Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mike Mullen

The Administration’s Incoherence on Iran

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

The comments of our top national security officials on the topic of Iran are becoming alarmingly incoherent. A case in point comes from Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. He cautions that the mullahs are liars:

Asked whether he believed Tehran’s vows that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Mullen said: “I don’t believe it for a second.”

“In fact, the information and intelligence that I’ve seen speak very specifically to the contrary,” he said.

“Iran is still very much on a path to be able to develop nuclear weapons, including weaponizing them, putting them on a missile and being able to use them.”

Yet what does Mullen propose we do? Well, we should talk to them. But we have to be realistic, because the Iranian regime can’t be trusted:

“I still think it’s important we focus on the dialogue, we focus on the engagement, but also do it in a realistic way that looks at whether Iran is actually going to tell the truth, actually engage and actually do anything.”

But didn’t he say that we know they aren’t telling the truth? You can see why Iran’s Arab neighbors are petrified that there is no “plan B” for stopping the Iranian regime. Or, as one of the WikiLeaks cables (highlighted by a frequent reader) explains:

On July 15, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner joined Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ) for a dinner covering a range of regional issues.  MBZ expressed serious concern over Iran’s regional intentions and pleaded for the U.S. to shorten its decision-making timeline and develop a “plan B.” He encouraged the U.S. to clearly communicate “red lines” to the Iranian Government, on nuclear and regional stability issues, with direct consequences for transgressions. He painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat.

If Iran has military capabilities far beyond what we imagined (“The cables … reveal for the first time that the United States believes that Iran has obtained advanced missiles from North Korea that could let it strike at Western European capitals and Moscow and help it develop more formidable long-range ballistic missiles”), the Arab states are supportive of military action, and we know the mullahs are professional deceivers, why in the world are we still babbling about engagement? I honestly don’t know. Members of Congress should find out — before a national security failure of unprecedented dimensions occurs. It would be on Obama’s watch — but on the lawmakers’ as well. And it will be a disaster for the savvy and the dull-witted alike.

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Retreat from Retreat?

We are told that the administration is to “tweak” its message on Afghanistan. But it sounds more like it is throwing in the towel on the most wrongheaded aspect of its Afghanistan policy:

In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. Implicit in their message, delivered at a security and diplomatic conference in Australia, was that the United States would be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

That’s no tweak; it’s an acknowledgment that a deadline devised by political hacks for partisan purposes (i.e., to keep the base from freaking out) is being discarded. About time. As always, no Obama maneuver can forgo dissembling: “There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,’ a senior administration official said Wednesday.” That obsession was the president’s, who last emphasized it from the Oval Office in a prime-time speech.

One of those aforementioned hacks is running for mayor of Chicago, and the other is about to depart for the 2012 campaign. More important, the liberal base has already absorbed the midterm losses and won’t have another chance to wreak havoc on Obama until 2012. So now the White House can do it right:

The message shift is effectively a victory for the military, which has long said that the July 2011 deadline undermined its mission by making Afghans reluctant to work with troops perceived to be leaving shortly. “They say you’ll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off,” Cpl. Lisa Gardner, a Marine based in Helmand Province, told a reporter this past spring. This summer Gen. James T. Conway, then the Marine Corps’s commandant, went so far as to say that the deadline “was probably giving our enemy sustenance.”

Last year the White House insisted on the July deadline to inject a sense of urgency into the Afghans to get their security in order — military officials acknowledge that it has partly worked — but also to quiet critics in the Democratic Party upset about Mr. Obama’s escalation of the war and his decision to order 30,000 more troops to the country.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision is the correct one. But this is pathetic. Obama didn’t have the political courage to do what was plainly in our strategic interests, with men on the field of battle, when he feared electoral consequences. Only when the coast is clear can he do the right thing. How completely not-Bush.

We are told that the administration is to “tweak” its message on Afghanistan. But it sounds more like it is throwing in the towel on the most wrongheaded aspect of its Afghanistan policy:

In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. Implicit in their message, delivered at a security and diplomatic conference in Australia, was that the United States would be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

That’s no tweak; it’s an acknowledgment that a deadline devised by political hacks for partisan purposes (i.e., to keep the base from freaking out) is being discarded. About time. As always, no Obama maneuver can forgo dissembling: “There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,’ a senior administration official said Wednesday.” That obsession was the president’s, who last emphasized it from the Oval Office in a prime-time speech.

One of those aforementioned hacks is running for mayor of Chicago, and the other is about to depart for the 2012 campaign. More important, the liberal base has already absorbed the midterm losses and won’t have another chance to wreak havoc on Obama until 2012. So now the White House can do it right:

The message shift is effectively a victory for the military, which has long said that the July 2011 deadline undermined its mission by making Afghans reluctant to work with troops perceived to be leaving shortly. “They say you’ll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off,” Cpl. Lisa Gardner, a Marine based in Helmand Province, told a reporter this past spring. This summer Gen. James T. Conway, then the Marine Corps’s commandant, went so far as to say that the deadline “was probably giving our enemy sustenance.”

Last year the White House insisted on the July deadline to inject a sense of urgency into the Afghans to get their security in order — military officials acknowledge that it has partly worked — but also to quiet critics in the Democratic Party upset about Mr. Obama’s escalation of the war and his decision to order 30,000 more troops to the country.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision is the correct one. But this is pathetic. Obama didn’t have the political courage to do what was plainly in our strategic interests, with men on the field of battle, when he feared electoral consequences. Only when the coast is clear can he do the right thing. How completely not-Bush.

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RE: Obama: ‘I Do Not Want to Screw This Up’

Max, the desire to not let everything we have accomplished and everything so many Iraqis and Americans died for come to ruin is nowhere stronger than in the U.S. military. Today Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had this to say:

“One of the things we tend to forget is how desperate we were in that fight, pre-surge,” Mullen said. He said that, despite continuing violence in Iraq, there are no signs that any groups seek to return to the kind of sectarian violence that plagued the country after the 2003 invasion.

“I certainly don’t take for granted the progress that we’ve made, I recognize there is still a lot of work to be done,” Mullen said.

As for the surge, it would be swell if Obama echoed that sentiment tonight. As for the work that needs to be done, however, we should be concerned if the following is applied too literally: “Meanwhile, he said the only thing that worries him now is the lack of a unity government — but that he expects one to form very soon. The military, he said, has no role to play in that regard, and the Iraqi military has remained neutral, he said.”

It is true that the selection of a new government is not the U.S. military’s job, but keeping the peace and acting as a spur to reach a deal certainly is. Moreover, U.S. civilian leaders should be there to cajole and mediate between competing groups.

The president could go a long way tonight in making all this clear to the American people, to the Iraqis, and to those who would benefit from mischief-making in what is, in essence, a petri dish for Muslim democracy.

Max, the desire to not let everything we have accomplished and everything so many Iraqis and Americans died for come to ruin is nowhere stronger than in the U.S. military. Today Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had this to say:

“One of the things we tend to forget is how desperate we were in that fight, pre-surge,” Mullen said. He said that, despite continuing violence in Iraq, there are no signs that any groups seek to return to the kind of sectarian violence that plagued the country after the 2003 invasion.

“I certainly don’t take for granted the progress that we’ve made, I recognize there is still a lot of work to be done,” Mullen said.

As for the surge, it would be swell if Obama echoed that sentiment tonight. As for the work that needs to be done, however, we should be concerned if the following is applied too literally: “Meanwhile, he said the only thing that worries him now is the lack of a unity government — but that he expects one to form very soon. The military, he said, has no role to play in that regard, and the Iraqi military has remained neutral, he said.”

It is true that the selection of a new government is not the U.S. military’s job, but keeping the peace and acting as a spur to reach a deal certainly is. Moreover, U.S. civilian leaders should be there to cajole and mediate between competing groups.

The president could go a long way tonight in making all this clear to the American people, to the Iraqis, and to those who would benefit from mischief-making in what is, in essence, a petri dish for Muslim democracy.

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Once More, Admiral Mullen — This Time with Feeling

The administration has been criticized on its approach to Iran for apparently taking the military option off the table. So on Meet the Press, Admiral Mike Mullen was trying, I think, to correct the impression that this was not a viable alternative should sanctions fail. However, he sure didn’t do a good job of making the military option sound credible:

What I try to do when I talk about that is, is identify the space between those two outcomes, which is pretty narrow, in which I think the diplomacy, the kind of sanctions, the kind of international pressure that, that is being applied, I am hopeful works.  I, I, I recognize that there isn’t that much space there.  But, quite frankly, I am extremely concerned about both of those outcomes.” Yeah, it’s virtually unintelligible.

He wasn’t through tripping over his tongue:

None of them are good in a sense that it’s certainly an outcome that I don’t seek, or that, that we wouldn’t seek.  At the same time, and for what I talked about before, is, is not just the consequences of the action itself, but the things that could result after the fact

Finally, grudgingly, he acknowledged that the military does have a plan if, as David Gregory put it, “it should come to that.”

