11. If action had been taken promptly, Ty Woods and the others might have survived.

He’s not the only one raising good questions about the lack of a response. Bing West, a distinguished combat correspondent and former assistant secretary of defense, has produced a timeline of the Benghazi attacks, which went on for most of the night, suggesting there was plenty of time for substantial U.S. forces to scramble from the U.S. base at Sigonella, Sicily, located almost exactly as far away from Benghazi as the Libyan capital of Tripoli, from whence a small, ill-armed quick-reaction force of 22 men was finally sent. “Stationed at Sigonella,” he notes, “were Special Operations Forces, transport aircraft, and attack aircraft — a much more formidable force than 22 men from the embassy.”

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As Jonathan wrote earlier, Charles Woods, father of the former SEAL Tyrone Woods, is questioning why the Obama administration did not respond with military force to rescue the Americans trapped in Benghazi on September 11. If action had been taken promptly, Ty Woods and the others might have survived.

He’s not the only one raising good questions about the lack of a response. Bing West, a distinguished combat correspondent and former assistant secretary of defense, has produced a timeline of the Benghazi attacks, which went on for most of the night, suggesting there was plenty of time for substantial U.S. forces to scramble from the U.S. base at Sigonella, Sicily, located almost exactly as far away from Benghazi as the Libyan capital of Tripoli, from whence a small, ill-armed quick-reaction force of 22 men was finally sent. “Stationed at Sigonella,” he notes, “were Special Operations Forces, transport aircraft, and attack aircraft — a much more formidable force than 22 men from the embassy.”

He continues: “Fighter jets could have been at Benghazi in an hour; the commandos inside three hours…. If even one F18 had been on station, it would have detected the location of hostiles firing at night and deterred and attacked the mortar sites.”

West concludes: “For our top leadership, with all the technological and military tools at their disposal, to have done nothing for seven hours was a joint civilian and military failure of initiative and nerve.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta now explains the decision not to act militarily by saying that he and top military commanders “felt very strongly that we could not put forces at risk in that situation” because they didn’t have enough “real-time information about what’s taking place.” But of course more real-time information could have been obtained by sending aircraft to overfly Benghazi.

In any case, Special Operations Forces and other military forces are used to acting on incomplete information, especially in a situation where Americans are under fire and in danger of being overrun. At that point, caution is normally thrown to the wind, and Quick Reaction Forces are launched. It is indeed puzzling that there was apparently no standing plan to send a Quick Reaction Force to Benghazi (or other areas in North Africa where U.S. outposts are located) or, if such a plan existed, the decision was made not to activate it.

There is no doubt that there was a serious failure at all levels of the U.S. government before, during, and after the Benghazi attack. This is simply more evidence of the screw-ups that occurred and the need to have better procedures in place the next time an incident like this occurs.

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On Iran, a Full Range of Obama Failures

The news from Israel over the weekend has left no doubt that President Obama’s failure on Iran has been one of both words and deeds. Not only did Obama refuse to speak publicly against the regime at the most opportune moments, but his administration has also trotted out high-level appointees to undermine the credibility of a Western threat to use force if sanctions and diplomacy continue to fail. (Gen. Martin Dempsey may or may not have been speaking for the administration, but Leon Panetta most certainly does.)

Those are the words; unfortunately, the deeds match them. Obama has consistently sought first to prevent, then delay, then weaken tough sanctions against Iran. At times, the president has even faced down a united Senate to oppose sanctions. At the UN, we once could count on help from Turkey on international sanctions; in the age of Obama, the international coalition on this issue continues to fray. And then there was this weekend’s announcement that the U.S. dramatically scaled down joint military exercises scheduled for this fall, and is withholding certain military assistance (once the Obama administration’s claimed trump card when criticized over U.S.-Israeli relations). Message received, say the Israelis:

The White House at the weekend reiterated its commitment to Israel’s security, but this drew a withering response from the Israeli source: “It’s hard to explain the gulf between the White House’s comments about the commitment to Israel’s security and the comments made by the US chief of staff,” the official said. “What matters are not words but deeds.”

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The news from Israel over the weekend has left no doubt that President Obama’s failure on Iran has been one of both words and deeds. Not only did Obama refuse to speak publicly against the regime at the most opportune moments, but his administration has also trotted out high-level appointees to undermine the credibility of a Western threat to use force if sanctions and diplomacy continue to fail. (Gen. Martin Dempsey may or may not have been speaking for the administration, but Leon Panetta most certainly does.)

