Commentary Magazine


Topic: Navy

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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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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The Aircraft Carrier Drought Comes Early

During the third and final presidential debate, President Obama ridiculed Governor Romney’s arguments about the military. “Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines,” Obama quipped.

If Obama is not careful, he may soon need to revise his comments about aircraft carriers. While the Clinton administration found that the United States needed 12 aircraft carriers to adequately project power and fulfill both wartime and peaceful missions, that number slipped to 11 under the George W. Bush administration. Earlier this month, the USS Enterprise, the navy’s second-oldest ship, finished its final deployment and will be retired, leaving the Pentagon with 10. The problem is that when numbers dwindle, there is no room for error. The USS Nimitz, which has just come off of a major refurbishment, was supposed to deploy early next year, but now major mechanical problems reportedly will delay that by months, with an immediate impact on American force posture. Meanwhile, the USS Eisenhower will return to Norfolk for repairs to its flight deck before it can return to the Persian Gulf.

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During the third and final presidential debate, President Obama ridiculed Governor Romney’s arguments about the military. “Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines,” Obama quipped.

If Obama is not careful, he may soon need to revise his comments about aircraft carriers. While the Clinton administration found that the United States needed 12 aircraft carriers to adequately project power and fulfill both wartime and peaceful missions, that number slipped to 11 under the George W. Bush administration. Earlier this month, the USS Enterprise, the navy’s second-oldest ship, finished its final deployment and will be retired, leaving the Pentagon with 10. The problem is that when numbers dwindle, there is no room for error. The USS Nimitz, which has just come off of a major refurbishment, was supposed to deploy early next year, but now major mechanical problems reportedly will delay that by months, with an immediate impact on American force posture. Meanwhile, the USS Eisenhower will return to Norfolk for repairs to its flight deck before it can return to the Persian Gulf.

As the fleet ages—and with the uncertainty regarding on-time delivery of the USS Gerald Ford (due in 2015) and the USS John F. Kennedy (due in 2020)—the United States Navy may soon find itself in a real bind. We may have these things called aircraft carriers, as Obama condescendingly remarked, but someone ought to remind the president that there have got to be enough in working order if they are to serve the purpose for which they were built.

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U.S. Must Signal Military Strength to China

Former ambassador to Beijing and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has some useful points to make in the Wall Street Journal about how America must deal with China. But his prescriptions are curiously incomplete.

He argues, convincingly, that “the U.S. must deal with China from a position of strength”; “we should be pursuing free trade agreements with Japan, Taiwan and India, and allowing American businesses to enter Burma”; “we should renew our ties to key allies, focusing on joint endeavors that hedge against some of the more difficult contingencies we could face in the region from an aggressive China and People’s Liberation Army”; and we must make clear that, while “values matter,” “in today’s China those values we share are found mostly among people like Mr. Chen, and not in the Communist Party or the government.”

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Former ambassador to Beijing and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has some useful points to make in the Wall Street Journal about how America must deal with China. But his prescriptions are curiously incomplete.

He argues, convincingly, that “the U.S. must deal with China from a position of strength”; “we should be pursuing free trade agreements with Japan, Taiwan and India, and allowing American businesses to enter Burma”; “we should renew our ties to key allies, focusing on joint endeavors that hedge against some of the more difficult contingencies we could face in the region from an aggressive China and People’s Liberation Army”; and we must make clear that, while “values matter,” “in today’s China those values we share are found mostly among people like Mr. Chen, and not in the Communist Party or the government.”

What’s missing here? Any mention of military strength. Huntsman is right that we need to get our economic house in order (presumably by reducing the burden of government on the economy and reducing the ridiculous federal budget deficit). But we also must make clear to China that there is no sense in a military challenge to the U.S. and our allies because we will be strong enough to resist any Chinese adventurism. That deterrence is in the process of being lost today, unfortunately.

As former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman pointed out in a previous Journal oped, a bipartisan commission chaired by Stephen Hadley and William Perry determined that the Navy needs at least 346 vessels in the future. But today, the Navy has only 286 ships, and it is shrinking. Based on the present trajectory, it will be down to 240-250 ships at best. That is hardly a signal of strength to China at a time when its own military is expanding at breakneck pace.