Mullen and especially Obama are going to have to do a whole lot better than that to convince the mullahs that they face an attack if they don’t give up their dream of a nuclear program. One suspects that the Obami at this point — no matter how much they improve their public utterances — aren’t capable of impressing the mullahs’ with their determination to use all available means to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The administration’s failure to maintain a credible threat of force remains one of the most inexplicable and incompetent aspects of its approach to the most dire national security issue we face.

The administration has been criticized on its approach to Iran for apparently taking the military option off the table. So on Meet the Press, Admiral Mike Mullen was trying, I think, to correct the impression that this was not a viable alternative should sanctions fail. However, he sure didn’t do a good job of making the military option sound credible:

What I try to do when I talk about that is, is identify the space between those two outcomes, which is pretty narrow, in which I think the diplomacy, the kind of sanctions, the kind of international pressure that, that is being applied, I am hopeful works.  I, I, I recognize that there isn’t that much space there.  But, quite frankly, I am extremely concerned about both of those outcomes.” Yeah, it’s virtually unintelligible.

He wasn’t through tripping over his tongue:

None of them are good in a sense that it’s certainly an outcome that I don’t seek, or that, that we wouldn’t seek.  At the same time, and for what I talked about before, is, is not just the consequences of the action itself, but the things that could result after the fact

Finally, grudgingly, he acknowledged that the military does have a plan if, as David Gregory put it, “it should come to that.”

Mullen and especially Obama are going to have to do a whole lot better than that to convince the mullahs that they face an attack if they don’t give up their dream of a nuclear program. One suspects that the Obami at this point — no matter how much they improve their public utterances — aren’t capable of impressing the mullahs’ with their determination to use all available means to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The administration’s failure to maintain a credible threat of force remains one of the most inexplicable and incompetent aspects of its approach to the most dire national security issue we face.

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Afghanistan: July 2011 Psychosis

Joe Biden has long been seen as the administration’s leading advocate of a “small footprint” approach to Afghanistan. But on ABC’s This Week program on Sunday, he was at pains to downplay the July 2011 withdrawal deadline. There will be a “transition,” he said, but not necessarily a massive withdrawal of forces — “It could be as few as a couple thousand troops.”

That puts Biden effectively on the same page as Bob Gates, Hillary Clinton, Mike Mullen, David Petraeus, and other senior administration and military figures who have been stressing that we aren’t headed for the exists come next summer. That’s an important and welcome clarification of the ambiguous policy laid out by President Obama at West Point last fall. But I doubt that the message has reached the region where the perception of American fickleness continues to encourage our foes and discourage our friends.

In Kabul recently, I had dinner with several Afghan politicians and bureaucrats. They were, to a man, horrified by the July 2011 deadline, which feeds into recurring Afghan fears of abandonment by the West — something that happened as recently as the 1990s. They were not mollified when I and other visiting scholars tried to explain that the appointment of General Petraeus suggested that Obama was in the war to win. They actually claimed that Petraeus had been sent to offer a “face-saving way” for the U.S. to withdraw — as he supposedly had done in Iraq. I and the other visitors spent hours trying to mollify these worried Afghans, but without success. As one of them acknowledged, “We’ve developed July 2011 psychosis.”

I am not sure anything can shake their concerns about a premature American departure but at the very least it would be helpful for Obama himself to clarify where he stands. There is a widespread perception in Washington that he has done a sotto voce walk-back from the exit deadline but he needs to be more explicit to convey the message across 7,000 miles of geography and an even wider gap of understanding and perception.

Paradoxically, the more that Obama makes it clear that we will stay in Afghanistan long enough to win, the more he hastens our departure by increasing the pressure on the Taliban. And the more he equivocates, the harder he makes it for NATO forces to make the kind of progress needed to begin a responsible, conditions-based drawdown.

Joe Biden has long been seen as the administration’s leading advocate of a “small footprint” approach to Afghanistan. But on ABC’s This Week program on Sunday, he was at pains to downplay the July 2011 withdrawal deadline. There will be a “transition,” he said, but not necessarily a massive withdrawal of forces — “It could be as few as a couple thousand troops.”

That puts Biden effectively on the same page as Bob Gates, Hillary Clinton, Mike Mullen, David Petraeus, and other senior administration and military figures who have been stressing that we aren’t headed for the exists come next summer. That’s an important and welcome clarification of the ambiguous policy laid out by President Obama at West Point last fall. But I doubt that the message has reached the region where the perception of American fickleness continues to encourage our foes and discourage our friends.

In Kabul recently, I had dinner with several Afghan politicians and bureaucrats. They were, to a man, horrified by the July 2011 deadline, which feeds into recurring Afghan fears of abandonment by the West — something that happened as recently as the 1990s. They were not mollified when I and other visiting scholars tried to explain that the appointment of General Petraeus suggested that Obama was in the war to win. They actually claimed that Petraeus had been sent to offer a “face-saving way” for the U.S. to withdraw — as he supposedly had done in Iraq. I and the other visitors spent hours trying to mollify these worried Afghans, but without success. As one of them acknowledged, “We’ve developed July 2011 psychosis.”

I am not sure anything can shake their concerns about a premature American departure but at the very least it would be helpful for Obama himself to clarify where he stands. There is a widespread perception in Washington that he has done a sotto voce walk-back from the exit deadline but he needs to be more explicit to convey the message across 7,000 miles of geography and an even wider gap of understanding and perception.

Paradoxically, the more that Obama makes it clear that we will stay in Afghanistan long enough to win, the more he hastens our departure by increasing the pressure on the Taliban. And the more he equivocates, the harder he makes it for NATO forces to make the kind of progress needed to begin a responsible, conditions-based drawdown.

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What Is Israel to Do?

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is at it again. In the past he’s spoken about his aversion to military action against Iran. At a swank Aspen gathering, he made clear just how averse he is — and the dearth of other options for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran:

A military strike against Iran would be “incredibly destabilizing” to the region said the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. He believes Iran will continue to pursue nuclear weapons, even if sanctions against the country are increased.
Speaking Monday at the Aspen Security Forum, Mullen said it would be “incredibly dangerous” for Iran to achieve nuclear weapons, and that there’s “no reason to trust” Iran’s assurances that it is only pursuing a peaceful nuclear program, especially after the discovery of a secret nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom. …

Mullen said there was no reason to expect Iran to conform to international norms, given its past behavior, but he declined to describe what measures the US was considering. He has often said that all options remain on the table.

He explained that the hardest part about trying to decide what to do about Iran is how much the US does not know about the country’s nuclear progress.

When asked whether he thought Israel would give the United States time to see whether tougher sanctions or talks would produce more cooperation from Iran, he would only say that he believes the US and Israel are “in sync” with their current policies.

Following on Leon Panetta’s troubling interview, this should certainly unnerve you — on multiple counts. First, we again see that the Obami consider the prospect of a strike on Iran to be “destabilizing” — apparently more so than a nuclear-armed Iran. Second, Mullen confesses he really doesn’t know how far Iran’s nuclear program has progressed. Is this strategic ambiguity to keep Israel at bay? Or is it evidence that our intelligence is deficient and Israel will need to gauge for itself when time has run out on the feckless attempts to engage and sanction Iran? Third, like Panetta, he thinks economic sanctions will be ineffective. Finally, and worst of all, even if Mullen believes these things, why in the world would he say them? Giving comfort and encouragement to our adversaries isn’t part of his job description.

So what is Israel to do? If you put it all together, the conclusion must be: learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. As many of us have argued for over a year, that has been and remains, if not the intent, at least the inevitable result of Obama’s Iran policy. That the vast majority of mainstream American Jewish leaders have not woken up to this reality – nor in any meaningful way challenged the administration – is a tragic failure of immense proportions.

As for Israel, Obama’s game plan is — to borrow a term — unacceptable. In this case, the Israelis mean it and will at some point be forced to take military action, unless the Obami undergo an epiphany and reverse course. War is a horrid prospect, as is the potential for massive loss of life – but not as horrid as that of a nuclear-armed Iran. Obama’s willingness to leave Israel to fend for itself or, worse, interfere with its ability to do so is not merely a betrayal of our democratic ally; it is an abdication of American responsibility that will resonate for years to come, signaling that the U.S. is no longer the guarantor of the West’s security.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is at it again. In the past he’s spoken about his aversion to military action against Iran. At a swank Aspen gathering, he made clear just how averse he is — and the dearth of other options for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran:

A military strike against Iran would be “incredibly destabilizing” to the region said the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. He believes Iran will continue to pursue nuclear weapons, even if sanctions against the country are increased.
Speaking Monday at the Aspen Security Forum, Mullen said it would be “incredibly dangerous” for Iran to achieve nuclear weapons, and that there’s “no reason to trust” Iran’s assurances that it is only pursuing a peaceful nuclear program, especially after the discovery of a secret nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom. …

Mullen said there was no reason to expect Iran to conform to international norms, given its past behavior, but he declined to describe what measures the US was considering. He has often said that all options remain on the table.