Those are the words; unfortunately, the deeds match them. Obama has consistently sought first to prevent, then delay, then weaken tough sanctions against Iran. At times, the president has even faced down a united Senate to oppose sanctions. At the UN, we once could count on help from Turkey on international sanctions; in the age of Obama, the international coalition on this issue continues to fray. And then there was this weekend’s announcement that the U.S. dramatically scaled down joint military exercises scheduled for this fall, and is withholding certain military assistance (once the Obama administration’s claimed trump card when criticized over U.S.-Israeli relations). Message received, say the Israelis:

The White House at the weekend reiterated its commitment to Israel’s security, but this drew a withering response from the Israeli source: “It’s hard to explain the gulf between the White House’s comments about the commitment to Israel’s security and the comments made by the US chief of staff,” the official said. “What matters are not words but deeds.”

An Israeli military source and a political analyst were more direct when speaking to Time, the publication that first broke the story:

“Basically what the Americans are saying is, ‘We don’t trust you,’” a senior Israeli military official tells TIME….

In the current political context, the U.S. logic is transparent, says Israeli analyst Efraim Inbar. “I think they don’t want to insinuate that they are preparing something together with the Israelis against Iran – that’s the message,” says Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. “Trust? We don’t trust them. They don’t trust us. All these liberal notions! Even a liberal president like Obama knows better.”

Even Obama knows better than to develop trust between allies—such a post-modern presidency! The irony is, telling Israel they’re on their own only makes a strike more likely. If the U.S. made a convincing case that the Obama administration will take care of Iran no matter what it entails—even, yes, a military strike—then the American timeline would predominate. But if the Obama administration spends its time trying to wash its hands of the whole thing, then the decision rests solely on Israel’s shoulders. And the if the decision is Israel’s, then so are the timelines and the judgments used to determine the course of action.

Additionally, the American decision to scale down military assistance considered vital to Israel’s defenses in the event of a post-attack flare-up in the region sends a message to Iran as well. And that message is not one of a united Western front, nor is it that the Iranian regime’s time to drop its quest for the bomb is running out. The Obama administration has made clear it does not necessarily stand by agreements made between previous American administrations and Israel. But going back on its own word tells America’s allies that they cannot factor in Obama’s support when planning ahead.

If the president thinks this will lead to order, not chaos, he is not much a student of history. And if he thinks this will lead to peace, not war, his lesson may come at the expense of those who possess the knowledge he lacks, but who lack the power he possesses.

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Panetta’s Pathetic Plea for Inaction on Iran

The chattering classes are chortling today about the latest supposed mistake by Mitt Romney in which he is being condemned for telling the truth about the corrupt and violent political and economic culture of the Palestinians. Meanwhile in Tunisia, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta committed the real gaffe of the week when he told a credulous traveling press corps that the administration’s effort to get Iran to abandon its drive for nuclear weapons was working even if it didn’t look like it. As the New York Times reports:

“These sanctions are having a serious impact in terms of the economy of Iran.” He added that “while the results of that may not seem obvious at the moment,” the Iranians had expressed a willingness to negotiate, and that they “continue to seem interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution.”

Translation: We know Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is right when he says the sanctions aren’t doing a thing to make the Iranians change their minds and the Iranians know that we know. But as long as Tehran is willing to pretend to negotiate, we will pretend along with them because our main goal is to prevent Israel from trying to actually do something about this deadly threat. And if this makes it clear that all we are trying to do is to kick the can down the road until after the presidential election when we might have more “flexibility” to do a deal with the Iranians, then don’t believe your lying ears and eyes.

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The chattering classes are chortling today about the latest supposed mistake by Mitt Romney in which he is being condemned for telling the truth about the corrupt and violent political and economic culture of the Palestinians. Meanwhile in Tunisia, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta committed the real gaffe of the week when he told a credulous traveling press corps that the administration’s effort to get Iran to abandon its drive for nuclear weapons was working even if it didn’t look like it. As the New York Times reports:

“These sanctions are having a serious impact in terms of the economy of Iran.” He added that “while the results of that may not seem obvious at the moment,” the Iranians had expressed a willingness to negotiate, and that they “continue to seem interested in trying to find a diplomatic solution.”

