Commentary Magazine


Topic: national security

On Ike Skelton

Want to know why there is so much partisan deadlock in Washington today? In part it’s because of the rise of a radical Tea Party wing of the Republican Party which is interested in grandstanding, not legislating. But it’s also due to the demise of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party as represented by the likes of Ike Skelton, a Missouri congressman who served 17 terms in the House and has just died.

Skelton represented the area where Harry Truman came from and he often voted like Truman. He was one of the most pro-defense members of Congress–and one of the most knowledgeable experts on military issues. A longtime member of the House Armed Services Committee, he capped his service as its chairman. He made his primary impact not by grandstanding for the cameras but by working quietly behind the scenes to bolster the armed forces. He had a particular passion for enhancing military education and he put in place schooling requirements which remain in effect to this day.

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Want to know why there is so much partisan deadlock in Washington today? In part it’s because of the rise of a radical Tea Party wing of the Republican Party which is interested in grandstanding, not legislating. But it’s also due to the demise of the centrist wing of the Democratic Party as represented by the likes of Ike Skelton, a Missouri congressman who served 17 terms in the House and has just died.

Skelton represented the area where Harry Truman came from and he often voted like Truman. He was one of the most pro-defense members of Congress–and one of the most knowledgeable experts on military issues. A longtime member of the House Armed Services Committee, he capped his service as its chairman. He made his primary impact not by grandstanding for the cameras but by working quietly behind the scenes to bolster the armed forces. He had a particular passion for enhancing military education and he put in place schooling requirements which remain in effect to this day.

His views allowed him to hold office even as his district turned more conservative. But his luck finally ran out in 2010 when he was beaten by a Republican challenger. Two other conservative Democrats–John Spratt of South Carolina and Gene Taylor of Mississippi–lost in the same year.  

Races such as those enabled Republicans to recapture control of the House in 2010. But it’s not your father’s Republican Party anymore. The Tea Party wing is now in effective control in the House–i.e., if not actually able to pass its priorities, it is able to block anyone else’s most of the time. The Tea Party Caucus formally numbers 46 House members but its influence is larger. On the other side of the spectrum are equally ideological members of the Progressive Caucus which now numbers 68 members.  

Unfortunately there are too few Ike Skeltons left. Congress and the country are the poorer for it.

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Not News: The U.S. and Israel Cooperate

On her blog today, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times, took issue with her paper’s news judgment. Responding to complaints from readers, she said she disagreed with the paper’s decision not to run a piece following up on a Guardian article alleging that the United States and Israel have shared intelligence that might be derived from intercepts of communications by the National Security Agency. Though I rarely concur with many if not most of the choices made by the Grey Lady’s editors, in this case I think managing editor Dean Baquet was right: the Guardian, which is the main conduit for stories stemming from the leaks of classified U.S. material by Edward Snowden, had hyped a detail gleaned from the stolen material that was neither “significant or surprising.” Though those hostile to Israel (such as Snowden’s journalistic partner Glenn Greenwald) may think this is worth treating as if it were a scandal, the notion that the two allies share data about terrorist suspects or related material is not news. Nor is it anything for anyone who cares about protecting either country from Islamist terrorists to worry about.

While Sullivan apparently thinks anything about the NSA intercepts is newsworthy and may well have succumbed to the cliché about Jews being news, this mini-controversy about what the Times publishes should give us insight into much of the breathless hype about the government’s data mining. Though libertarians, isolationists, and critics of big government have been feeding public paranoia about the NSA, this particular nugget of information tells us just how uncontroversial much of the agency’s activity has been. Just as the intercepts are both legal and a reasonable use of resources, so, too, is the NSA’s sharing of some of material with a country that shares much of its own considerable intelligence resources with the United States. The attempt to render this useful cooperation controversial or, as the Guardian implies, illegal does nothing to protect civil liberties while potentially damaging U.S. national security.

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On her blog today, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of the New York Times, took issue with her paper’s news judgment. Responding to complaints from readers, she said she disagreed with the paper’s decision not to run a piece following up on a Guardian article alleging that the United States and Israel have shared intelligence that might be derived from intercepts of communications by the National Security Agency. Though I rarely concur with many if not most of the choices made by the Grey Lady’s editors, in this case I think managing editor Dean Baquet was right: the Guardian, which is the main conduit for stories stemming from the leaks of classified U.S. material by Edward Snowden, had hyped a detail gleaned from the stolen material that was neither “significant or surprising.” Though those hostile to Israel (such as Snowden’s journalistic partner Glenn Greenwald) may think this is worth treating as if it were a scandal, the notion that the two allies share data about terrorist suspects or related material is not news. Nor is it anything for anyone who cares about protecting either country from Islamist terrorists to worry about.

While Sullivan apparently thinks anything about the NSA intercepts is newsworthy and may well have succumbed to the cliché about Jews being news, this mini-controversy about what the Times publishes should give us insight into much of the breathless hype about the government’s data mining. Though libertarians, isolationists, and critics of big government have been feeding public paranoia about the NSA, this particular nugget of information tells us just how uncontroversial much of the agency’s activity has been. Just as the intercepts are both legal and a reasonable use of resources, so, too, is the NSA’s sharing of some of material with a country that shares much of its own considerable intelligence resources with the United States. The attempt to render this useful cooperation controversial or, as the Guardian implies, illegal does nothing to protect civil liberties while potentially damaging U.S. national security.

The Guardian’s attempt to blow this detail about Israel into a major aspect of the NSA falls flat. The lede of the piece centers on the fact that some of what is shared with Israel is “raw intelligence” without “sifting it to remove information about U.S. citizens.” The implication is that the NSA is not only wrongly spying on American citizens but that it is facilitating Israel’s efforts to do the same thing. It then goes on to repeat gossip about Israel spying on the U.S. government and attempts to imply that the relationship between the two countries is lopsided in favor of the Jewish state even if it acknowledges further down that many allies, including the U.S., spy on each other.

First, it is far from clear that any sharing of intelligence data with Israel is illegal or even violates government guidelines. As even the article notes, anything shared with Israel is done under strict rules that prevent any targeting of U.S. individuals and limits use of the information.

Moreover, while there is some understandable concern about the broad-based nature of the NSA intercepts that could occasionally cause them to scrutinize material that is not pertinent to their mission, this story illustrates just the opposite of what most people were worried about. After all, the U.S. is not handing over billions of files but rather individual cases that clearly merit a closer look. Anyone whose “privacy” is intruded upon in such cases is not a random average citizen but most likely someone with clear connections to suspicious if not dangerous foreign contacts. Giving the Israelis a closer look at such information merely enhances the ability of the U.S. to defend our homeland and is not merely a gift to Jerusalem.

While in the anti-Zionist universe in which the Guardian operates any kind of cooperation with Israel is suspect, even the editors of the Times know that the intelligence agencies of the two countries have worked closely together to fight terrorism for many years. Israel has long punched far above its weight in terms of the strategic assistance it gives the United States. While Israel cannot compete with the vast technological resources that the U.S. can bring to bear on the problem, its Mossad is renowned for its skill in ferreting out information about Arab and Muslim radicals. It is obviously in the best interests of the West that the two cooperate, and that is exactly what they should be doing. 