He explained that the hardest part about trying to decide what to do about Iran is how much the US does not know about the country’s nuclear progress.

When asked whether he thought Israel would give the United States time to see whether tougher sanctions or talks would produce more cooperation from Iran, he would only say that he believes the US and Israel are “in sync” with their current policies.

Following on Leon Panetta’s troubling interview, this should certainly unnerve you — on multiple counts. First, we again see that the Obami consider the prospect of a strike on Iran to be “destabilizing” — apparently more so than a nuclear-armed Iran. Second, Mullen confesses he really doesn’t know how far Iran’s nuclear program has progressed. Is this strategic ambiguity to keep Israel at bay? Or is it evidence that our intelligence is deficient and Israel will need to gauge for itself when time has run out on the feckless attempts to engage and sanction Iran? Third, like Panetta, he thinks economic sanctions will be ineffective. Finally, and worst of all, even if Mullen believes these things, why in the world would he say them? Giving comfort and encouragement to our adversaries isn’t part of his job description.

So what is Israel to do? If you put it all together, the conclusion must be: learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. As many of us have argued for over a year, that has been and remains, if not the intent, at least the inevitable result of Obama’s Iran policy. That the vast majority of mainstream American Jewish leaders have not woken up to this reality – nor in any meaningful way challenged the administration – is a tragic failure of immense proportions.

As for Israel, Obama’s game plan is — to borrow a term — unacceptable. In this case, the Israelis mean it and will at some point be forced to take military action, unless the Obami undergo an epiphany and reverse course. War is a horrid prospect, as is the potential for massive loss of life – but not as horrid as that of a nuclear-armed Iran. Obama’s willingness to leave Israel to fend for itself or, worse, interfere with its ability to do so is not merely a betrayal of our democratic ally; it is an abdication of American responsibility that will resonate for years to come, signaling that the U.S. is no longer the guarantor of the West’s security.

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Liberals Like Swift-Boat Attack Against Specter’s Foe

With less than two weeks to go until the Pennsylvania Democratic primary that will decide the fate of Senator Arlen Specter, the race between the incumbent party-switcher and the liberal congressman who is hoping to knock him off has gotten tighter and nastier.

After holding a huge lead over Rep. Joe Sestak for most of the past year, Specter is shown by the latest polls to lose his lead. An Allentown Morning Call tracking poll showed Specter with just a five-point lead (45 percent to 40) on May 5, down three points from May 2. Though a Quinnipiac poll from May 2 showed Specter with a larger lead (48 percent to 39), it still showed remarkable gains for Sestak since he had trailed Specter in that survey by as much as 21 points only a month earlier.

And along with the tighter poll numbers have come the inevitable negative ads. Specter had thought he would cruise to victory in the primary because of name recognition, a big edge in campaign contributions, and the overwhelming support he has received from Democratic leaders from President Obama, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and most of the county Democratic committees. But faced with Sestak’s rising numbers, in the last couple of weeks, Specter has now resorted to trying to stress his opponent’s negatives. The senator is now airing a TV ad in which he claims that Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was relieved of his post as chief of planning for the Navy in 2005 because he created a “poor command climate” — though Sestak has always said that his exit from the Navy was due to policy differences with a new chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sestak has now responded to Specter’s ad with one of his own, in which he accuses the senator of “swift-boating” him and lying about his record. For good measure, he’s also released another one tying Specter to his Republican past, including his support for figures that are demons to Democratic activists: George W. Bush, former senator Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

Though Specter’s turncoat status has made it hard for him to cozy up to the sort of hardcore liberals who vote in Democratic primaries, it is interesting to note that the chief institutional voice of Pennsylvania liberalism — the Philadelphia Inquirer — has taken its cue from Obama and not only endorsed Specter but also backed his attacks on Sestak’s record and character. In an editorial published today, the Inky follows Specter’s lead and demands that Sestak release his private Navy records if he wants to quiet the discussion related to the issue.

Yet 6 years ago, when conservative activists were raising embarrassing questions about the naval record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Inquirer took a very different point of view. At that time, the liberal newspaper decried the “Swift-Boat” vets who attacked Kerry and thought their demands for the release of Kerry’s records were not only unreasonable but also an indication of the vicious nature of ultra-partisan GOP politics. But with the possibility of losing a Senate seat for the Democrats (polls also show that Sestak is a weaker general-election candidate than Specter), the Inquirer is no longer so squeamish about messing with former military men.

Ultimately, the race will be decided by voter sentiment about Specter. Much of his campaign material emphasizes his 30 years in the Senate and his ability to bring home the bacon for his state as one of the most expert practitioners of earmark spending. But in a year in which voters are clearly saying that they think politics as usual isn’t the answer, Specter’s old strengths may turn out to be big weaknesses. While this trend is a clear boost to Republicans — not least to former Rep. Pat Toomey, a principled libertarian and the man whom polls show able to beat either Democrat in the November election — these ideas may have an impact on May 17, when Democrats vote as well. Under these circumstances, swift-boating Sestak, even if liberals who once were outraged by such tactics when it they had turned on their own heroes now endorse them, may not be enough to save the slippery Specter.

With less than two weeks to go until the Pennsylvania Democratic primary that will decide the fate of Senator Arlen Specter, the race between the incumbent party-switcher and the liberal congressman who is hoping to knock him off has gotten tighter and nastier.

After holding a huge lead over Rep. Joe Sestak for most of the past year, Specter is shown by the latest polls to lose his lead. An Allentown Morning Call tracking poll showed Specter with just a five-point lead (45 percent to 40) on May 5, down three points from May 2. Though a Quinnipiac poll from May 2 showed Specter with a larger lead (48 percent to 39), it still showed remarkable gains for Sestak since he had trailed Specter in that survey by as much as 21 points only a month earlier.

And along with the tighter poll numbers have come the inevitable negative ads. Specter had thought he would cruise to victory in the primary because of name recognition, a big edge in campaign contributions, and the overwhelming support he has received from Democratic leaders from President Obama, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and most of the county Democratic committees. But faced with Sestak’s rising numbers, in the last couple of weeks, Specter has now resorted to trying to stress his opponent’s negatives. The senator is now airing a TV ad in which he claims that Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, was relieved of his post as chief of planning for the Navy in 2005 because he created a “poor command climate” — though Sestak has always said that his exit from the Navy was due to policy differences with a new chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sestak has now responded to Specter’s ad with one of his own, in which he accuses the senator of “swift-boating” him and lying about his record. For good measure, he’s also released another one tying Specter to his Republican past, including his support for figures that are demons to Democratic activists: George W. Bush, former senator Rick Santorum, and Sarah Palin.

Though Specter’s turncoat status has made it hard for him to cozy up to the sort of hardcore liberals who vote in Democratic primaries, it is interesting to note that the chief institutional voice of Pennsylvania liberalism — the Philadelphia Inquirer — has taken its cue from Obama and not only endorsed Specter but also backed his attacks on Sestak’s record and character. In an editorial published today, the Inky follows Specter’s lead and demands that Sestak release his private Navy records if he wants to quiet the discussion related to the issue.

Yet 6 years ago, when conservative activists were raising embarrassing questions about the naval record of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, the Inquirer took a very different point of view. At that time, the liberal newspaper decried the “Swift-Boat” vets who attacked Kerry and thought their demands for the release of Kerry’s records were not only unreasonable but also an indication of the vicious nature of ultra-partisan GOP politics. But with the possibility of losing a Senate seat for the Democrats (polls also show that Sestak is a weaker general-election candidate than Specter), the Inquirer is no longer so squeamish about messing with former military men.

Ultimately, the race will be decided by voter sentiment about Specter. Much of his campaign material emphasizes his 30 years in the Senate and his ability to bring home the bacon for his state as one of the most expert practitioners of earmark spending. But in a year in which voters are clearly saying that they think politics as usual isn’t the answer, Specter’s old strengths may turn out to be big weaknesses. While this trend is a clear boost to Republicans — not least to former Rep. Pat Toomey, a principled libertarian and the man whom polls show able to beat either Democrat in the November election — these ideas may have an impact on May 17, when Democrats vote as well. Under these circumstances, swift-boating Sestak, even if liberals who once were outraged by such tactics when it they had turned on their own heroes now endorse them, may not be enough to save the slippery Specter.

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Talking Down the Military Option

The Washington Post‘s editors observe that the administration is so averse to the use of force or even the threat of the use of force that it is leaving itself no real option to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. They write:

President Obama’s official position is that “all options are on the table,” including the use of force. But senior officials regularly talk down the military option in public — thereby undermining its utility even as an instrument of intimidation. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered more reassurance to Iran on Sunday, saying in a forum at Columbia University that “I worry … about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences.”

Adm. Mullen appeared to equate those consequences with those of Iran obtaining a weapon. “I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome,” he was quoted as saying. Yet Israel and other countries in the region would hardly regard those “outcomes” as similar.