Translation: We know Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is right when he says the sanctions aren’t doing a thing to make the Iranians change their minds and the Iranians know that we know. But as long as Tehran is willing to pretend to negotiate, we will pretend along with them because our main goal is to prevent Israel from trying to actually do something about this deadly threat. And if this makes it clear that all we are trying to do is to kick the can down the road until after the presidential election when we might have more “flexibility” to do a deal with the Iranians, then don’t believe your lying ears and eyes.

Congress is still arguing about trying to close up the gaping loopholes in the sanctions that have been exacerbated by the administration’s promiscuous granting of waivers that have served to sustain the Iranian economy. Under these circumstances and with Iran showing no signs of buckling, the notion that economic pressure will be enough to resolve the problem is without foundation. Of course, it is “not obvious at the moment” that sanctions are working because it is more than obvious they are not.

As for the Iranians’ willingness to negotiate, it is difficult to understand how even a veteran politician like Panetta can say this with a straight face. Of course, they are willing to keep talking with the West. Iran has been negotiating for years because they know that as long as they do so they can continue making progress toward their nuclear goal.

As the collapse of the P5+1 talks this summer proved, and as every previous attempt at diplomacy and engagement conducted by both the Bush and Obama administrations proved, the only ones to profit from the talking are the Iranians. They have used the time won by such prevarications well as their nuclear centrifuges keep spinning and their stockpile of refined uranium grows. The time frame of their program is unclear, but whether it is one or two years away from actually having a bomb or sooner, the moment is quickly approaching when their efforts will be so far advanced it will be too late for force to be employed to stop them.

At Panetta’s next stop in Israel, he will tell the Israelis to trust that President Obama will do the right thing on Iran even though “it may not seem obvious at the moment” that he has any attention of acting. But instead of laughing at Romney for asking a reasonable question about the London Olympics and for refusing to lie about the morally bankrupt culture of the Palestinians, those who follow foreign policy should be alarmed at Panetta’s pathetic attempt to keep engaging with Iran when doing so only serves the interests of the Islamist regime and its nuclear ambitions.

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The Abu Ghraib Double Standard

The Abu Ghraib scandal—when the 320th Military Police Battalion abused prisoners—was both horrendous and inexcusable in its own right. In addition, treating detainees inhumanely for sport certainly led to vengeance attacks and the deaths of American soldiers and made the U.S. mission more difficult. Those perpetrating the abuse should have suffered far greater penalty. The military, however, dealt admirably when the abuses were bought to their attention. After all, it was not press exposure that forced the military to take action, but rather the military’s own investigation into the issue, which someone leaked to CBS.

The recent shooting at a village near Kandahar is as tragic. It has already sparked retaliatory strikes, and it severely under undermines the U.S. mission. President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, however, have handled the crisis with aplomb. Obama was correct to apologize—and quickly too. None of the excuses the suspect’s lawyers put forward can ever mitigate the alleged perpetrator’s actions.

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The Abu Ghraib scandal—when the 320th Military Police Battalion abused prisoners—was both horrendous and inexcusable in its own right. In addition, treating detainees inhumanely for sport certainly led to vengeance attacks and the deaths of American soldiers and made the U.S. mission more difficult. Those perpetrating the abuse should have suffered far greater penalty. The military, however, dealt admirably when the abuses were bought to their attention. After all, it was not press exposure that forced the military to take action, but rather the military’s own investigation into the issue, which someone leaked to CBS.

The recent shooting at a village near Kandahar is as tragic. It has already sparked retaliatory strikes, and it severely under undermines the U.S. mission. President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, however, have handled the crisis with aplomb. Obama was correct to apologize—and quickly too. None of the excuses the suspect’s lawyers put forward can ever mitigate the alleged perpetrator’s actions.

American journalists and commentators should reflect on the aftermath of both within the United States. The reaction to Abu Ghraib was too often cheap, as pundits and partisans sought to ascribe guilt up to and including President Bush and Vice President Cheney. In the aftermath of the Afghanistan shooting, some Republicans criticized Obama for apologizing—but were roundly and rightly castigated by other Republicans.

That so many sought to transform the evil occurrences at Abu Ghraib into a partisan whip with which to flog Bush was wrong. It is a relief that the same pundits do not seek to capitalize on tragedy to bash President Obama. Perhaps these critics learned their lesson after Abu Ghraib, but I’d be willing to bet that the self-restraint has more to do with partisanship. The discrepancy certainly gives pause for reflection about the bias of the media and its willingness to use national security as a political football.