The fact that Huntsman makes no mention of this important expression of national power is a reminder that he ran for the Republican nomination as a quasi-isolationist–and reason to be thankful his campaign gained so little traction.

 

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RE: Judging Captain Honors

Max Boot puts his finger on the central point when he concludes that it’s Captain Owen Honors’s judgment — as a naval leader, not as a political actor — that was put in question by his ill-advised videos. But for the senior officers who decided to relieve him of command, I believe there is a deeper professional principle at work than reflexive, politically sensitive concern about the untoward sexual innuendo. In fact, I would call it a professional instinct more than a principle. Most officers recognize this intuitively: Honors’s failure of judgment — as the XO of a carrier — was not in making comedy videos with sexual connotations; it was in making comedy videos.

There is, naturally, levity in the Navy. But graduating to the carrier-command pipeline is tacitly understood to be the signal for an aviator to pack up his levity and put it in storage. In some things, the Navy can’t take a joke; command of the taxpayers’ most expensive, nuclear-powered weapon systems is one of them. An essential aspect of good judgment is choosing not to create unnecessary vulnerabilities to failure or reprimand on the job, either from a personal or an operational standpoint. Save the unnecessary vulnerabilities for your off-duty time. There are plenty of unavoidable ones lurking in the tasks you’ve actually been assigned.

The sense that Captain Honors’s fate wasn’t a political decision is a sound one. This was Navy discipline at work. It is always painful to have to discipline a senior officer; civilians might wonder if it was really necessary to act so summarily in Honors’s case. Hollywood tells us that misunderstood kids with attitudes often save the world between bouts of rebellion and self-expression. Does it really matter to be so serious?

But to the U.S. Navy, a carrier captain has the Navy’s unequaled nuclear-safety record in his keeping. And if you’ve ever witnessed flight operations on an aircraft carrier, and grasped that one man (or, someday, woman) is responsible for the safety and success of every aspect of that perilous, counterintuitive performance — all taking place a few decks above the nuclear reactors slicing through the water at 40-plus miles an hour — you may understand why the Navy regards a penchant for unsolicited comedy videos as a disqualifier.

Max Boot puts his finger on the central point when he concludes that it’s Captain Owen Honors’s judgment — as a naval leader, not as a political actor — that was put in question by his ill-advised videos. But for the senior officers who decided to relieve him of command, I believe there is a deeper professional principle at work than reflexive, politically sensitive concern about the untoward sexual innuendo. In fact, I would call it a professional instinct more than a principle. Most officers recognize this intuitively: Honors’s failure of judgment — as the XO of a carrier — was not in making comedy videos with sexual connotations; it was in making comedy videos.

There is, naturally, levity in the Navy. But graduating to the carrier-command pipeline is tacitly understood to be the signal for an aviator to pack up his levity and put it in storage. In some things, the Navy can’t take a joke; command of the taxpayers’ most expensive, nuclear-powered weapon systems is one of them. An essential aspect of good judgment is choosing not to create unnecessary vulnerabilities to failure or reprimand on the job, either from a personal or an operational standpoint. Save the unnecessary vulnerabilities for your off-duty time. There are plenty of unavoidable ones lurking in the tasks you’ve actually been assigned.

The sense that Captain Honors’s fate wasn’t a political decision is a sound one. This was Navy discipline at work. It is always painful to have to discipline a senior officer; civilians might wonder if it was really necessary to act so summarily in Honors’s case. Hollywood tells us that misunderstood kids with attitudes often save the world between bouts of rebellion and self-expression. Does it really matter to be so serious?

But to the U.S. Navy, a carrier captain has the Navy’s unequaled nuclear-safety record in his keeping. And if you’ve ever witnessed flight operations on an aircraft carrier, and grasped that one man (or, someday, woman) is responsible for the safety and success of every aspect of that perilous, counterintuitive performance — all taking place a few decks above the nuclear reactors slicing through the water at 40-plus miles an hour — you may understand why the Navy regards a penchant for unsolicited comedy videos as a disqualifier.