As for any of this being such a big secret, as anyone who paid attention to the presidential campaign last year knows, President Obama and his surrogates spent a disproportionate amount of time bragging about how much he had improved security cooperation between the two countries.

As for the talk about spying, again none of this is new or surprising. All countries, even allies, spy on each other and that includes U.S. spooks that do what they can to learn all of Israel’s secrets.

At the heart of the outrage about the Snowden leaks is a belief on the part of some, especially Greenwald and the Guardian, that there is something inherently wrong with the work of the NSA in fighting Islamist terror. Those who wish to criminalize legal activity that is aimed at enemies of the United States speak of civil liberties being violated, but their main agenda might well be termed counter-counter-terrorism. If that effort dovetails with the anti-Israel agenda of others on the left or the far right, that suits them just fine. But if they succeed, it will be the safety of Americans that will suffer.

The U.S.-Israel alliance is based on common values but also on an understanding that they share common enemies as well. That the Times sees nothing remarkable in this shows that for all of their demonstrated anti-Israel bias, they are still light years removed from the hardened anti-Zionist prejudice that is business as usual at the Guardian and other British papers.

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Too Soon to Call Sequester a Success

From the standpoint of a budget hawk like Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the budget sequestration process may indeed look like a success. “After President Obama’s first two years in office, many in Washington expected that number to hit $4 trillion by 2014,” Moore writes. “Instead, spending fell to $3.537 trillion in fiscal 2012, and is on pace to fall below $3.45 trillion by the end of this fiscal year (Sept. 30). The $150 billion budget decline of 4% is the first time federal expenditures have fallen for two consecutive years since the end of the Korean War.”

That is certainly good news, given the long-term threat to our international standing posed by runaway spending, even if there is cause to doubt how lasting the success of sequestration will be. As R. Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane write in the New York Times, “The C.B.O. still anticipates a 2015 deficit of $378 billion. And Uncle Sam is heading — and this is the best-case scenario — toward nearly a trillion dollars of red ink every year after 2023.”

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From the standpoint of a budget hawk like Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the budget sequestration process may indeed look like a success. “After President Obama’s first two years in office, many in Washington expected that number to hit $4 trillion by 2014,” Moore writes. “Instead, spending fell to $3.537 trillion in fiscal 2012, and is on pace to fall below $3.45 trillion by the end of this fiscal year (Sept. 30). The $150 billion budget decline of 4% is the first time federal expenditures have fallen for two consecutive years since the end of the Korean War.”

That is certainly good news, given the long-term threat to our international standing posed by runaway spending, even if there is cause to doubt how lasting the success of sequestration will be. As R. Glenn Hubbard and Tim Kane write in the New York Times, “The C.B.O. still anticipates a 2015 deficit of $378 billion. And Uncle Sam is heading — and this is the best-case scenario — toward nearly a trillion dollars of red ink every year after 2023.”

More immediately, the danger from a military standpoint is that we are purchasing deficit reduction at the cost of a catastrophic loss of military capability and readiness. As Moore himself notes, “The defense budget is on a pace to hit its lowest level (as a share of GDP) since the days of the post-Cold War ‘peace dividend’ during the Clinton years.” He concedes that “these deep cutbacks could be dangerous to national security,” but he argues that “as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were winding down, defense would have been cut under any scenario.” Perhaps so, but there was nothing inevitable to dictate that cuts would be so deep–amounting to some $1 trillion over the next decade–or that they would be enacted so indiscriminately across the board.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gave an overview of the unpalatable choices facing the Defense Department when he unveiled the results of a strategic review of spending. Even assuming a 20-percent reduction in headquarters overhead and a $50 billion reduction in military compensation–by no means easy to pull off–the armed forces will still have to cut a lot of muscle to achieve their budget targets.

Option 1 would be to cut the size of the existing armed forces dramatically to preserve investment in cutting-edge technologies. This would mean: “The active Army would drop to between 380,000 and 450,000 troops [from a peak of 570,000]. The number of Navy carrier strike groups would be reduced from a target of 11 to eight or nine. The Marine Corps would be reduced from 182,000 troops to between 150,000 and 175,000. And the Pentagon would retire older Air Force bombers.”

Option 2 would be to preserve more forces in being while cutting investments in “the Air Force’s new bomber, submarine cruise missile upgrades, the F-35 Lightning II, cyber capabilities and special operations forces.”

Either way, the U.S. will suffer a dangerous loss of military capability and hence influence in the world at the same time that the long-term danger from China and the short-term dangers from Iran and al-Qaeda are only growing. Ultimately, history teaches that decline of international security and stability will have parlous consequences for the American economy (see, for worst-case scenarios, the 1930s and 1970s), which will ultimately necessitate a large military buildup and make projected budget savings illusory. It makes more sense to keep in existence the top-notch American armed forces as they have been developed at great cost and effort since the last period of major cuts in the 1970s. But that would require repealing sequestration, which appears increasingly unlikely.

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Must We Cut the Army to Expand the Navy?

Seth Cropsey, a former deputy undersecretary of defense, has written a fine new book called Mayday, warning of the perilous decline of U.S. naval supremacy. It should be required reading in Washington. As you might expect, retired Adm. Gary Roughead, a former chief of naval operations who is now at the Hoover Institution, gave the book a thumbs up in the Wall Street Journal. But while endorsing Cropsey’s warning about the dangers of allowing the Navy to decline too far, Roughead adds a curious dig at the army:

With its 286 ships, the U.S. Navy is now smaller than it was in 1917, when it boasted 342. The number is stuck, and the trend spans the administrations of both parties. We have spent heavily on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. Navy, which is central to our long-term strategic interests, languishes. Navies, unlike armies, take time to build—why the framers of our Constitution wrote of the imperative to “provide and maintain a Navy,” as opposed to the need to “raise and support an Army.”

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Seth Cropsey, a former deputy undersecretary of defense, has written a fine new book called Mayday, warning of the perilous decline of U.S. naval supremacy. It should be required reading in Washington. As you might expect, retired Adm. Gary Roughead, a former chief of naval operations who is now at the Hoover Institution, gave the book a thumbs up in the Wall Street Journal. But while endorsing Cropsey’s warning about the dangers of allowing the Navy to decline too far, Roughead adds a curious dig at the army:

With its 286 ships, the U.S. Navy is now smaller than it was in 1917, when it boasted 342. The number is stuck, and the trend spans the administrations of both parties. We have spent heavily on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. Navy, which is central to our long-term strategic interests, languishes. Navies, unlike armies, take time to build—why the framers of our Constitution wrote of the imperative to “provide and maintain a Navy,” as opposed to the need to “raise and support an Army.”

Although he does not expound on it in this book review, Roughead has previously proposed that we cut a further 200,000 personnel from the active duty army which is already supposed to shrink to 490,000 men and women even before sequestration takes effect. (He proposed at the same time adding 100,000 personnel to the National Guard and Reserve, as if reservist and active-duty units are interchangeable–they’re not.) His proposal for cutting the army, while increasing the navy, seems to be based on the assumption reflected in the book review–that armies can be far more quickly regenerated than navies.