The editors say they don’t favor a military strike, but they find the Obami’s “squishiness” about the use of force “worrisome” because sanctions are going nowhere. And let’s be clear, the Obami hope sanctions will get the Iranians back to the bargaining table, where, of course, we’ll have months more of stalling and antics by the mullahs, with eager administration negotiators refusing to take “no” for an answer.

The editors say they’d prefer support for the Green Movement. “But the administration has so far shrunk from supporting sanctions such as a gasoline embargo that might heighten popular anger against the regime.” Indeed, the administration insists that the only meaningful sanctions, the aforementioned gasoline embargo, for example, are out of the question, because we’d get the Iranian people – who are pleading for our help and dying in the streets to overthrow a brutal regime – mad at us. (Equally probable is that the Obami don’t believe this hooey but instead are parroting the line for the sake of agreement with the Russians and others in the “international community” who don’t want to agree to anything effective.)

The editors conclude by quoting Gates: “‘There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries,’ he added, ‘that the United States is … prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests.’ If allies and adversaries are presently confused, that would be understandable.” But let’s not pretend to be “confused.” It is very clear what the administration is up to — nothing. Having eliminated viable options to stop the mullahs’ nuclear program, it is playing out the charade of assembling wishy-washy international sanctions. It seems quite implausible that Obama, after Gates and Mullen have both talked down the military option in public for some time, would turn on a dime and decide to strike Iran.

That leaves two possibilities: Obama is either cynically hoping (after much carrying on) that Israel will take care of the problem or he is prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is a bit improbable given the Obami’s onslaught against Israel (although the truly cynical would say given how much animosity they’ve injected into the U.S.-Israel relationship, they would have a plausible-deniability defense if Israel launched a military strike). The latter — resignation to a nuclear-armed Iran – is more frightening, and more probable. They’ll have to finesse the whole “unacceptable” line, but for this crew, that’s just a “messaging” problem. After all, they already told us they weren’t upset at all to get Gates’s memo articulating what we already knew to be true — that there’s no actual plan to prevent the “unacceptable” from happening.

The Washington Post‘s editors observe that the administration is so averse to the use of force or even the threat of the use of force that it is leaving itself no real option to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. They write:

President Obama’s official position is that “all options are on the table,” including the use of force. But senior officials regularly talk down the military option in public — thereby undermining its utility even as an instrument of intimidation. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered more reassurance to Iran on Sunday, saying in a forum at Columbia University that “I worry … about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences.”

Adm. Mullen appeared to equate those consequences with those of Iran obtaining a weapon. “I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome,” he was quoted as saying. Yet Israel and other countries in the region would hardly regard those “outcomes” as similar.

The editors say they don’t favor a military strike, but they find the Obami’s “squishiness” about the use of force “worrisome” because sanctions are going nowhere. And let’s be clear, the Obami hope sanctions will get the Iranians back to the bargaining table, where, of course, we’ll have months more of stalling and antics by the mullahs, with eager administration negotiators refusing to take “no” for an answer.

The editors say they’d prefer support for the Green Movement. “But the administration has so far shrunk from supporting sanctions such as a gasoline embargo that might heighten popular anger against the regime.” Indeed, the administration insists that the only meaningful sanctions, the aforementioned gasoline embargo, for example, are out of the question, because we’d get the Iranian people – who are pleading for our help and dying in the streets to overthrow a brutal regime – mad at us. (Equally probable is that the Obami don’t believe this hooey but instead are parroting the line for the sake of agreement with the Russians and others in the “international community” who don’t want to agree to anything effective.)

The editors conclude by quoting Gates: “‘There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries,’ he added, ‘that the United States is … prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests.’ If allies and adversaries are presently confused, that would be understandable.” But let’s not pretend to be “confused.” It is very clear what the administration is up to — nothing. Having eliminated viable options to stop the mullahs’ nuclear program, it is playing out the charade of assembling wishy-washy international sanctions. It seems quite implausible that Obama, after Gates and Mullen have both talked down the military option in public for some time, would turn on a dime and decide to strike Iran.

That leaves two possibilities: Obama is either cynically hoping (after much carrying on) that Israel will take care of the problem or he is prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is a bit improbable given the Obami’s onslaught against Israel (although the truly cynical would say given how much animosity they’ve injected into the U.S.-Israel relationship, they would have a plausible-deniability defense if Israel launched a military strike). The latter — resignation to a nuclear-armed Iran – is more frightening, and more probable. They’ll have to finesse the whole “unacceptable” line, but for this crew, that’s just a “messaging” problem. After all, they already told us they weren’t upset at all to get Gates’s memo articulating what we already knew to be true — that there’s no actual plan to prevent the “unacceptable” from happening.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Mind-boggling: Admiral Mike Mullen proclaims, “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome. …In an area that’s so unstable right now, we just don’t need more of that.” The only difference is that one way there’s a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Priceless: “Goldman Sachs is launching an aggressive response to its political and legal challenges with an unlikely ally at its side — President Barack Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory Craig.”

Suspicious: “The Securities and Exchange Commission fraud case against Goldman Sachs may be settled before it ever sees a courtroom. Yet intentionally or not, the SEC has already secured at least one victory in the court of media opinion. Last Friday, the same day that the government unexpectedly announced its Goldman lawsuit, the SEC’s inspector general released his exhaustive, 151-page report on the agency’s failure to investigate alleged fraudster R. Allen Stanford. Mr. Stanford was indicted last June for operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $8 billion. … But the SEC is very good at nailing politically correct targets like Goldman years after the fact on charges that have little or nothing to do with the investing public. On the Goldman case, by the way, the news broke yesterday that the SEC commissioners split 3-2 on whether to bring the lawsuit — a rare partisan split on such a prominent case and further evidence of its thin legal basis.” And just in the nick of time to help the PR on the financial regulations bill!

Definitive (confirmation that the Dems are in a heap of trouble): “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot, tying the GOP’s high for the year recorded the second week in March and their biggest lead in nearly three years of weekly tracking.”

Frightening but not surprising: “It may be too late to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, a former senior US defence official has warned. The official, who has long experience with several US administrations, said President Obama had waited too long to take tough action against Tehran. ‘Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment programme, despite two deadlines set by Obama, which came and went without anything happening,’ the former official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times. ‘Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.’”

Gutsy: “After being stonewalled by the Obama administration for five months, Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me, issued subpoenas Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder for a list of witnesses and documents regarding the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood massacre.”

Irrelevant: “Mitt Romney continues to look like the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. A Public Policy Polling (D) survey shows Romney leading former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in every region except the South, where Huckabee uses his home-field advantage to lead the field.” Ask Rudy Giuliani what early polls mean.

Depressing: “Both left and right [in Israel] are troubled, and both largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program combined with growing tensions with the Obama administration. ‘There is a confluence of two very worrying events,’ said Michael Freund, a rightist columnist for The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. ‘One is the Iranian threat, an existential threat. Add to that the fact that for the first time in recent memory there is a president in the White House who is not overly sensitive to the Jewish state and its interests. You put the two together and it will affect anyone’s mood, even an optimist like me.” Overly? Not at all.

Mind-boggling: Admiral Mike Mullen proclaims, “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. Attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome. …In an area that’s so unstable right now, we just don’t need more of that.” The only difference is that one way there’s a nuclear-armed revolutionary Islamic state.

Priceless: “Goldman Sachs is launching an aggressive response to its political and legal challenges with an unlikely ally at its side — President Barack Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory Craig.”

Suspicious: “The Securities and Exchange Commission fraud case against Goldman Sachs may be settled before it ever sees a courtroom. Yet intentionally or not, the SEC has already secured at least one victory in the court of media opinion. Last Friday, the same day that the government unexpectedly announced its Goldman lawsuit, the SEC’s inspector general released his exhaustive, 151-page report on the agency’s failure to investigate alleged fraudster R. Allen Stanford. Mr. Stanford was indicted last June for operating a Ponzi scheme that bilked investors out of $8 billion. … But the SEC is very good at nailing politically correct targets like Goldman years after the fact on charges that have little or nothing to do with the investing public. On the Goldman case, by the way, the news broke yesterday that the SEC commissioners split 3-2 on whether to bring the lawsuit — a rare partisan split on such a prominent case and further evidence of its thin legal basis.” And just in the nick of time to help the PR on the financial regulations bill!

Definitive (confirmation that the Dems are in a heap of trouble): “Republican candidates now hold a 10-point lead over Democrats in the latest edition of the Generic Congressional Ballot, tying the GOP’s high for the year recorded the second week in March and their biggest lead in nearly three years of weekly tracking.”

Frightening but not surprising: “It may be too late to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, a former senior US defence official has warned. The official, who has long experience with several US administrations, said President Obama had waited too long to take tough action against Tehran. ‘Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment programme, despite two deadlines set by Obama, which came and went without anything happening,’ the former official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times. ‘Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.’”