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Obama Leads From Behind Israel on Iran

Most observers have spent the past few months trying desperately to interpret the mixed signals emanating from the Obama administration on Iran. It has escalated its rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear ambitions while at the same time continued to shy away from actions that might actually stop Tehran, such as the tough sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that would set in motion a partial oil embargo. Yet, while American diplomats travel the globe trying to corral other nations to support sanctions on Iran, American leaders have been open about their unwillingness to contemplate the use of force and horror at the thought Israel will act on its own.

The latest such contradictory signal comes from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius his biggest worry is the Israelis will take care of the problem for him:

Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

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Most observers have spent the past few months trying desperately to interpret the mixed signals emanating from the Obama administration on Iran. It has escalated its rhetoric against Iran’s nuclear ambitions while at the same time continued to shy away from actions that might actually stop Tehran, such as the tough sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that would set in motion a partial oil embargo. Yet, while American diplomats travel the globe trying to corral other nations to support sanctions on Iran, American leaders have been open about their unwillingness to contemplate the use of force and horror at the thought Israel will act on its own.

The latest such contradictory signal comes from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius his biggest worry is the Israelis will take care of the problem for him:

Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.

Ignatius goes on to say Obama and Panetta have told the Israelis not to strike, because they think it will “derail an increasingly successful international economic sanctions program and other non-military efforts to stop Iran from crossing the threshold.”

Anyone wondering why the Israelis seem to be moving closer to deciding to attack on their own need only read that statement. The Israelis — and the Iranians — know the current sanctions program is nowhere close to stopping Iran. That is because Obama has not only hesitated to put the stringent sanctions recently passed by Congress (over his objections) into effect but also has never forced the Treasury Department to enforce the existing far weaker measures aimed at Iran.

Though Israel knows it cannot do the job of setting back Iran’s nuclear program as well as the United States can, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak may have arrived at the same conclusion their Iranian enemies have come to in the last three years: Barack Obama is too weak and indecisive to be taken seriously when he threatens Iran. That means the only alternative to sitting back and waiting patiently as the Iranians run out the diplomatic clock on a feckless Washington-led effort to restrain them, is for Israel to strike.

Clearly, the administration’s preference is for the Israelis to be sufficiently cowed by U.S. pressure into standing down. Obama and Panetta would like Netanyahu to believe the U.S. would cut off the Israelis the way the Eisenhower administration did in 1956 when it abandoned Israel during the Sinai Campaign. But, as Ignatius points out, an open breach with Israel during an election year would be political suicide for Obama.

So rather than take responsibility for dealing with a problem that threatens the peace of the world, once again the Obama administration is trying to lead from behind. Except this time it isn’t hiding behind France as it did in Libya but behind tiny Israel, who will face the risks of Iranian counter-attacks alone and under the threat of being cut off by its own ally. It is unlikely Israel can be convinced to back off by vague American promises of more negotiations or stepped up covert attacks. Neither plan offers much hope of success. That is why the Israelis may be on the verge of deciding to strike on their own.

Under these circumstances, Ignatius is right that Israel’s leaders probably feel they are better off on their own in this enterprise rather than being shackled by Obama. But with Iran once again vowing to destroy Israel, Netanyahu and Barak realize allowing Ayatollah Khamenei to have his finger on a nuclear trigger simply cannot be tolerated.

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Obama Should Make More Tough Decisions

Give Vice President Biden kudos for honesty, if not for good judgment. Apparently, he said in a recent speech that he had advised President Obama against launching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As reported by the Daily Caller:

The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’

“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”

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Give Vice President Biden kudos for honesty, if not for good judgment. Apparently, he said in a recent speech that he had advised President Obama against launching the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. As reported by the Daily Caller:

The president “went around the table with all the senior people, including the chiefs of staff,” Biden explained. “And he said, ‘I have to make this decision. What is your opinion?’ He started with the national security adviser and the secretary of state, and he ended with me. Every single person in that room hedged their bet except [Secretary of Defense] Leon Panetta. Leon said go. Everyone else said 49, 51, this got to be, ‘Joe, what do you think?’

“And I said, ‘You know, I didn’t know we had so many economists around the table.’ I said, ‘We owe the man a direct answer. Mr. President, my suggestion is don’t go. We have to do two more things to see if he’s there.’”