It’s certainly true that naval ships take a long time to build–and it takes a long time to gain proficiency in operating them once they are added to the fleet. Granted, rifles, tanks, and helicopters don’t take as long to build and are easier to operate. But that doesn’t mean that an army can be generated with a snap of the fingers. We have learned this lesson time and again throughout our history in the early battles of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, among others–all of which exposed the inadequacies of ill-trained, ill-equipped recruits commanded, in many cases, by incompetent generals.

In point of fact, a professional, high-quality army takes a long time to develop–simply developing the capacity to be a competent battalion commander in today’s army can take 20 years. If we downsize the army excessively now, it will be no easy feat to replace lost experience on some future battlefield. History suggests we will pay a heavy price if we break up the high-quality, combined-arms ground forces we have today because, however unlikely it may look at the moment, the odds are that we will be engaged in another ground war sooner or later.

Roughead is right that we need to keep the U.S. Navy from shrinking further–and we even need to expand it. But it would be a mistake to eviscerate the army to pay for naval power. The U.S. is a full-service superpower that needs–and can afford–world-class forces on both soil and sea, not to mention in the skies.

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Defense Cuts Rest on Faulty Assumptions

Buried deep in this Wall Street Journal article on the future of the U.S. Army is this dismaying revelation: “Defense officials said the Army must shrink by an additional 100,000 soldiers if the across-the-board cuts remain, bringing the service to 390,000.”

Let’s put that figure into perspective. The army shrank by roughly a third after the end of the Cold War–from 730,000 active-duty personnel in 1990 to 491,000 in 1996. That was grossly inadequate to deal with the challenges of the post-9/11 world (or arguably the pre-9/11 world either), and so over the past decade the army slowly grew, reaching a peak strength of 557,000 in early 2012. A year later the army is down to 541,000 and shrinking fast.

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Buried deep in this Wall Street Journal article on the future of the U.S. Army is this dismaying revelation: “Defense officials said the Army must shrink by an additional 100,000 soldiers if the across-the-board cuts remain, bringing the service to 390,000.”

Let’s put that figure into perspective. The army shrank by roughly a third after the end of the Cold War–from 730,000 active-duty personnel in 1990 to 491,000 in 1996. That was grossly inadequate to deal with the challenges of the post-9/11 world (or arguably the pre-9/11 world either), and so over the past decade the army slowly grew, reaching a peak strength of 557,000 in early 2012. A year later the army is down to 541,000 and shrinking fast.

The plan had been, because of half a trillion dollars in defense budget cuts mandated by Congress in 2011, to cut army end-strength down to 490,000–i.e. roughly the pre-9/11 level. But sequestration has added another half-trillion dollars in cuts which, if not rescinded, will result in an army of 390,000–the smallest level since before World War II.

Such drastic cuts only make sense if you assume–as the Obama administration and many on Capitol Hill seem to–that we will never fight another major ground war in the future or that if we do we will have plenty of time to mobilize and train reservists and new recruits. Neither assumption is historically warranted.

First, wars today do not take place after an elaborate mobilization; more often they arrive out of the blue, as the post-9/11 conflict in Afghanistan did.

Second, despite our aversion to fighting more wars after Iraq and Afghanistan, there are still plenty of places where it is easy to imagine American combat troops being sent–in fact just about anywhere in the giant arc of instability stretching from West Africa to Central Asia, in other words from Mali to Pakistan. That region is full of dangerous regimes and non-state actors and it is growing more unstable, not less. The danger to the U.S. is heightened by the fact that one country in that area (Pakistan) already has nuclear weapons, another is close to acquiring them (Iran), and others (Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia) may yet follow suit.

Sending large numbers of U.S. grounds is not anyone’s preferred solution to the dangers emanating from this area–but even in a best-case scenario we will have to continue providing substantial security assistance and Special Operations missions to keep the threat under control. The worst-case scenarios (e.g., war with Iran, another 9/11 emanating from Pakistan) could, in fact, dictate large-scale ground deployments.

No matter how much we hate the idea of another major war, especially on the ground, prudence suggests we need to have the capability to fight and win–and the only way to achieve decisive results (i.e., change of regime) is through ground action. Ground troops can sometimes be provided by allies, such as the Libyan rebels, to complement American airpower, but we cannot rule out the possibility that in the future U.S. ground forces will have to be deployed.

It is the height of folly to cut our ground forces so much–and to degrade their readiness so markedly–that they will no longer be able to deploy in sufficient strength to win future wars. But that is precisely what we are now doing.

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Time to Correct Dysfunctional Navy Procurement

Pentagon bloat frustrates both Congress and ordinary taxpayers. Many on the left perceive of the Pentagon as a cash cow whose budget they can divert in order to fund ever more expensive entitlement programs. That strategy may delay a final reckoning about systemic economic issues, but it comes at a significant national security price.

Because of high seas and stormy weather, I had a bit of a Gilligan’s Island experience and was stranded for three days last week on a ship to which I was to lecture for only around four hours. Over subsequent days, I got to spend a good amount of time with the commanding officer, the executive officer, officers, and crew. While that ship appeared to be in better condition than most, there were problems with its electronics and computers. Indeed, stepping onto almost any U.S. ship is to step back in time when it comes to computers. Most computers are old and decrepit. If sailors and riders are lucky, they will handle at least Windows 98. Internet is spotty at best: It can take over an hour to send an email because of bandwidth issues, and even Google or Wikipedia can be difficult to access. It is one thing to complain about slow Internet access, but the sad fact is that slow computing is the symptom of a larger problem.

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Pentagon bloat frustrates both Congress and ordinary taxpayers. Many on the left perceive of the Pentagon as a cash cow whose budget they can divert in order to fund ever more expensive entitlement programs. That strategy may delay a final reckoning about systemic economic issues, but it comes at a significant national security price.

Because of high seas and stormy weather, I had a bit of a Gilligan’s Island experience and was stranded for three days last week on a ship to which I was to lecture for only around four hours. Over subsequent days, I got to spend a good amount of time with the commanding officer, the executive officer, officers, and crew. While that ship appeared to be in better condition than most, there were problems with its electronics and computers. Indeed, stepping onto almost any U.S. ship is to step back in time when it comes to computers. Most computers are old and decrepit. If sailors and riders are lucky, they will handle at least Windows 98. Internet is spotty at best: It can take over an hour to send an email because of bandwidth issues, and even Google or Wikipedia can be difficult to access. It is one thing to complain about slow Internet access, but the sad fact is that slow computing is the symptom of a larger problem.

Officers were ready with an explanation about why it is that pretty much every ship lags behind. When the Navy decides to order a ship, it essentially pre-pays because the budget is set at the start. Ships can take years to construct. Construction on the USS Gerald Ford, our country’s next aircraft carrier, began in 2005. When the ship is launched in 2015, its computers will already be a decade out of date. Technology certainly has advanced in the interim. When the Pentagon looks at the ship and decides it needs current capability rather than the capacity of yesteryear, it can cost tens of millions of dollars—if not hundreds of millions of dollars—to retrofit and redesign the original plans. It is not uncommon, therefore, for the Navy to be faced with a choice between a ship which is becoming obsolete almost as soon as it is launched, or one that will have exceeded its budget by 50-100 percent.