Gutsy: “After being stonewalled by the Obama administration for five months, Senators Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me, issued subpoenas Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder for a list of witnesses and documents regarding the Nov. 5, 2009 Fort Hood massacre.”

Irrelevant: “Mitt Romney continues to look like the early front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. A Public Policy Polling (D) survey shows Romney leading former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in every region except the South, where Huckabee uses his home-field advantage to lead the field.” Ask Rudy Giuliani what early polls mean.

Depressing: “Both left and right [in Israel] are troubled, and both largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program combined with growing tensions with the Obama administration. ‘There is a confluence of two very worrying events,’ said Michael Freund, a rightist columnist for The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. ‘One is the Iranian threat, an existential threat. Add to that the fact that for the first time in recent memory there is a president in the White House who is not overly sensitive to the Jewish state and its interests. You put the two together and it will affect anyone’s mood, even an optimist like me.” Overly? Not at all.

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Obama Makes Excuses to Do Nothing About Iran

Buried most of the way through this New York Times report is a disturbing reminder of how unserious Obama is about imposing sanctions on Iran that might impact the mullahs’ decision to proceed with their nuclear-arms program:

During the campaign he raised the specter of cutting off refined petroleum supplies to Iran, which cannot refine enough oil to keep cars rolling and factories running. But Mr. Obama has backed away from that step, at least for now, for fear of the popular backlash it could set off.

“What you’ve been hearing on the streets is ‘Death to the dictator,’ not ‘Death to America,’” one of Mr. Obama’s top strategists said in an interview in December. “We’d be foolish to do anything to change that.”

Huh?! Doesn’t the protesters’ clear-eyed understanding of the identity of their enemy — the despotic regime — weigh in favor of imposing those crippling sanctions, which might help galvanize the revolution and topple the mullahs from power? Somehow Obama and his aides have convinced themselves of the opposite — that those brave and perceptive protesters who risked their lives for freedom would suddenly rush to the mullahs’ defense if Obama, in declared solidarity with those very protesters, announced effective sanctions aimed to topple the regime. This implies that the Obami were never serious about sanctions. They’re now making a ludicrous argument to defend their decision to do nothing much at all.

The rest of the article suggests that the Obami are nowhere near achieving agreement from the “international community” on UN-approved sanctions. (Remember that the Obami don’t really want serious sanctions anyway, because the imposition of sanctions might cause the  protesters, who we aren’t helping, to turn on the West.) We hear that on sanctions, “so far the Chinese are unmoved.” And then we learn what is really motivating the Obami:

The list of sanctions is now six pages long. But none have accomplished the central goal: forcing compliance with the Security Council’s demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment. Mr. Obama’s team acknowledges the potential political liability of passing a fourth round that proves equally ineffective. Some are scaling back expectations for what they once called “crippling sanctions.”

“This is about driving them back to negotiations,” said one senior official, “because the real goal here is to avoid war.” (emphasis added)

You see the goal is not to prevent Iran from going nuclear but rather to avoid war. So the Obami’s main obsession is now to deter Israel (which cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran) from acting. (“Top officials — from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones — have visited Israel to argue that they should give sanctions time.”) But of course, we know that the chances of sanctions working are virtually nonexistent. So we are merely giving the mullahs, not sanctions, just more time.

The picture is becoming regrettably clear. International sanctions are a faint hope. Obama has come up with a rationalization to downsize U.S. sanctions. Our administration has already declared that conflict avoidance, not the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear threat, is the goal. And our real energies are devoted to stopping Israel while our sanctions pantomime plays out. This will not end well. At some point, the Obami’s “no war” will conflict with Israel’s fundamental commitment to protecting itself from an existential threat.

Meanwhile, where is the American Jewish community? Have they not noticed the retreat by the Obami on serious sanctions — and can they not anticipate the moment at which the Obami will declare Iran’s nuclear status a fait accompli? You would think they would be sounding the alarm and registering disapproval of the administration’s sleep-walking-toward-containment gambit. But it seems that they, too, are slumbering. Meanwhile, the mullahs inch forward with their nuclear program as Obama dreams up reasons to do nothing.

Buried most of the way through this New York Times report is a disturbing reminder of how unserious Obama is about imposing sanctions on Iran that might impact the mullahs’ decision to proceed with their nuclear-arms program:

During the campaign he raised the specter of cutting off refined petroleum supplies to Iran, which cannot refine enough oil to keep cars rolling and factories running. But Mr. Obama has backed away from that step, at least for now, for fear of the popular backlash it could set off.

“What you’ve been hearing on the streets is ‘Death to the dictator,’ not ‘Death to America,’” one of Mr. Obama’s top strategists said in an interview in December. “We’d be foolish to do anything to change that.”

Huh?! Doesn’t the protesters’ clear-eyed understanding of the identity of their enemy — the despotic regime — weigh in favor of imposing those crippling sanctions, which might help galvanize the revolution and topple the mullahs from power? Somehow Obama and his aides have convinced themselves of the opposite — that those brave and perceptive protesters who risked their lives for freedom would suddenly rush to the mullahs’ defense if Obama, in declared solidarity with those very protesters, announced effective sanctions aimed to topple the regime. This implies that the Obami were never serious about sanctions. They’re now making a ludicrous argument to defend their decision to do nothing much at all.

The rest of the article suggests that the Obami are nowhere near achieving agreement from the “international community” on UN-approved sanctions. (Remember that the Obami don’t really want serious sanctions anyway, because the imposition of sanctions might cause the  protesters, who we aren’t helping, to turn on the West.) We hear that on sanctions, “so far the Chinese are unmoved.” And then we learn what is really motivating the Obami:

The list of sanctions is now six pages long. But none have accomplished the central goal: forcing compliance with the Security Council’s demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment. Mr. Obama’s team acknowledges the potential political liability of passing a fourth round that proves equally ineffective. Some are scaling back expectations for what they once called “crippling sanctions.”

“This is about driving them back to negotiations,” said one senior official, “because the real goal here is to avoid war.” (emphasis added)

You see the goal is not to prevent Iran from going nuclear but rather to avoid war. So the Obami’s main obsession is now to deter Israel (which cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran) from acting. (“Top officials — from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, to the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones — have visited Israel to argue that they should give sanctions time.”) But of course, we know that the chances of sanctions working are virtually nonexistent. So we are merely giving the mullahs, not sanctions, just more time.

The picture is becoming regrettably clear. International sanctions are a faint hope. Obama has come up with a rationalization to downsize U.S. sanctions. Our administration has already declared that conflict avoidance, not the dismantling of the Iranian nuclear threat, is the goal. And our real energies are devoted to stopping Israel while our sanctions pantomime plays out. This will not end well. At some point, the Obami’s “no war” will conflict with Israel’s fundamental commitment to protecting itself from an existential threat.

Meanwhile, where is the American Jewish community? Have they not noticed the retreat by the Obami on serious sanctions — and can they not anticipate the moment at which the Obami will declare Iran’s nuclear status a fait accompli? You would think they would be sounding the alarm and registering disapproval of the administration’s sleep-walking-toward-containment gambit. But it seems that they, too, are slumbering. Meanwhile, the mullahs inch forward with their nuclear program as Obama dreams up reasons to do nothing.

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Don’t Ask When, Don’t Tell the Left They’ve Been Conned

As with everything Obama-related, his promise to abolish Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell turns out to be less than billed during the State of the Union. This report explains:

The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military. A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Given that the one-year, self-imposed deadline for Guantanamo has come and gone, it is quite possible that the abolition of the policy could then very well never occur, with the debate extending long past Obama’s presidency. Surely his base will not be mollified with this sort of fluff, right? Others, however, may be delighted by the lackadaisical pace:

Democrats in Congress are also unlikely to press the issue until after this fall’s midterm elections. This will probably satisfy [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, who has long suggested that change shouldn’t come too quickly. In a speech last year at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., Gated noted that the 1948 executive order for racial integration took five years to implement. “I’m not saying that’s a model for this, but I’m saying that I believe this is something that needs to be done very, very carefully,” he told the audience.

As J.E. Dyer explained in her thoughtful post, there are serious issues to consider before we allow the military to tolerate openly gay servicemen. And there is reason to wonder why — other than pure domestic politics to assuage the president’s disillusioned netroot fans — we should subject one of the few highly effective public institutions to “an untested, unnecessary, and probably unwise social experiment,” as Bill Kristol puts it.

Aside from the merits of the existing policy and the real cost in time, focus, and morale to change it, this is yet another example of the president’s rhetorical excess, which I suspect will now be seen as flimflam by his base. He promised to end the policy; the reality is that he is setting up an endless bureaucratic process to study it.

Guantanamo is open, the Patriot Act remains in place, ObamaCare is dead, and now Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is likely to be with us for years, perhaps forever. At some point, the president’s fans on the Left will realize they have been had.

