Commentary Magazine


Topic: national security

“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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Pakistan Gloats About U.S. Defeat

During my last visit to Pakistan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy military intelligence unit that helped hide Osama bin Laden and sponsored the Taliban. While Durrani’s regular columns in the Pakistani press are full of vitriol, he was a very polite man, and we enjoyed tea and civil but contentious conversation in the Islamabad Club.

While Durrani is more refined than his predecessor Hamid Gul, he nonetheless reflects the dominant strain within Pakistani strategic thinking. Hence, his recent article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune should raise alarm bells and end any belief in the White House and President Obama’s amen chorus that his drawdown of forces will be seen as anything but complete and utter defeat. As Durrani writes, “The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss.”

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During my last visit to Pakistan, I had the opportunity to sit down with Asad Durrani, the former chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the shadowy military intelligence unit that helped hide Osama bin Laden and sponsored the Taliban. While Durrani’s regular columns in the Pakistani press are full of vitriol, he was a very polite man, and we enjoyed tea and civil but contentious conversation in the Islamabad Club.

While Durrani is more refined than his predecessor Hamid Gul, he nonetheless reflects the dominant strain within Pakistani strategic thinking. Hence, his recent article in Pakistan’s Express Tribune should raise alarm bells and end any belief in the White House and President Obama’s amen chorus that his drawdown of forces will be seen as anything but complete and utter defeat. As Durrani writes, “The presence of the world’s mightiest alliance in Afghanistan gave us another chance as well: to gang up with the tribesmen, once again, and defeat yet another superpower. That is the chance we did not miss.”

There is an inverse relationship between pretensions of sophistication and the clarity of goals. Decades ago, the concept of victory was simple: To defeat the enemy. But today, diplomats  and Democrats convince themselves that rhetoric can substitute for victory, even with fundamental goals left unmet and the enemy unchastened. Alas, national security will never be built on rhetoric alone.

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Obama Ignoring CENTCOM on Iran

When history judges President Obama for the schizophrenic debacle that America’s AfPak strategy has become – and it will – his inability to integrate the advice of military leaders will figure prominently:

The president ordered his advisers to start making plans for a U.S. exit. “This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.”… the planning process would be left to those who agreed with the president. Dissenters were not invited. It’s hardly the picture of a harmonious policy process or a “tough-guy” leader in sync with the military that the White House was eager to sell….

Max’s post from earlier this week outlines how Obama put his “own political calculations front and center in making national security policy,” from ignoring his generals on the Afghan surge to shutting them out totally from withdrawal planning. The president, having pushed Afghanistan as “the good war” during the election to deflect from his Iraq defeatism, had to at least make a token gesture at trying to stabilize the country. That political necessity clashed with his genuine desire to withdraw, and the combination resulted in the worst possible policy: more American troops in harm’s way, but not enough to win.

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When history judges President Obama for the schizophrenic debacle that America’s AfPak strategy has become – and it will – his inability to integrate the advice of military leaders will figure prominently:

The president ordered his advisers to start making plans for a U.S. exit. “This time there would be no announced national security meetings, no debates with the generals. Even Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton were left out until the final six weeks.”… the planning process would be left to those who agreed with the president. Dissenters were not invited. It’s hardly the picture of a harmonious policy process or a “tough-guy” leader in sync with the military that the White House was eager to sell….

Max’s post from earlier this week outlines how Obama put his “own political calculations front and center in making national security policy,” from ignoring his generals on the Afghan surge to shutting them out totally from withdrawal planning. The president, having pushed Afghanistan as “the good war” during the election to deflect from his Iraq defeatism, had to at least make a token gesture at trying to stabilize the country. That political necessity clashed with his genuine desire to withdraw, and the combination resulted in the worst possible policy: more American troops in harm’s way, but not enough to win.

The same fundamental clash, where the president’s electoral considerations are in tension with his underlying instincts and the result is an incoherent policy, are playing out on Iran. Again, one is tempted to suspect symptomatically, the advice and judgments of military commanders in the field are getting ignored.

Monday the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake exposed strong disagreements between Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, and various figures in the administration. Last January Mattis wanted to respond to Iranian naval provocations by moving a third aircraft-carrier group to the Persian Gulf. He was rebuffed. The incident seems to be a microcosm of broader differences between Mattis and the Obama White House on Iran:

The carrier-group rebuff in January was one of several for the commander responsible for East Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Working for the Obama administration, Mattis has often found himself the odd man out—particularly when it comes to Iran… Those who have worked with Mattis say his views when it comes to Iran are more in line with those of America’s allies in the Persian Gulf and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than with his own government’s…

The official U.S. national-intelligence estimate on Iran concludes that the country suspended its nuclear weapons work in 2003, but sources close to the general say he believes that Iran has restarted its weapons work and has urged his analysts to disregard the official estimate. While Mattis has largely voiced his dissent about recent U.S. Iran assessments in private, on occasion his displeasure has spilled into the public record.