If there is a workaround, it is in contracting which mandates contemporary standards upon launching. It would be up to shipbuilding companies to gauge needs ahead of time rather than plan for the past. Such a change would require a new way of doing business in Pentagon acquisitions. Let us hope that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel can find a way, because the cost of facing China or any other rising powers with a substandard fleet in this era of declining budgets will ultimately have an even higher cost.

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Sequestration Impact on Military Isn’t “Synthetic Hysteria”

Washington pundits–especially of the conservative stripe–continue to insist, as George Will wrote in a recent column, that all the talk of the disastrous impact of sequestration is “synthetic hysteria.” If only.

Actually, we are already seeing severe consequences for our military readiness even though the full brunt of the cuts has not yet taken effect–many will not be implemented for another month or more. But already the Navy has announced that in addition to canceling the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf (which Will denounced, based on no actual evidence, as part of a “crude, obvious and shameful” campaign by the Navy “to pressure Congress into unraveling the sequester”), it will have to cancel eight other ship movements and ground four air wings.

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Washington pundits–especially of the conservative stripe–continue to insist, as George Will wrote in a recent column, that all the talk of the disastrous impact of sequestration is “synthetic hysteria.” If only.

Actually, we are already seeing severe consequences for our military readiness even though the full brunt of the cuts has not yet taken effect–many will not be implemented for another month or more. But already the Navy has announced that in addition to canceling the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf (which Will denounced, based on no actual evidence, as part of a “crude, obvious and shameful” campaign by the Navy “to pressure Congress into unraveling the sequester”), it will have to cancel eight other ship movements and ground four air wings.

Two more air wings will be operating at minimum safe flying levels–i.e., flying fewer hours than judged necessary to maintain a high state of warfighting readiness. Military Times reports: “Basic flight training for pilot and flight officer trainees will halt in March.” Since the Navy only has nine active carrier air wings, this means that it has effectively lost nearly half of its aerial strike power.

There is still time to restore the combat effectiveness of the Navy and the other services, but that will require a recognition on the part of both Republicans and Democrats that a crisis is at hand. At the moment, however, most of the power brokers in Washington appear to be in denial mode, which means that our armed forces will pay a heavy price for partisan gridlock.

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Kamikaze Drones over the Strait of Hormuz

Like clockwork, every four months or so, one Iranian official or another will threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz. The Pentagon assumes that Iran would seek to carry out its threats with mines, and so has deployed extra mine-sweepers to the region. Certainly, the Iranian navy would not be a match for the U.S. Navy. Anti-ship missiles are another concern, but it is a safe bet that not only the Defense Intelligence Agency, but also the militaries and intelligence agencies of most regional states, keep an eye on Iranian mobile missile launchers.

The latest news from Iran—if true—should raise new concerns and could undercut U.S. strategy for keeping the waterway open.

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Like clockwork, every four months or so, one Iranian official or another will threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz. The Pentagon assumes that Iran would seek to carry out its threats with mines, and so has deployed extra mine-sweepers to the region. Certainly, the Iranian navy would not be a match for the U.S. Navy. Anti-ship missiles are another concern, but it is a safe bet that not only the Defense Intelligence Agency, but also the militaries and intelligence agencies of most regional states, keep an eye on Iranian mobile missile launchers.

The latest news from Iran—if true—should raise new concerns and could undercut U.S. strategy for keeping the waterway open.

While Tehran is prone to fantastic—and false—claims regarding its unmanned aerial vehicles, it is also true that it has made progress. Late last month, the Persian-language press reported successful tests of “suicide drones.” Such reports might be exaggerated, but it doesn’t take the most advanced technology to ram drones—perhaps packed with explosives—into ships (or helicopters, or other targets). If the U.S. Navy is assuming that Iranian mines pose the biggest problem for international shipping, the Iranians may have a surprise in store. It’s not 1988 anymore.

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Are We Repeating the Mistakes of the “Peace Dividend?”

A lot of conservatives seem to be taking the reflexive attitude that if President Obama is warning that sequestration will be disastrous, then it must a good thing. Witness this National Review symposium, wherein various contributors bemoan “the hysteria of President Obama, liberals in Congress, and the media over very small cuts in federal spending” and argue “let’s do it” because “sequestration is the only chance we have had, and probably ever will have, to cut any federal programs under President Obama.”

Time for a reality check. It’s not just President Obama who is warning of the dire consequences of sequestration. So are our foremost admirals and generals, men and women who have devoted their entire lives to the nation’s defense and can hardly be accused of being liberal Democrats–most are in fact conservative Republicans. The Joint Chiefs of Staff continue to testify to Congress about the terrible impact of sequestration and as more and more details emerge, their case becomes even stronger.

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A lot of conservatives seem to be taking the reflexive attitude that if President Obama is warning that sequestration will be disastrous, then it must a good thing. Witness this National Review symposium, wherein various contributors bemoan “the hysteria of President Obama, liberals in Congress, and the media over very small cuts in federal spending” and argue “let’s do it” because “sequestration is the only chance we have had, and probably ever will have, to cut any federal programs under President Obama.”

Time for a reality check. It’s not just President Obama who is warning of the dire consequences of sequestration. So are our foremost admirals and generals, men and women who have devoted their entire lives to the nation’s defense and can hardly be accused of being liberal Democrats–most are in fact conservative Republicans. The Joint Chiefs of Staff continue to testify to Congress about the terrible impact of sequestration and as more and more details emerge, their case becomes even stronger.

To get the details you have to skip the MSM, which tend to report only sweeping rhetoric, and instead read the defense-industry press, which has chapter and verse. See, for example, this report in AOL Defense, which notes “the Army already knows it will cancel all full-brigade wargames except for a single brigade that will deploy to Afghanistan, a mission the service insists it cannot shortchange.” It further notes “the service has already decided to defer essentially all maintenance at its bases – which will certainly cost more in the long run and may make life distinctly uncomfortable in the meantime.”

And beyond the issue of being able to train and maintain our soldiers, there is also the issue of how many soldiers we will have. The House Armed Services Committee predicts that if sequestration goes through the Marine Corps’ active-duty strength will fall from 200,000 personnel to 145,000 and the Army will fall from 569,000 to 425,000. That amounts to the loss of a quarter of all our ground forces. It would cut the Marine Corps down to its smallest size since 1950, before the start of the Korean War, and the U.S. Army down to its smallest size since 1940, before the American entry into World War II. Those conflicts should remind us of the catastrophic consequences of military unpreparedness of the kind we are now facing.

Unfortunately, neither President Obama nor congressional Republicans are treating this crisis with the gravity it deserves. The president has made clear he will hold the military hostage to his desire for more tax hikes–he has refused to endorse Republican plans that would achieve the same amount of budgetary savings without eviscerating military preparedness. Republicans, in turn, seem to be so enamored of budget cuts and so opposed to any tax hikes–even the closing of loopholes rather than raising marginal rates–that most of them are willing to see defense sacrificed instead.

This is a tragedy: We are in danger of repeating the same mistake we made after World War II, after Vietnam and after the Gulf War–all times when we cut defense excessively and subsequently paid a stiff price. It is particularly bizarre that we are in effect spending a “peace dividend” when there is in fact no peace—U.S. troops are still fighting in Afghanistan and in the War on Terror, and they are on hair-trigger alert to fight Iran if necessary. Yet at the same time we are exempting from cuts the actual causes of our fiscal crisis–runaway entitlement spending, in particular spending on Medicare and Medicaid.