As with everything Obama-related, his promise to abolish Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell turns out to be less than billed during the State of the Union. This report explains:

The Defense Department starts the clock next week on what is expected to be a several-year process in lifting its ban on gays from serving openly in the military. A special investigation into how the ban can be repealed without hurting the morale or readiness of the troops was expected to be announced Tuesday by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Given that the one-year, self-imposed deadline for Guantanamo has come and gone, it is quite possible that the abolition of the policy could then very well never occur, with the debate extending long past Obama’s presidency. Surely his base will not be mollified with this sort of fluff, right? Others, however, may be delighted by the lackadaisical pace:

Democrats in Congress are also unlikely to press the issue until after this fall’s midterm elections. This will probably satisfy [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates, who has long suggested that change shouldn’t come too quickly. In a speech last year at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., Gated noted that the 1948 executive order for racial integration took five years to implement. “I’m not saying that’s a model for this, but I’m saying that I believe this is something that needs to be done very, very carefully,” he told the audience.

As J.E. Dyer explained in her thoughtful post, there are serious issues to consider before we allow the military to tolerate openly gay servicemen. And there is reason to wonder why — other than pure domestic politics to assuage the president’s disillusioned netroot fans — we should subject one of the few highly effective public institutions to “an untested, unnecessary, and probably unwise social experiment,” as Bill Kristol puts it.

Aside from the merits of the existing policy and the real cost in time, focus, and morale to change it, this is yet another example of the president’s rhetorical excess, which I suspect will now be seen as flimflam by his base. He promised to end the policy; the reality is that he is setting up an endless bureaucratic process to study it.

Guantanamo is open, the Patriot Act remains in place, ObamaCare is dead, and now Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is likely to be with us for years, perhaps forever. At some point, the president’s fans on the Left will realize they have been had.

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Peace in Our Time: Moscow

National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, resumed START talks with the Russians in Moscow on Thursday. Remarkably, the negotiations are not backstopped by an existing treaty still in force. The old START treaty expired on December 5, 2009. The U.S. verification team left Russia’s ICBM production facility in Votkinsk the day the treaty expired; mutual agreement to other verification measures can no longer be assumed. As of January 2010, we have an agreement in principle by presidents Obama and Medvedev to reduce nuclear warheads, but we don’t have a binding treaty.

It’s hard to characterize this as anything but a step backward. Although the 2002 “SORT” Treaty remains in effect until 2012, it differs from START in containing no verification provisions. Russia has participated in it largely to acquire a bargaining position against Bush’s missile-defense plan for Europe; but Obama obviated that negotiating dynamic by renouncing Bush’s plan in September. With much now riding on the 2010 START negotiations, we bring few bargaining chips. The Russians have an incentive to keep us in talks because that will effectively suspend U.S. decisions about modernizing our nuclear forces, but they now have no incentive to make important concessions. Their demands, meanwhile, will be unpalatable to the U.S. Senate, which warned Obama in December that the ratification of a new treaty will be contingent on a plan for modernizing our forces.

The conditions are thus developing for an impasse in START negotiations. In the interim, we are without a functioning plan for strategic stability. With his September decision on the European missile site, Obama rejected the Bush concept of centering our global security on American national missile defense. The fallback position – the one the Russians continue to favor – is a rough balance of strategic nuclear forces; but the START treaty has expired. There is no basis for demanding compliance with it.

Instead of a plan, what we have at present is inertia. Trusting to inertia is always a risky policy, particularly when wild cards are already in the picture. China’s subtle policy shift on strategic stability last week is a change in conditions that will affect the relevance of a bilateral arms-reduction process just as much as it affects the postures of the START parties.

Obama isn’t to blame for all the conditions that have developed since 1991 – but he is accountable for abandoning our previous strategic-security policies without replacing them. His focus on reducing nuclear warheads is a noble goal, and by no means unrealistic. However, the uncompensated loss in 2009 of both the START treaty and our plan for a comprehensive national missile defense has proved that his focus is too narrow. With five nuclear-armed Asian powers and Iran trying to become the sixth, there is nothing America needs more than a comprehensive concept for strategic security. At the moment we don’t have one.

National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, resumed START talks with the Russians in Moscow on Thursday. Remarkably, the negotiations are not backstopped by an existing treaty still in force. The old START treaty expired on December 5, 2009. The U.S. verification team left Russia’s ICBM production facility in Votkinsk the day the treaty expired; mutual agreement to other verification measures can no longer be assumed. As of January 2010, we have an agreement in principle by presidents Obama and Medvedev to reduce nuclear warheads, but we don’t have a binding treaty.

It’s hard to characterize this as anything but a step backward. Although the 2002 “SORT” Treaty remains in effect until 2012, it differs from START in containing no verification provisions. Russia has participated in it largely to acquire a bargaining position against Bush’s missile-defense plan for Europe; but Obama obviated that negotiating dynamic by renouncing Bush’s plan in September. With much now riding on the 2010 START negotiations, we bring few bargaining chips. The Russians have an incentive to keep us in talks because that will effectively suspend U.S. decisions about modernizing our nuclear forces, but they now have no incentive to make important concessions. Their demands, meanwhile, will be unpalatable to the U.S. Senate, which warned Obama in December that the ratification of a new treaty will be contingent on a plan for modernizing our forces.

The conditions are thus developing for an impasse in START negotiations. In the interim, we are without a functioning plan for strategic stability. With his September decision on the European missile site, Obama rejected the Bush concept of centering our global security on American national missile defense. The fallback position – the one the Russians continue to favor – is a rough balance of strategic nuclear forces; but the START treaty has expired. There is no basis for demanding compliance with it.

Instead of a plan, what we have at present is inertia. Trusting to inertia is always a risky policy, particularly when wild cards are already in the picture. China’s subtle policy shift on strategic stability last week is a change in conditions that will affect the relevance of a bilateral arms-reduction process just as much as it affects the postures of the START parties.

Obama isn’t to blame for all the conditions that have developed since 1991 – but he is accountable for abandoning our previous strategic-security policies without replacing them. His focus on reducing nuclear warheads is a noble goal, and by no means unrealistic. However, the uncompensated loss in 2009 of both the START treaty and our plan for a comprehensive national missile defense has proved that his focus is too narrow. With five nuclear-armed Asian powers and Iran trying to become the sixth, there is nothing America needs more than a comprehensive concept for strategic security. At the moment we don’t have one.

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What Do We Do Now?

Back in February, the Pentagon announced that it had moved the guided-missile destroyer, USS Cole, and a number of other ships to the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Lebanon.

It sends a “signal that we’re engaged and we are going to be in the vicinity, and that’s a very important part of the world.” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At the same time, an anonymous Bush administration official told CNN the deployment demonstrates that “the U.S. is concerned about the situation in Lebanon, and we want to see the situation resolved.”

Now that things are falling apart in Lebanon, what are these ships going to do?

Even without the American statements and naval deployment, a successful effort by the Iranian-backed Hizballah to seize control of large swaths of Beirut and impose its will on the Lebanese government would be a setback of the first rank: for Lebanon, for Israel, and for the broader Middle East. The disaster for us is compounded by the fact that we have put our prestige on the line.

Having failed to respond to Iranian aggression in Iraq in so many  instances (even as we loudly denounce it), and having failed to check Iran’s nuclear-weapons program (even as we loudly denounce it, too), the ayatollahs are clearly feeling emboldened. They are now making their move in Lebanon. What are our ships going to do? Maintain a symbolic presence while Lebanon burns? The bill for our fecklessness is coming due.

Back in February, the Pentagon announced that it had moved the guided-missile destroyer, USS Cole, and a number of other ships to the eastern Mediterranean, off the coast of Lebanon.

It sends a “signal that we’re engaged and we are going to be in the vicinity, and that’s a very important part of the world.” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At the same time, an anonymous Bush administration official told CNN the deployment demonstrates that “the U.S. is concerned about the situation in Lebanon, and we want to see the situation resolved.”

Now that things are falling apart in Lebanon, what are these ships going to do?

Even without the American statements and naval deployment, a successful effort by the Iranian-backed Hizballah to seize control of large swaths of Beirut and impose its will on the Lebanese government would be a setback of the first rank: for Lebanon, for Israel, and for the broader Middle East. The disaster for us is compounded by the fact that we have put our prestige on the line.

Having failed to respond to Iranian aggression in Iraq in so many  instances (even as we loudly denounce it), and having failed to check Iran’s nuclear-weapons program (even as we loudly denounce it, too), the ayatollahs are clearly feeling emboldened. They are now making their move in Lebanon. What are our ships going to do? Maintain a symbolic presence while Lebanon burns? The bill for our fecklessness is coming due.

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Iran in Iraq: Why Do Sabers Now Rattle?

Yesterday morning, the New York Times noted the American government’s recent spotlight on Iran’s support for Shiite militia fighters in Iraq and questioned whether the Islamic Republic had increased its meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs. “The administration’s focus on Iran has raised alarms among the war’s staunchest critics, who accuse the White House of overstating the threat and laying the groundwork for military action against Iran,” the paper reported. “This is not a new thing,” the Times quoted Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Why all of a sudden do the sabers start to rattle?”