That bit about developing nuclear weapons undermines the administration’s coordinated media campaign and leakfest on Iran, which is designed to preemptively scapegoat Israel for overreacting and getting Americans killed. It appears to be one of many places where the generals in the field disagree with the president. Given the ineptitude with which this White House has handled Iraq and Afghanistan, the dynamic is far from encouraging.

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What Will America’s Oil Boom Bring?

Every now and then, the Iranian regime threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz or some al-Qaeda activist comes close to bombing a major oil facility, and pundits spring up and point out the cost of American reliance on foreign oil, only to be forgotten when the news cycle moves on. The fact that American politicians focus so little on energy security is nothing short of policy malpractice. The Chinese have made energy security their primary strategic ambition and have reaped the benefits. The issue for the United States is not simply jobs—although creating productive, private sector jobs should be the goal of any government—but rather national and economic security.

Enter “Securing America’s Future Energy” (SAFE). Co-chaired by General P.X. Kelley, the former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Frederick Smith, chairman, president, and CEO of FedEx, the organization has assembled a marquee list of top military brass and CEOs, who together make the case that energy security is not only an economic issue, but a national security matter as well. Together, the business and military experts discuss energy issues with greater fluency and depth than politicians of both parties. This is reflected in SAFE’s new report, “The New American Oil Boom,” released yesterday. Because of government regulation, the oil boom may not be as pronounced as it might be but, even so, the United States last year became a net exporter of refined petroleum products for the first time since 1949.

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Every now and then, the Iranian regime threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz or some al-Qaeda activist comes close to bombing a major oil facility, and pundits spring up and point out the cost of American reliance on foreign oil, only to be forgotten when the news cycle moves on. The fact that American politicians focus so little on energy security is nothing short of policy malpractice. The Chinese have made energy security their primary strategic ambition and have reaped the benefits. The issue for the United States is not simply jobs—although creating productive, private sector jobs should be the goal of any government—but rather national and economic security.

Enter “Securing America’s Future Energy” (SAFE). Co-chaired by General P.X. Kelley, the former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Frederick Smith, chairman, president, and CEO of FedEx, the organization has assembled a marquee list of top military brass and CEOs, who together make the case that energy security is not only an economic issue, but a national security matter as well. Together, the business and military experts discuss energy issues with greater fluency and depth than politicians of both parties. This is reflected in SAFE’s new report, “The New American Oil Boom,” released yesterday. Because of government regulation, the oil boom may not be as pronounced as it might be but, even so, the United States last year became a net exporter of refined petroleum products for the first time since 1949.

Petroleum fuels account for 37 percent of U.S. primary energy demand, and during the past five years, U.S. households and businesses have spent a total of $755 billion annually, a major drain on disposable income. Transportation is especially hostage to oil. Liquid fuels provide 97 percent of the energy needed to move cars, trucks, seaborne ships, and aircraft. When the White House pursues policies that limit domestic fuel production, they cripple the economy and empower foreign exporters. Ethanol is no solution. Not only does it drive up the cost of food, but because ethanol-based fuels are priced on the same scale as petroleum fuels, they do not lower the price.

The report, however, is clear-eyed about what the current American oil boom will mean and, as important, what it will not:

As U.S. levels of oil imports continue to fall, the trade deficit will improve, and the transfer of U.S. wealth abroad will decrease. This will help strengthen the dollar and increase investment in the domestic economy… But it is important to be clear-eyed about the effect the boom in oil production will have on American energy security. Rising domestic production will not shield consumers from oil price volatility, and it will not lower gasoline prices over the long term. It will also not allow the United States to abdicate its role in the Middle East.

SAFE is correct that “America’s dependence on oil represents one of the most dangerous and pressing national security threats facing the country today.” Their conclusion that “as long as the United States remains dependent on oil as the primary fuel in our transformation sector, the nation will remain vulnerable to the effects of oil price volatility and debilitating price shocks” will be more controversial. Any strategy, however, that strengthens the economy and marginalizes Saudi and Iranian influence is a noble one to pursue.

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