I am not one of those who has argued that partisan gridlock in Washington endangers our standing as a superpower. I have always retained a large measure of optimism about the ability of our political system to work things out and reach solutions even to the most difficult problems. But now I am starting to think that perhaps the doomsayers have a point. This is as self-inflicted a wound as it possible to imagine.

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Sequestration and National Security

General Ray Odierno, the army chief of staff, has provided further details of what sequestration could mean for the army–and why it would be so devastating. Already the army is due to decline in size, because of existing budget cuts, from 570,000 active duty personnel today to 490,000 in a few years’ time. If sequestration occurs, Odierno says a total of 200,000 troops could be laid off—35% of the current force. That would result in the smallest army since the dark days of 1940 when, not coincidentally, German, Italian, and Japanese militarists were overrunning the globe.

Supporters of sequestration reply that it’s only fair the military absorb some cuts because of our fiscal crisis. But the military has already absorbed more than its share–unlike domestic programs. As Odierno reminded an audience at the Brookings Institution, in 2010 Secretary of Defense Bob Gates cancelled various procurement programs worth $300 billion, then in 2011 Congress enacted another $487 billion in cuts over 10 years. Thus the sequestration cuts, amounting to $500 billion, come on top of almost $800 billion in existing cuts. The drying up of funds for the war effort in Afghanistan will result in another major hit to the budget; that funding was used to pay for needed training and equipment refitting that will now have to be paid out of the regular defense budget.

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General Ray Odierno, the army chief of staff, has provided further details of what sequestration could mean for the army–and why it would be so devastating. Already the army is due to decline in size, because of existing budget cuts, from 570,000 active duty personnel today to 490,000 in a few years’ time. If sequestration occurs, Odierno says a total of 200,000 troops could be laid off—35% of the current force. That would result in the smallest army since the dark days of 1940 when, not coincidentally, German, Italian, and Japanese militarists were overrunning the globe.

Supporters of sequestration reply that it’s only fair the military absorb some cuts because of our fiscal crisis. But the military has already absorbed more than its share–unlike domestic programs. As Odierno reminded an audience at the Brookings Institution, in 2010 Secretary of Defense Bob Gates cancelled various procurement programs worth $300 billion, then in 2011 Congress enacted another $487 billion in cuts over 10 years. Thus the sequestration cuts, amounting to $500 billion, come on top of almost $800 billion in existing cuts. The drying up of funds for the war effort in Afghanistan will result in another major hit to the budget; that funding was used to pay for needed training and equipment refitting that will now have to be paid out of the regular defense budget.

Cumulatively, Odierno estimates, “if we implement the 2014 budget without sequestration, it’ll be a 45 percent reduction in the Army budget,” compared to the baseline of 2008. “If we implement sequestration, it’ll be over 50 percent.”

Little wonder than, that Odierno says “today, in my opinion, the greatest threat to our national security is the fiscal uncertainty resulting from the lack of predictability in the budget cycle.”

His words should not be dismissed as the pronouncements of a general bent on preserving his personal prerogatives. They are, instead, the words of a man who has devoted his life to the defense of his country and now sees our front line of defense in jeopardy of collapse. It is hard to exaggerate just how dire the situation is now, especially given that both Democrats and Republicans say there is virtually no chance of reaching a deal before sequestration hits on March 1.

The problem is that President Obama is demanding “revenue enhancements”—i.e., tax increases—along with further cuts to the defense budget as part of any deal to stop sequestration. Republicans, having already gone along on tax hikes once, aren’t budging this time around. Some privately even welcome sequestration; for instance John Makin of the American Enterprise Institute had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that made the pro-sequestration case without once mentioning its impact on defense.

This is the height of irresponsibility all around. Sequestration will have little impact on our fiscal situation (even eliminating the entire Department of Defense will not eliminate the budget deficit) but it will have devastating consequences for our military readiness in ways that will endanger our long-term security. In an ideal world lawmakers would reach a deal to cut entitlement spending instead since that is the real source of our budget woes. In today’s Washington, however, that won’t happen. If Republicans have no choice but to agree to tax hikes to stop sequestration, so be it: Almost any price is worth paying to prevent the evisceration of our most vital military capabilities.

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Army Memo: Sequestration Means “Rapid Atrophy of Unit Combat Skills”

The Marine Corps has already spelled out the likely consequences of sequestration. So has the Navy, which has already cancelled an aircraft carrier deployment to the Persian Gulf. Now comes the Army. It has just released a memo laying out the impact of $18 billion in cuts it is expected to endure if sequestration occurs next month.

The Army will do everything it needs to do to make sure that units rotating to Afghanistan and South Korea are fully prepared for combat. But to do that it will have to stint on training and readiness for the rest of the force. The memo says that the effect of this “shortfall” will be “devastating to training and readiness in FY13 and affects FY14 and beyond.”  

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The Marine Corps has already spelled out the likely consequences of sequestration. So has the Navy, which has already cancelled an aircraft carrier deployment to the Persian Gulf. Now comes the Army. It has just released a memo laying out the impact of $18 billion in cuts it is expected to endure if sequestration occurs next month.

The Army will do everything it needs to do to make sure that units rotating to Afghanistan and South Korea are fully prepared for combat. But to do that it will have to stint on training and readiness for the rest of the force. The memo says that the effect of this “shortfall” will be “devastating to training and readiness in FY13 and affects FY14 and beyond.”  

The memo continues: “These cumulative reductions will distress and shock Army installations and their surrounding communities with terminations of temporary and term employees, wide-scale reduction of support contracts with more than 3,000 industry partners, and furlough all 251K Army civilians for up to 22 days.”

The cost for long-term readiness is even more distressing: “Shortfalls in Professional Military Education/Training means Soldiers will join units without requisite training and preparation.  These lost capabilities require years to reinstate and some cannot be reversed.  The strategic impact is a rapid atrophy of unit combat skills with a failure to meet demands of the National Military Strategy by the end of this year.”

Soldiers joining units “without requisite training and preparation”? Those words should set off alarm bells in Washington–before we repeat the “hollow army” experiences of the 1970s which culminated in the humiliation of Desert One.

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Lack of Money Delays Carrier Deployment

Sequestration is already hitting. It’s no longer about trimming the fat, but rather about undercutting U.S. national security. I was supposed to head off on the USS Harry S. Truman tomorrow as it began its deployment toward the Persian Gulf. I just received the call now not to bother. From the press down at Hampton Roads, Virginia:

U.S. officials say that budget strains will force the Pentagon to cut its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf area from two carriers to one. As a result, the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman won’t deploy from Norfolk on Friday as planned.

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Sequestration is already hitting. It’s no longer about trimming the fat, but rather about undercutting U.S. national security. I was supposed to head off on the USS Harry S. Truman tomorrow as it began its deployment toward the Persian Gulf. I just received the call now not to bother. From the press down at Hampton Roads, Virginia:

U.S. officials say that budget strains will force the Pentagon to cut its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf area from two carriers to one. As a result, the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman won’t deploy from Norfolk on Friday as planned.