Senator Feinstein, perhaps this is the better question: Why has Washington taken so long to speak candidly about Iran? Tehran has been involved with the Iraqi militias from the get-go. By now, it is apparent that diplomacy, behind-the-scenes and otherwise, has had little effect on Tehran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bush administration is resorting to tougher tactics. For instance, Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the United States is preparing for “potential military courses of action” against Iranian forces. “It would be a mistake,” he noted, “to think that we are out of combat capability.”

If we should be in Iraq, we should be there to win. If we’re there to win, we have to stop Iranian activities that destabilize Iraq. I hope that Obama is right, and we can, in face-to-face negotiations, convince the mullahs to stop committing acts of war against the Iraqi nation. Yet if we cannot-and I don’t see how we can-then we have a choice to make: use force against Iran or commit ourselves to years of directionless combat. Sometimes, Madam Senator, choices are that simple.

Yesterday morning, the New York Times noted the American government’s recent spotlight on Iran’s support for Shiite militia fighters in Iraq and questioned whether the Islamic Republic had increased its meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs. “The administration’s focus on Iran has raised alarms among the war’s staunchest critics, who accuse the White House of overstating the threat and laying the groundwork for military action against Iran,” the paper reported. “This is not a new thing,” the Times quoted Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Why all of a sudden do the sabers start to rattle?”

Senator Feinstein, perhaps this is the better question: Why has Washington taken so long to speak candidly about Iran? Tehran has been involved with the Iraqi militias from the get-go. By now, it is apparent that diplomacy, behind-the-scenes and otherwise, has had little effect on Tehran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bush administration is resorting to tougher tactics. For instance, Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the United States is preparing for “potential military courses of action” against Iranian forces. “It would be a mistake,” he noted, “to think that we are out of combat capability.”

If we should be in Iraq, we should be there to win. If we’re there to win, we have to stop Iranian activities that destabilize Iraq. I hope that Obama is right, and we can, in face-to-face negotiations, convince the mullahs to stop committing acts of war against the Iraqi nation. Yet if we cannot-and I don’t see how we can-then we have a choice to make: use force against Iran or commit ourselves to years of directionless combat. Sometimes, Madam Senator, choices are that simple.

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Rhetoric and Action on Iran

In recent days, senior American military leaders have been ratcheting up their criticism of Iranian interference in Iraq, spurred on by finds of recently manufactured Iranian weapons in Basra. (Just one more benefit of Prime Minister Maliki’s much-maligned offensive.)

On Friday, for instance, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a press conference in which he declared that he is “increasingly concerned about Iran’s activity.” While emphasizing that “we are not taking any military elements off the table,” he said that he is “convinced the solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure.”

The problem is that we have spent years using those very “levers” and have not budged Iran an inch. Iran has repeatedly promised to cut off arms shipments to Iraq–arms that are killing American and Iraqi soldiers–and earlier this year some credulous American intelligence officials thought that the Iranians were as good as their word. But, as Mullen noted, “It’s plainly obvious they have not [kept their word]. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way.”

Is more jawboning from American officials going to convince the Iranians to mend their ways? Or will it only reveal once again American ineffectuality and weakness? I rather think the latter.

The New York Times notes that sterner steps have been contemplated–and rejected:

The administration has, in fact, discussed whether to attack training
camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran that intelligence reports say are being used by the Quds Force to train fighters, according to two senior administration officials… For now, however, the United States has decided that military strikes in Iran would be untenable and has concentrated on trying to disrupt the routes used to smuggle weapons and fighters across the border, and on diplomatic and financial pressure, those and other officials said.

It is understandable that the administration shies away from open hostilities with Iran-even if Iran is waging a semi-covert war against us (as it has been doing since 1979). But policymakers should not fool themselves that tough-sounding press statements can substitute for genuinely tough actions, such as targeting those “training camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran.”

The president needs to make a decision about how far he is willing to go to
confront Iranian aggression, and if the answer is (as I suspect) “not very
far”, I would advise the administration to tone down its rhetoric. As I’ve
warned in the past, the disconnect between the administration’s harsh talk
and its weak actions-a feature of the second Bush term–is doing serious
damage to American credibility.

Admiral Mullen’s words about Iran apply equal well to the United States: “I
think actions, certainly here, must speak louder than words. And the
actions just don’t meet the commitments on the part of their leadership.”

In recent days, senior American military leaders have been ratcheting up their criticism of Iranian interference in Iraq, spurred on by finds of recently manufactured Iranian weapons in Basra. (Just one more benefit of Prime Minister Maliki’s much-maligned offensive.)

On Friday, for instance, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a press conference in which he declared that he is “increasingly concerned about Iran’s activity.” While emphasizing that “we are not taking any military elements off the table,” he said that he is “convinced the solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure.”

The problem is that we have spent years using those very “levers” and have not budged Iran an inch. Iran has repeatedly promised to cut off arms shipments to Iraq–arms that are killing American and Iraqi soldiers–and earlier this year some credulous American intelligence officials thought that the Iranians were as good as their word. But, as Mullen noted, “It’s plainly obvious they have not [kept their word]. Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way.”

Is more jawboning from American officials going to convince the Iranians to mend their ways? Or will it only reveal once again American ineffectuality and weakness? I rather think the latter.

The New York Times notes that sterner steps have been contemplated–and rejected:

The administration has, in fact, discussed whether to attack training
camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran that intelligence reports say are being used by the Quds Force to train fighters, according to two senior administration officials… For now, however, the United States has decided that military strikes in Iran would be untenable and has concentrated on trying to disrupt the routes used to smuggle weapons and fighters across the border, and on diplomatic and financial pressure, those and other officials said.

It is understandable that the administration shies away from open hostilities with Iran-even if Iran is waging a semi-covert war against us (as it has been doing since 1979). But policymakers should not fool themselves that tough-sounding press statements can substitute for genuinely tough actions, such as targeting those “training camps, safe houses and weapons storehouses inside Iran.”

The president needs to make a decision about how far he is willing to go to
confront Iranian aggression, and if the answer is (as I suspect) “not very
far”, I would advise the administration to tone down its rhetoric. As I’ve
warned in the past, the disconnect between the administration’s harsh talk
and its weak actions-a feature of the second Bush term–is doing serious
damage to American credibility.

Admiral Mullen’s words about Iran apply equal well to the United States: “I
think actions, certainly here, must speak louder than words. And the
actions just don’t meet the commitments on the part of their leadership.”

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Acknowledging Advisers

The Washington Post has a small but important story on American military advisers. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just visited Fort Riley, Kansas, where advisers for Afghanistan and Iraq are trained. He stressed how important these advisory teams are. Ultimately they are our only responsible “exit strategy,” because they can help turn the Afghan and Iraqi armies into forces capable of keeping order largely on their own.

The problem is that the army doesn’t traditionally reward advisory work. It tends to promote officers who lead American troops, not those who advise foreign troops—even if the latter mission is, in the grand scheme of things, more important.

The Post account has some telling quotes from mid-level officers:

“It’s not a dead end, but it slows down your career,” said Capt. Richard Turvey, 35, of Muncie, Ind.

“I became an officer to be a commander; now I’m going to have to wait longer,” agreed Capt. Mark Johnstone, 33, of Denver. “The teams are taking us from our traditional roles as artillerymen.”

“We have to have certain jobs to be competitive.” said Maj. Jason Jones, one of a group of army majors attending school at Fort Leavenworth who voiced reluctance to join the training teams. “That takes me out of the cycle. In essence, it sort of hurts you,” Jones said.

Promotion prospects for those who serve on the teams remain uncertain, said Maj. Kealii T. Morris. “The jury is still out” on how promotion boards will treat officers who serve on the teams, he said.

The army needs to make clear to its promotion boards that this type of service will be valued as highly as more traditional combat duty. One positive step in this direction would be to implement Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea for an Advisory Corps within the army—something I’ve previously advocated on contentions. Unfortunately, the army so far has resisted this innovation. It will take concerted pressure from the outside—especially from the Secretary of Defense, but also from lawmakers on Capitol Hill—to reform an out-of-touch personnel system that isn’t providing the skill sets we need to win the war on Islamofascism.

The Washington Post has a small but important story on American military advisers. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just visited Fort Riley, Kansas, where advisers for Afghanistan and Iraq are trained. He stressed how important these advisory teams are. Ultimately they are our only responsible “exit strategy,” because they can help turn the Afghan and Iraqi armies into forces capable of keeping order largely on their own.

The problem is that the army doesn’t traditionally reward advisory work. It tends to promote officers who lead American troops, not those who advise foreign troops—even if the latter mission is, in the grand scheme of things, more important.

The Post account has some telling quotes from mid-level officers:

“It’s not a dead end, but it slows down your career,” said Capt. Richard Turvey, 35, of Muncie, Ind.

“I became an officer to be a commander; now I’m going to have to wait longer,” agreed Capt. Mark Johnstone, 33, of Denver. “The teams are taking us from our traditional roles as artillerymen.”