This does little to increase faith in the judgment of a vice president who, based on his track record, does not inspire much faith anyway–he was, after all, the senator who was for the war in Iraq but against the surge and called instead for breaking that country into three. But it reiterates that Obama is able to make tough decisions–sometimes. The president deserves, and will take, all the credit in the world for such gutsy calls as the bin Laden raid or the more recent SEAL mission in Somalia to rescue two hostages. I only wish he were wiling to make equally tough decisions by finding a way to keep troops in Iraq or avoid a premature drawdown in Afghanistan–or for that matter tackle the runaway entitlement spending which is bankrupting us.

 

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Panetta’s Shameful Paean to Turkey

I was still onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Turkey. According to the Armed Forces Network, Panetta was full of praise for Turkey and its role in the region.

Unfortunately, the more the Obama administration puffs up Turkey, the more Turkish officials see a green light to encourage radicalism and bash Israel. On the same day as Panetta’s visit, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu bragged, “It is our policies which made Israel kneel down in the region in front of us. We have always sided with people who demand democracy, not with authoritarian and oppressive regimes.”

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I was still onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln when Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Turkey. According to the Armed Forces Network, Panetta was full of praise for Turkey and its role in the region.

Unfortunately, the more the Obama administration puffs up Turkey, the more Turkish officials see a green light to encourage radicalism and bash Israel. On the same day as Panetta’s visit, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu bragged, “It is our policies which made Israel kneel down in the region in front of us. We have always sided with people who demand democracy, not with authoritarian and oppressive regimes.”

In Turkey, up is down and right is wrong. Turkey may be a model, but rather than be one for democracy, its anti-Israel and anti-Semitic leadership is instead transforming it into a model for incitement and Israel-bashing which makes that in Egypt and Saudi Arabia look mild.

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Morning Commentary

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

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What About the Other CIA Witchhunt?

After three years,  John Durham, the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of tapes showing enhanced interrogation techniques employed by CIA officials, has closed the case. As this report notes, this “is the latest example of Justice Department officials’ declining to seek criminal penalties for some of the controversial episodes in the C.I.A.’s now defunct detention and interrogation program.”

But what about the other witchhunt investigation that Obama has ordered, or rather the reinvestigation of CIA officials for use of those enhanced techniques? As I have previously reported, professional prosecutors had already ruled out filing criminal charges, but the Obama team, anxious for its pound of flesh, insisted that Durham reinvestigate these same operatives. Does the termination of the tape case suggest that this investigation, loudly protested by career CIA officials, including Leon Panetta, is going to be shut down as well?

I wouldn’t be so sure. An individual with knowledge of Durham’s investigation (who is also highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to contravene the decision of career prosecutors) emphasizes that these are “totally separate cases.” He nevertheless observes that from what he has seen, Durham and his team seem “like straight shooters — very thorough, trying to get a full understanding” of the issues.

A former Justice Department official likewise cautions: “I think it would prove too much to read something into the fact that he announced the closing of one investigation without announcing the results of the other. The tapes investigation started in January 2008, while it was expanded by Holder to cover interrogators in August 2009. That’s a big-time gap. With that said, it is not as if Durham was not coming across interrogator behavior in the course of investigating the tape destruction.”

Perhaps the most insightful reaction came from a former high-ranking national security official who was deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to place CIA employees back in legal peril. In response to my question asking him to assess what Durham’s dismissal of the tape case might say about the interrogation inquiry, he replied simply, “Not at all clear. One can hope.”

The decision to set Durham loose on CIA operatives already exonerated under a prior administration was another misbegotten and dangerous idea by the Obami, one of many that signaled to CIA officials that they would be foolhardy not to be risk-averse in their anti-terrorism activities. So, indeed, we should hope that Durham shows himself once again to be a wise prosecutor and shuts down a politically motivated inquest.

After three years,  John Durham, the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the destruction of tapes showing enhanced interrogation techniques employed by CIA officials, has closed the case. As this report notes, this “is the latest example of Justice Department officials’ declining to seek criminal penalties for some of the controversial episodes in the C.I.A.’s now defunct detention and interrogation program.”

But what about the other witchhunt investigation that Obama has ordered, or rather the reinvestigation of CIA officials for use of those enhanced techniques? As I have previously reported, professional prosecutors had already ruled out filing criminal charges, but the Obama team, anxious for its pound of flesh, insisted that Durham reinvestigate these same operatives. Does the termination of the tape case suggest that this investigation, loudly protested by career CIA officials, including Leon Panetta, is going to be shut down as well?