Officials say Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has formally approved a plan to keep just one carrier in the region. There have been two aircraft carrier groups there for most of the last two years.

The expected announcement is the biggest indication yet that looming defense cuts have affected the way the U.S. military operates – an effect that will only grow as the cuts materialize. It was a highly symbolic move with lots of practical consequences for Hampton Roads.

It affects more than 5,000 sailors assigned to the carrier, its air wing and the ships that were to accompany it to the Gulf. Sailors routinely put their cars in storage, give up their apartments and sometimes move their families closer to loved ones while they’re gone. Carrier deployments now last around 8 months, meaning the crew likely planned to be gone until October.

It’s time to put aside the political posturing and have a serious conversation about national security. The implications of the past months’ games are no longer theoretical: They will undercut our strategic position in the region at a time we can least afford to be absent.

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GOP Caving on Sequestration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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U.S. Headed for a Hollow Military?

Sequestration–the process of automatically cutting more than $500 billion from defense spending over the next decade–was momentarily delayed by a last-minute deal between Congress and the White House reached just before it was due to take effect on January 2. But the delay isn’t long–unless a new deal is reached, sequestration will hit on March 2. And odds are no deal will be reached. As Paul Ryan noted on TV this weekend, sequestration is likely to go into effect. This is because the price that the White House is demanding to prevent it–which would include further cuts in defense spending along with tax hikes–is too high for Republicans to stomach.

We don’t know exactly how this process is going to play out, but the Navy has released an instructive memo detailing the very real damage that sequestration will do to our defense capabilities. As summarized by Defense News, the consequences of sequestration include:

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Sequestration–the process of automatically cutting more than $500 billion from defense spending over the next decade–was momentarily delayed by a last-minute deal between Congress and the White House reached just before it was due to take effect on January 2. But the delay isn’t long–unless a new deal is reached, sequestration will hit on March 2. And odds are no deal will be reached. As Paul Ryan noted on TV this weekend, sequestration is likely to go into effect. This is because the price that the White House is demanding to prevent it–which would include further cuts in defense spending along with tax hikes–is too high for Republicans to stomach.

We don’t know exactly how this process is going to play out, but the Navy has released an instructive memo detailing the very real damage that sequestration will do to our defense capabilities. As summarized by Defense News, the consequences of sequestration include:

A drastic cutback in the number of strike group deployments. Aircraft flying hours in the Middle East cut by more than half. Naval operations stopped around Latin America and reduced in the Pacific. Four of the fleet’s nine air wings shut down starting in March. Two carrier strike group deployments “extended indefinitely.” Only partial training for two more strike groups.

Similar consequences will be felt by the other services. As the Marine Corps Times notes, “The Marine Corps is bracing for sudden and severe budget cuts that could throttle programs and services at installations across the globe if Congress and the Obama administration fail to act by March 1.”

Also affected will be the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian employees. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters “that if Congress does not come up with a way to avoid mandatory budget cuts by March 1, hundreds of thousands of Pentagon civilian employees will face furloughs and reduced paychecks by April.”

Some of these parlous consequences could be stopped and even rolled back should Congress reach a deal on sequestration after it goes into effect. But given the partisan gridlock on the Hill, there is a very real chance that these cutbacks will not be reversed. If so, the damage to our armed forces will be serious at a time when they confront more threats than ever before–including the Iranian nuclear program, Chinese cyberattacks, Islamist gains in Mali and other countries in Africa and the Middle East, and the instability emanating from the Syrian civil war.

How anyone thinks we can chop defense spending at a time likes this is beyond me; but that is where Washington is heading. The result is likely to be, heaven help us, another “hollow” military like the one in the post-Vietnam years in the 1970s.

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“Invisible Armies”

COMMENTARY readers may be interested in my new book, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present,” which has just come out in both hardcover and e-book editions.

I am honored and delighted to see that it is getting strong notices. Walter Isaacson calls “it a wonderful and readable historic narrative filled with colorful characters.” General Jack Keane calls it “the most definitive and comprehensive work to date on the dominant form of warfare of our times.” And from The Daily Beast: “The word ‘magisterial’ is bandied about far too freely these days, but in the case of Max Boot’s sweeping and deeply researched history of guerrilla warfare, it proves fair.”

Here’s an interview with Time Magazine that I did about the book and here is a radio interview with NPR’s Morning Edition. More information (including a calendar of my scheduled book talks in Washington, New York, and elsewhere) is available at my website: www.maxboot.net. I hope you’ll check it out.

COMMENTARY readers may be interested in my new book, “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present,” which has just come out in both hardcover and e-book editions.

I am honored and delighted to see that it is getting strong notices. Walter Isaacson calls “it a wonderful and readable historic narrative filled with colorful characters.” General Jack Keane calls it “the most definitive and comprehensive work to date on the dominant form of warfare of our times.” And from The Daily Beast: “The word ‘magisterial’ is bandied about far too freely these days, but in the case of Max Boot’s sweeping and deeply researched history of guerrilla warfare, it proves fair.”

Here’s an interview with Time Magazine that I did about the book and here is a radio interview with NPR’s Morning Edition. More information (including a calendar of my scheduled book talks in Washington, New York, and elsewhere) is available at my website: www.maxboot.net. I hope you’ll check it out.

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The “Fiscal Cliff” Deal and Defense

The Senate’s early-morning budget deal kicks the can down the road–not very far down the road–for about two months. For those of us who focus on defense policy, the good news is that the Senate at least agreed to address the looming sequester, something that looked unlikely as recently as a few days ago.

According to this report in the Washington Post, “The last last piece of the puzzle to fall into place was the sequester, which would be delayed until early March under an agreement to raise $12 billion in new tax revenue and $12 billion in fresh savings from the Pentagon and domestic programs.” Presumably that means that the cost of turning off the sequester for two months is about $6 billion in extra defense cuts. That’s much better than $50 billion in cuts, which would have hit if sequestration had occurred, but given how much the Defense Department has been cut already (remember that the budget deal of 2011 slashes some $500 billion over 10 years), while entitlement spending (the main driver of our debt) has not been cut at all, there is scant justification for cuts of any size. At least on the merits.

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The Senate’s early-morning budget deal kicks the can down the road–not very far down the road–for about two months. For those of us who focus on defense policy, the good news is that the Senate at least agreed to address the looming sequester, something that looked unlikely as recently as a few days ago.

According to this report in the Washington Post, “The last last piece of the puzzle to fall into place was the sequester, which would be delayed until early March under an agreement to raise $12 billion in new tax revenue and $12 billion in fresh savings from the Pentagon and domestic programs.” Presumably that means that the cost of turning off the sequester for two months is about $6 billion in extra defense cuts. That’s much better than $50 billion in cuts, which would have hit if sequestration had occurred, but given how much the Defense Department has been cut already (remember that the budget deal of 2011 slashes some $500 billion over 10 years), while entitlement spending (the main driver of our debt) has not been cut at all, there is scant justification for cuts of any size. At least on the merits.