“We have to have certain jobs to be competitive.” said Maj. Jason Jones, one of a group of army majors attending school at Fort Leavenworth who voiced reluctance to join the training teams. “That takes me out of the cycle. In essence, it sort of hurts you,” Jones said.

Promotion prospects for those who serve on the teams remain uncertain, said Maj. Kealii T. Morris. “The jury is still out” on how promotion boards will treat officers who serve on the teams, he said.

The army needs to make clear to its promotion boards that this type of service will be valued as highly as more traditional combat duty. One positive step in this direction would be to implement Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea for an Advisory Corps within the army—something I’ve previously advocated on contentions. Unfortunately, the army so far has resisted this innovation. It will take concerted pressure from the outside—especially from the Secretary of Defense, but also from lawmakers on Capitol Hill—to reform an out-of-touch personnel system that isn’t providing the skill sets we need to win the war on Islamofascism.

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The PLA at 80

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the founding of the world’s largest private army: China’s. The biggest misconception about China’s military is that it belongs to China. Yes, the Chinese state pays for the People’s Liberation Army, but the PLA reports to—and pledges to defend—the Communist Party. On this Army Day, Beijing’s propaganda saluted (as it always does) the army’s 2.3 million members in their capacity as employees and defenders of China’s leading political organization.

This year’s ritualistic expressions of mutual party-army appreciation seem more numerous and passionate than on past anniversaries. President Hu Jintao mentioned the party’s total control over the military at least 15 times in his Army Day speech. Some foreign observers speculate that the excessive declarations are meant to cover up rifts in the military’s leadership or the failure of Hu—who is also the party’s general secretary—to consolidate control over his generals and admirals. (Others say that he is already in charge.)

Here’s a shortcut for those who do not want to devote their lives to studying this impenetrable issue: Beijing operates an abnormal political system and maintains an abnormal relationship with its armed forces. And here’s something else: because the party controls the army (or at least tries to do so), our attempts to establish military-to-military ties are bound to end in failure. It is not just that the Chinese generally believe in secrecy as a powerful military tool (though they do): secrecy lies at the heart of China’s political system, and of its peculiar government-military relationship.

The Bush White House should know this by now. It has done all it can to try to build functional military-to-military relations with China, but has not succeeded. The Chinese continue to ask for assistance—their more recent requests included the arresting gear of aircraft carriers and the training of carrier crews—but they are not willing to reciprocate. We let them tour our navy’s most important base—in Norfolk, VA—in April of this year, but they were not willing to let our Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Mullen, make a visit to a comparable Chinese naval facility. (In response, Mullen, departing from the Bush administration’s renewed emphasis on military ties with China, canceled his planned trip to Beijing.)

On this anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army let’s send the Chinese our birthday greetings—but let’s stop making gifts of our know-how and technology.

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the founding of the world’s largest private army: China’s. The biggest misconception about China’s military is that it belongs to China. Yes, the Chinese state pays for the People’s Liberation Army, but the PLA reports to—and pledges to defend—the Communist Party. On this Army Day, Beijing’s propaganda saluted (as it always does) the army’s 2.3 million members in their capacity as employees and defenders of China’s leading political organization.

This year’s ritualistic expressions of mutual party-army appreciation seem more numerous and passionate than on past anniversaries. President Hu Jintao mentioned the party’s total control over the military at least 15 times in his Army Day speech. Some foreign observers speculate that the excessive declarations are meant to cover up rifts in the military’s leadership or the failure of Hu—who is also the party’s general secretary—to consolidate control over his generals and admirals. (Others say that he is already in charge.)

Here’s a shortcut for those who do not want to devote their lives to studying this impenetrable issue: Beijing operates an abnormal political system and maintains an abnormal relationship with its armed forces. And here’s something else: because the party controls the army (or at least tries to do so), our attempts to establish military-to-military ties are bound to end in failure. It is not just that the Chinese generally believe in secrecy as a powerful military tool (though they do): secrecy lies at the heart of China’s political system, and of its peculiar government-military relationship.

The Bush White House should know this by now. It has done all it can to try to build functional military-to-military relations with China, but has not succeeded. The Chinese continue to ask for assistance—their more recent requests included the arresting gear of aircraft carriers and the training of carrier crews—but they are not willing to reciprocate. We let them tour our navy’s most important base—in Norfolk, VA—in April of this year, but they were not willing to let our Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Mullen, make a visit to a comparable Chinese naval facility. (In response, Mullen, departing from the Bush administration’s renewed emphasis on military ties with China, canceled his planned trip to Beijing.)

On this anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army let’s send the Chinese our birthday greetings—but let’s stop making gifts of our know-how and technology.

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Command Performance

The recent spate of appointments of admirals to top “joint” jobs within the U.S. armed forces is, so to speak, making waves within the military. The Army feels especially miffed that, at a time when it is carrying the major burden of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its representation in the most senior jobs is as low as it’s ever been.

As an Associated Press article notes, “Of the U.S. military’s nine combat commands, only two are run by Army generals, and that number will be cut in half when Bryan Brown retires next month as the senior officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.”

General Brown, a veteran of Army Special Operations Forces, is being replaced by Admiral Eric Olson, a veteran SEAL. At the same time, Admiral Mike Mullen, the current Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., the Navy chief of staff), has been nominated to replace Marine General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his deputy will be Marine General James Cartwright.

In other personnel shifts, Admiral James Stavridis became head of Southern Command last fall, while more recently Admiral Timothy Keating has become head of Pacific Command. The latter is a traditional Navy billet. But what really rankles the Army is that Keating’s predecessor, Admiral William Fallon, has taken over Central Command (covering the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia), whose leadership traditionally has rotated between the Army and Marine Corps. Of the nine unified combatant commands, the Army will be left with just one—European Command, where General Bantz Craddock is the boss.

Read More

The recent spate of appointments of admirals to top “joint” jobs within the U.S. armed forces is, so to speak, making waves within the military. The Army feels especially miffed that, at a time when it is carrying the major burden of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its representation in the most senior jobs is as low as it’s ever been.

As an Associated Press article notes, “Of the U.S. military’s nine combat commands, only two are run by Army generals, and that number will be cut in half when Bryan Brown retires next month as the senior officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.”

General Brown, a veteran of Army Special Operations Forces, is being replaced by Admiral Eric Olson, a veteran SEAL. At the same time, Admiral Mike Mullen, the current Chief of Naval Operations (i.e., the Navy chief of staff), has been nominated to replace Marine General Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; his deputy will be Marine General James Cartwright.

In other personnel shifts, Admiral James Stavridis became head of Southern Command last fall, while more recently Admiral Timothy Keating has become head of Pacific Command. The latter is a traditional Navy billet. But what really rankles the Army is that Keating’s predecessor, Admiral William Fallon, has taken over Central Command (covering the Middle East, East Africa, and Central Asia), whose leadership traditionally has rotated between the Army and Marine Corps. Of the nine unified combatant commands, the Army will be left with just one—European Command, where General Bantz Craddock is the boss.

Suspicious souls within the Army are starting to wonder if there is a conspiracy against the men and women in green, perhaps a holdover from the tenure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was intensely suspicious of the Army for not being in synch with his high-tech (and highly misguided) plans to “transform” the armed forces. Or perhaps, some self-flagellating Army officers speculate, this is a sign that their service isn’t doing a good job of producing competent senior leaders.

Both explanations are plausible. But it’s also possible that there may be less here than meets the eye.

Consider that the Army at the moment holds the two most important combat commands in the entire U.S. armed forces. General David Petraeus is the senior commander in Iraq, while General Dan McNeill is the senior commander in Afghanistan. Neither position is as publicly prestigious as that of combatant commander. But those jobs are of much greater actual significance at the moment than running, say, Southern Command (with responsibility for Latin America). They are probably even more significant than running Central Command—which may be why Defense Secretary Robert Gates felt free to appoint an admiral to that position, knowing that our land wars would still be run by army four-stars.

These trends also tend to go in cycles. Not long ago the Army was grousing not about Navy admirals but about Marine Corps generals, said to be “overrepresented” in senior Army ranks. Marines, for their part, were upset that two Army generals—Tommy Franks and John Abizaid—had taken successive charge of Centcom. Many wondered why a leatherneck (such as the eminently qualified Lieutenant General Jim Mattis) wasn’t picked.

My sense—and it’s only a sense, since I have no inside information—is that the top jobs are filled nowadays based more on personal qualifications than on service politics. It’s who you know and what your reputation is that count, rather than which uniform you wear. And since the top jobs are so political, it’s often the most astute political infighter, rather than the most brilliant and inspired leader, who gets the appointment.

But the recent appointments do seem to reflect a decline in intra-service parochialism—precisely what the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act was supposed to accomplish. So the latest appointments should not occasion too much grinding of teeth, even in the Army. After all, before long the other services may well be complaining about too many green-suiters at the top.

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