I wouldn’t be so sure. An individual with knowledge of Durham’s investigation (who is also highly critical of the Obama administration’s decision to contravene the decision of career prosecutors) emphasizes that these are “totally separate cases.” He nevertheless observes that from what he has seen, Durham and his team seem “like straight shooters — very thorough, trying to get a full understanding” of the issues.

A former Justice Department official likewise cautions: “I think it would prove too much to read something into the fact that he announced the closing of one investigation without announcing the results of the other. The tapes investigation started in January 2008, while it was expanded by Holder to cover interrogators in August 2009. That’s a big-time gap. With that said, it is not as if Durham was not coming across interrogator behavior in the course of investigating the tape destruction.”

Perhaps the most insightful reaction came from a former high-ranking national security official who was deeply troubled by the administration’s decision to place CIA employees back in legal peril. In response to my question asking him to assess what Durham’s dismissal of the tape case might say about the interrogation inquiry, he replied simply, “Not at all clear. One can hope.”

The decision to set Durham loose on CIA operatives already exonerated under a prior administration was another misbegotten and dangerous idea by the Obami, one of many that signaled to CIA officials that they would be foolhardy not to be risk-averse in their anti-terrorism activities. So, indeed, we should hope that Durham shows himself once again to be a wise prosecutor and shuts down a politically motivated inquest.

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Talks with the Taliban?

Newspaper front pages seem to be full of stories about talks with the Taliban. It is breathlessly reported that NATO has facilitated the travel of senior Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders to Kabul for discussions with President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle. There is nothing wrong with such talks, nor is there anything particularly novel about them. It is the Afghan way to talk to your opponents as well as your friends; after all, their positions could be switched before long. Indeed, some families have sons in both the Taliban and the government.

But don’t expect a breakthrough anytime soon. As CIA Director Leon Panetta sagely said: “If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored. But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

I don’t see any serious effort at reconciliation either. For that to happen the Taliban will have to suffer more military defeats than they have endured so far. The coalition is just starting to push back in a major way against the insurgency with a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that includes everything from troops surging into enemy-held areas to increased Special Operations raids and air strikes to attempts to reduce the corrupt uses of foreign-aid money. All of this will take some time to come to fruition, and only when the enemy realizes that there is no way they can shoot their way into power will you see a serious splintering of the Taliban.

A good target of opportunity may arise next summer when President Obama’s deadline for troop withdrawals comes around. The Taliban have been telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are headed out the door. Assuming that any troop withdrawals next summer are small and largely symbolic, the Taliban may well be shocked to discover that they will be hammered just as hard after July 2011 as they were before. That could create a psychological breaking point for at least some of the Taliban, who may decide at that point that their best bet for collecting a pension would mandate leaving the insurgency. But we aren’t at that point yet, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into hyped media reports of talks with the Taliban.

Newspaper front pages seem to be full of stories about talks with the Taliban. It is breathlessly reported that NATO has facilitated the travel of senior Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders to Kabul for discussions with President Hamid Karzai and his inner circle. There is nothing wrong with such talks, nor is there anything particularly novel about them. It is the Afghan way to talk to your opponents as well as your friends; after all, their positions could be switched before long. Indeed, some families have sons in both the Taliban and the government.

But don’t expect a breakthrough anytime soon. As CIA Director Leon Panetta sagely said: “If there are elements that wish to reconcile and get reintegrated, that ought to be obviously explored. But I still have not seen anything that indicates that at this point a serious effort is being made to reconcile.”

I don’t see any serious effort at reconciliation either. For that to happen the Taliban will have to suffer more military defeats than they have endured so far. The coalition is just starting to push back in a major way against the insurgency with a comprehensive counterinsurgency plan that includes everything from troops surging into enemy-held areas to increased Special Operations raids and air strikes to attempts to reduce the corrupt uses of foreign-aid money. All of this will take some time to come to fruition, and only when the enemy realizes that there is no way they can shoot their way into power will you see a serious splintering of the Taliban.

A good target of opportunity may arise next summer when President Obama’s deadline for troop withdrawals comes around. The Taliban have been telling anyone who will listen that the Americans are headed out the door. Assuming that any troop withdrawals next summer are small and largely symbolic, the Taliban may well be shocked to discover that they will be hammered just as hard after July 2011 as they were before. That could create a psychological breaking point for at least some of the Taliban, who may decide at that point that their best bet for collecting a pension would mandate leaving the insurgency. But we aren’t at that point yet, so I wouldn’t put too much stock into hyped media reports of talks with the Taliban.

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