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Judging Captain Honors

The Navy has just relieved Capt. Owen Honors, skipper of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, of his command. His offense? When he was XO (executive officer) of the ship, he made some comedic videos intended for the entertainment of the crew, and now those videos have surfaced, leading to complaints that they were raunchy and offensive.

Having viewed one of the videos in question, I found it pretty mild by the standards of typical TV and movie fare circa 2011; certainly there is nothing in it remotely as offensive as in The Hangover, one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. On the other hand, Honors isn’t a Hollywood comedian; he is a senior Navy officer who is supposed to set a standard of decorum and behavior well above that found in the civilian world. He failed in that task and is now paying the price.

His real mistake was to miss decades’ worth of signals that the worst sin any officer can commit is to do anything even tangentially wrong related to sex. Ever since the Tailhook scandal in 1991, it has been obvious that sex-related offenses would be judged far more harshly than other screw-ups. Honors seems to have not gotten the message, which calls his judgment into question. On the other hand, the military’s judgment is open to question, too, when it is far easier to relieve an officer of his command for a sexual imbroglio of even the mildest sort than it is for losing a battle or even a war.

Obviously, it’s important to police the military workplace against sexual harassment, but I can’t help think that we’ve elevated this issue above somewhat more important considerations — such as winning wars.

The Navy has just relieved Capt. Owen Honors, skipper of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, of his command. His offense? When he was XO (executive officer) of the ship, he made some comedic videos intended for the entertainment of the crew, and now those videos have surfaced, leading to complaints that they were raunchy and offensive.

Having viewed one of the videos in question, I found it pretty mild by the standards of typical TV and movie fare circa 2011; certainly there is nothing in it remotely as offensive as in The Hangover, one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. On the other hand, Honors isn’t a Hollywood comedian; he is a senior Navy officer who is supposed to set a standard of decorum and behavior well above that found in the civilian world. He failed in that task and is now paying the price.

His real mistake was to miss decades’ worth of signals that the worst sin any officer can commit is to do anything even tangentially wrong related to sex. Ever since the Tailhook scandal in 1991, it has been obvious that sex-related offenses would be judged far more harshly than other screw-ups. Honors seems to have not gotten the message, which calls his judgment into question. On the other hand, the military’s judgment is open to question, too, when it is far easier to relieve an officer of his command for a sexual imbroglio of even the mildest sort than it is for losing a battle or even a war.

Obviously, it’s important to police the military workplace against sexual harassment, but I can’t help think that we’ve elevated this issue above somewhat more important considerations — such as winning wars.

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Saudi Arms Sale: Which War in View?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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China’s Naval Posture: More Good News

Iran’s best friends have wasted no time trading on their naval anti-piracy presence in the Gulf of Aden to penetrate the Mediterranean Sea. China rotated its anti-piracy task forces in July and sent the homebound flotilla to the Mediterranean for naval exercises and port visits. Although the Chinese navy has sent training ships on foreign cruises before, the Mediterranean circuit being followed by the off-station flotilla is the first deployment of its kind by operational warships.

The Chinese destroyer and frigate arrived in Egypt in late July for a five-day visit. They then conducted drills with the Italian navy last week and visited the NATO port of Taranto. The task force arrived in Piraeus, Greece, on Monday.

China’s not the only Asian nation dispatching its navy to the ports of America’s allies in the Mediterranean. Russia expanded its traditional ties there with an agreement earlier this year to conduct joint naval exercises with Greece. India’s navy conducted an unprecedented deployment to the Mediterranean and Atlantic in 2009, during which it operated with the navies of Russia, NATO, and Algeria.