As a matter of political necessity, there is little doubt that, whatever comes, the armed services will suffer more pain–seeing their resources cut while their missions continue to multiply. The only question is how much pain? Assuming the kick-the-can compromise passes the House, that question will be answered in March. Or not. There is actually little reason to think that lawmakers will suddenly be able to bridge their differences in two months. So yet another temporary, 11th-hour fix may be ginned up. Is this any way, I wonder (in common with most Americans), to run a superpower?

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Sequestration’s Defense Cuts Loom

The newspapers are full of articles about negotiations over tax hikes and spending cuts as Congress and the White House face the impending “fiscal cliff.” There is much less said about another consequence of our mindless budgeting: the very real possibility that our armed forces will face devastating cuts on January 2. That is less than a month away but, given how little attention sequestration is receiving, it feels as if we’re sleepwalking toward disaster.

This, in spite of the fact that there is bipartisan agreement that sequestration will have dreadful consequences for our military readiness, requiring an across-the-board cut of roughly 10 percent in all spending, no matter how important. That will amount to $500 billion over the next decade–on top of the nearly $500 billion already enacted in 2011. Even those such as retired Admiral Mike Mullen and retired Senator John Warner, who think that it’s OK to cut the military budget judiciously, oppose the sequestration approach. As Warner said at an event in Washington: “You cannot take a sledgehammer [to the Pentagon budget]… We can and should reduce it. But it has to be done carefully. … You cannot break defense and hope to glue it back together the next day.”

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The newspapers are full of articles about negotiations over tax hikes and spending cuts as Congress and the White House face the impending “fiscal cliff.” There is much less said about another consequence of our mindless budgeting: the very real possibility that our armed forces will face devastating cuts on January 2. That is less than a month away but, given how little attention sequestration is receiving, it feels as if we’re sleepwalking toward disaster.

This, in spite of the fact that there is bipartisan agreement that sequestration will have dreadful consequences for our military readiness, requiring an across-the-board cut of roughly 10 percent in all spending, no matter how important. That will amount to $500 billion over the next decade–on top of the nearly $500 billion already enacted in 2011. Even those such as retired Admiral Mike Mullen and retired Senator John Warner, who think that it’s OK to cut the military budget judiciously, oppose the sequestration approach. As Warner said at an event in Washington: “You cannot take a sledgehammer [to the Pentagon budget]… We can and should reduce it. But it has to be done carefully. … You cannot break defense and hope to glue it back together the next day.”

Yet the sledgehammer is about to swing–unless Congress acts to stop it in the next weeks. Time is running out and the signs do not look good. If sequestration does go through and is not immediately reversed, it would do more damage to our military readiness than any foe that our troops have fought in decades.

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Pentagon Makes the Right Call on Immigrant Enlistment

Winston Churchill was said to have remarked: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” The same might be said of the Pentagon, which has finally, after a long delay, done the right thing with regard to letting immigrants sign up for the armed forces even if they lack green cards.

This program, known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), was a big success during the one year it was in existence, from 2009 to 2010. As the New York Times notes, in the first class of 1,000 immigrants, one-third had master’s degrees or higher and on average they scored 17 points higher (out of a total of 99) on an entrance exam. Fully one-third went into the Special Forces, which is not easy to get into. And among those initial enlistees was Sgt. Saral Shrestha, a Nepalese immigrant who was just named the Army’s Soldier of the Year.

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Winston Churchill was said to have remarked: “The Americans will always do the right thing… after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.” The same might be said of the Pentagon, which has finally, after a long delay, done the right thing with regard to letting immigrants sign up for the armed forces even if they lack green cards.

This program, known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), was a big success during the one year it was in existence, from 2009 to 2010. As the New York Times notes, in the first class of 1,000 immigrants, one-third had master’s degrees or higher and on average they scored 17 points higher (out of a total of 99) on an entrance exam. Fully one-third went into the Special Forces, which is not easy to get into. And among those initial enlistees was Sgt. Saral Shrestha, a Nepalese immigrant who was just named the Army’s Soldier of the Year.

Yet the program was suspended, in large part it seems over security concerns arising from Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s shooting at Fort Hood–even though Hasan was not himself an immigrant and had no connection to this program. Now at long last the Pentagon has decided to open the MAVNI program for another 3,000 recruits over the next two years.

Given our pressing need to enroll more personnel in the military–not to mention other government departments–who speak important languages (such as Dari and Arabic) and are familiar with foreign lands, I would expand the program even further by not limiting it to those who are already in the U.S. on temporary visas. We should open it up to anyone anywhere who speaks English, can demonstrate his or her character and reliability, and desires to become a U.S. citizen by serving in our armed forces. The potential gains are huge, even if there is a small security risk–but as Maj. Hasan proved (as have such notorious traitors as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen) even those born here can pose a security risk.

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Five (Non-Libya) Questions for Monday’s Debate

Are you safer now than you were four years ago? That’s the most important question that needs to be answered in Monday night’s foreign policy debate. Unfortunately for President Obama, there’s ample evidence that the answer is no. His administration killed Osama bin Laden, but the war on terror is still very much alive. And while the Benghazi attack has been getting most of the attention lately, it’s just the latest symptom of a much more systematic national security problem for this administration.

Here are some questions that are indirectly related to Benghazi that would be interesting to raise at Monday’s debate. And since it’s never a good idea to ask a question at a debate that you don’t know the answer to, the answers to all of these are already known:

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Are you safer now than you were four years ago? That’s the most important question that needs to be answered in Monday night’s foreign policy debate. Unfortunately for President Obama, there’s ample evidence that the answer is no. His administration killed Osama bin Laden, but the war on terror is still very much alive. And while the Benghazi attack has been getting most of the attention lately, it’s just the latest symptom of a much more systematic national security problem for this administration.

Here are some questions that are indirectly related to Benghazi that would be interesting to raise at Monday’s debate. And since it’s never a good idea to ask a question at a debate that you don’t know the answer to, the answers to all of these are already known:

Question One: Did you underestimate al-Qaeda’s Arabian Peninsula affiliate before the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attack?

Answer: Yes.

Obama’s counterterrorism advisor John Brennan surprised reporters when he referred to AQAP as “one of the most lethal, one of the most concerning” extensions of al-Qaeda at a press briefing two weeks after the attack, and noted that “They carried attacks against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in Saudi Arabia, against Saudi targets, inside of Yemen, against Yemeni as well as against U.S. targets.”

U.S. targets — and yet the Obama administration hadn’t even designated the group as a terrorist organization until after the failed attack.

“We had a strategic sense of sort of where [al-Qaeda-Arabian Peninsula] were going, but we didn’t know they had progressed to the point of actually launching individuals here,” Brennan added. “And we have taken that lesson, and so now we’re all on top of it.” At least until the next attack.

Question Two: Did you call the Christmas Day bomber an “isolated extremist” three days after the attack?

Answer: Yes.

Despite the fact that there was already evidence that showed Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been training in Yemen weeks before the attack, and despite a statement from AQAP taking credit for the attack, President Obama called him an “isolated extremist” in his first public speech on the matter.

“This incident, like several that have preceded it, demonstrates that an alert and courageous citizenry are far more resilient than an isolated extremist,” said Obama.

It’s one thing for the president to say he wanted to wait for facts before making a definitive judgment on Abdulmutallab’s al-Qaeda ties. But Obama actually did make a definitive judgment — that Abdulmutallab was not affiliated with al-Qaeda, despite evidence to the contrary.

Question Three: Did John Brennan admit before the U.S. attack that al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate was capable of attacking the homeland?

Answer: Yes.

In John Brennan’s January 2010 press conference, he said the Obama administration “saw the plot was developing, but at the time we did not know in fact that they were talking about sending Mr. Abdulmutallab to the United States.” Again, if they saw the plot developing, why had they not characterized AQAP as a threat to the country? Why was Obama so reluctant to say Abdulmutallab was tied to al-Qaeda?

Question Four: Did you underestimate the Pakistani Taliban’s ability to attack the homeland prior to the Times Square bombing?

Answer: Yes.

The administration was caught flat-footed by the 2010 failed Times Square car bomb attack, which was carried out by a terrorist tied to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Until then the TTP was not widely regarded as a group that was capable of carrying out an attack on U.S. soil.

And yet after the attack, Brennan told Fox News that the TTP was a significant threat that was “almost indistinguishable” from al-Qaeda.

Question Five: Did you miss warning signs in 2009, when CIA officers were killed in a suicide attack by a double-agent?

Answer: Yes.

Seven CIA operatives were killed when a fake informant working for the Pakistani Taliban blew himself up inside a U.S. base in Afghanistan. A subsequent investigation found numerous red flags and intelligence breakdowns, including one CIA officer who had been warned about the informant weeks in advance, but hadn’t passed on the information. The investigation said that CIA officials may have ignored warning signs because they were desperate to find someone who could lead them to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The U.S. can’t have eyes everywhere all the time, and there is always the possibility that a plot will be missed. But all of these incidents show that the Benghazi attack wasn’t an isolated lapse. The Obama administration has a pattern of intelligence breakdowns and missing clear signs prior to an attack. It also has a pattern of downplaying threats that may be politically harmful.

This isn’t just a critique of past failings. There are implications here for the future. As Jeffrey Goldberg wrote yesterday: “Biden said [at the vice presidential debate] the U.S. would know if the Iranians had begun to manufacture a warhead. But the U.S. didn’t know its ambassador in Libya would be assassinated. It didn’t know that the World Trade Center would be attacked. American intelligence doesn’t know a lot of things. Such is the nature of intelligence. Biden’s sanguine approach to weaponization suggests either that he strayed far from Obama administration policy, or that the White House is more relaxed and confident about stopping Iran than it should be.”

Can we rely on the Obama administration — the same administration that overlooked the threat from AQAP, dismissed the threat from the Pakistani Taliban, and ignored the multiple attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that led up to the 9/11/12 attack — to have a clear grasp of the Iranian nuclear threat? Preventing an Iranian bomb means that we’ll need to rely heavily on intelligence, something the Obama administration has not had a great track record of gathering, processing, or acting on for the past four years.

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Will Treaty Force U.S. to Abandon Taiwan?

President Obama has pinned the United Nations front and center to his administration’s philosophy of foreign policy. Prior to engaging militarily in Libya, Obama sought Turtle Bay’s endorsement, but never bothered to seek that of the U.S. Congress. With his first—and possibly—last term winding down, the Obama team is rushing headlong into a number of UN-sponsored treaties absent much regard to American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.

The latest case in point could be the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Ted Bromund, my former graduate school colleague and now a Senior Research Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and his Heritage colleague Dean Cheng have an important report out looking at how joining the ATT could jeopardize the U.S. ability to help Taiwan defend itself from an increasingly aggressive China.

While China calls Taiwan a renegade province, the fact of the matter is that Taiwan was only under mainland Chinese control during the Qing Dynasty, and even then the Chinese control was tenuous. Taiwan has its own identity—apparent to anyone who travels there–and, unlike China, enjoys democracy and basic individual liberty.

The United States, of course, like much of the world, recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China until Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with the Peoples’ Republic of China. While the United States and Taiwan no longer maintain formal embassies in each others’ capitals, both house institutes and organizations which act as de facto embassies. Officially, the United States remains committed to Taiwan’s security, although the number of U.S. cabinet-level visits has declined precipitously in recent years, a fault which can be laid at the hands not only of the Obama administration, but the George W. Bush administration as well.

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President Obama has pinned the United Nations front and center to his administration’s philosophy of foreign policy. Prior to engaging militarily in Libya, Obama sought Turtle Bay’s endorsement, but never bothered to seek that of the U.S. Congress. With his first—and possibly—last term winding down, the Obama team is rushing headlong into a number of UN-sponsored treaties absent much regard to American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.

The latest case in point could be the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). Ted Bromund, my former graduate school colleague and now a Senior Research Fellow at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, and his Heritage colleague Dean Cheng have an important report out looking at how joining the ATT could jeopardize the U.S. ability to help Taiwan defend itself from an increasingly aggressive China.

While China calls Taiwan a renegade province, the fact of the matter is that Taiwan was only under mainland Chinese control during the Qing Dynasty, and even then the Chinese control was tenuous. Taiwan has its own identity—apparent to anyone who travels there–and, unlike China, enjoys democracy and basic individual liberty.

The United States, of course, like much of the world, recognized the Republic of China as the legitimate representative of China until Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with the Peoples’ Republic of China. While the United States and Taiwan no longer maintain formal embassies in each others’ capitals, both house institutes and organizations which act as de facto embassies. Officially, the United States remains committed to Taiwan’s security, although the number of U.S. cabinet-level visits has declined precipitously in recent years, a fault which can be laid at the hands not only of the Obama administration, but the George W. Bush administration as well.

At any rate, as Bromund and Cheng explain, U.S. accession to the ATT would have devastating implications on the U.S. ability to sell arms to Taiwan which are needed to keep the peace and keep an increasingly aggressive China at bay:

One reason for the State Department’s concern is that the ATT is likely to recognize—in the words of the current Chairman’s Draft Paper, the closest equivalent to a draft treaty currently available—“the inherent right of all States to individual or collective self-defense,” and thus their right to buy, sell, and transfer arms. But Taiwan is not a U.N. member state, nor is it recognized as sovereign by a majority of U.N. member states. It thus appears that the ATT will not recognize Taiwan’s right to buy or import arms.

Moreover, the ATT will require signatories to control their imports and exports of arms. It will be incumbent on treaty signatories not to circumvent the import control systems of other signatories. The PRC claims—correctly—that it operates the import control system for China, and, much more controversially, that Taiwan also constitutes part of its territory. By the same token, the Chairman’s Draft Paper uses terminology from the U.N. Charter to reaffirm “the right of all States to territorial integrity.” The ATT thus provides the basis for a Chinese argument that U.S. sales or transfers of arms to Taiwan would circumvent the PRC’s import control system, violate China’s territorial integrity, and thus violate the treaty.

The United Nations likes to cloak itself in the mantle of peace but, alas, its actions can instigate war. No administration should subordinate U.S. national security to an international body that cares little for freedom and liberty, nor should well-meaning academics in the Obama administration trade the freedom and right of self-defense of 23 million Taiwanese for a philosophical embrace of internationalism that might win applause in a university seminar, but which would be a disaster if ever implemented.

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