The Chinese made ripples in naval circles this summer when they sent their largest warship, the amphibious assault vessel Kunlunshan, to the Gulf of Aden as the flagship of their current anti-piracy flotilla. It’s understating the case to point out that an amphibious assault ship is not the platform best suited to interdicting pirates; China’s choice in this case is a political test of what other nations will find acceptable. This isn’t the only attempt being mounted to upend the status quo, however. Japan is establishing a forward operating base in Djibouti, and a Chinese official has floated the idea of China doing the same. Iran started this trend in late 2008 with new base facilities in Eritrea on the Red Sea, ostensibly for its anti-piracy force off Somalia.

Nations don’t change their naval postures because they are content with the status quo. Nor are the world’s other navies focused on building smaller, less-capable warships for low-lethality tasks like combating piracy. The U.S. Navy’s retreat from the high seas since the end of the Cold War is having its inevitable consequences. Shedding our own most capable warships to save money, as Defense Secretary Bob Gates proposes, is the worst thing we could do.

Iran’s best friends have wasted no time trading on their naval anti-piracy presence in the Gulf of Aden to penetrate the Mediterranean Sea. China rotated its anti-piracy task forces in July and sent the homebound flotilla to the Mediterranean for naval exercises and port visits. Although the Chinese navy has sent training ships on foreign cruises before, the Mediterranean circuit being followed by the off-station flotilla is the first deployment of its kind by operational warships.

The Chinese destroyer and frigate arrived in Egypt in late July for a five-day visit. They then conducted drills with the Italian navy last week and visited the NATO port of Taranto. The task force arrived in Piraeus, Greece, on Monday.

China’s not the only Asian nation dispatching its navy to the ports of America’s allies in the Mediterranean. Russia expanded its traditional ties there with an agreement earlier this year to conduct joint naval exercises with Greece. India’s navy conducted an unprecedented deployment to the Mediterranean and Atlantic in 2009, during which it operated with the navies of Russia, NATO, and Algeria.

The Chinese made ripples in naval circles this summer when they sent their largest warship, the amphibious assault vessel Kunlunshan, to the Gulf of Aden as the flagship of their current anti-piracy flotilla. It’s understating the case to point out that an amphibious assault ship is not the platform best suited to interdicting pirates; China’s choice in this case is a political test of what other nations will find acceptable. This isn’t the only attempt being mounted to upend the status quo, however. Japan is establishing a forward operating base in Djibouti, and a Chinese official has floated the idea of China doing the same. Iran started this trend in late 2008 with new base facilities in Eritrea on the Red Sea, ostensibly for its anti-piracy force off Somalia.

Nations don’t change their naval postures because they are content with the status quo. Nor are the world’s other navies focused on building smaller, less-capable warships for low-lethality tasks like combating piracy. The U.S. Navy’s retreat from the high seas since the end of the Cold War is having its inevitable consequences. Shedding our own most capable warships to save money, as Defense Secretary Bob Gates proposes, is the worst thing we could do.

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Shut Up, Joe Sestak Responded

Yes, it’s a trend, apparently. Run an add that hits home and the target wants to make sure viewers can’t see it so they can make up their own minds. The ECI launched its opening salvo against Joe Sestak and Sestak’s lawyer rushes in to respond, as Ben Smith reports:

A lawyer for Rep. Joe Sestak, attesting to the Senate candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides, wrote that Sestak had “put his life on the line to defend Israel” during his years in the Navy. The letter, an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Comcast not to air an attack ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel, aggressively makes Sestak’s case on several fronts, but the suggestion that his naval service* in was performed “to defend Israel” is rarely heard outside conspiracy circles.

“Congressman Joe Sestak is the only candidate in the U.S. Senate race who (as an officer of the Navy) was willing to put his life on the line to defend Israel,” Sestak lawyer Jared Solomon wrote Comcast. “It is offensive and outrageous to suggest that he does not stand with Israel.”

Solomon’s letter, obtained by POLITICO,  challenges several other portions of the attack ad, including a claim that he’d helped fundraise for the Council on American Islamic Relations (his appearance was at “a portion of the event explicitly free of fundraising”) and that the group had been called a Hamas “front group” (“the characterization came a year after the CAIR event”).

This is a bizarre and telling move by Sestak on a number of grounds. First, is Sestak saying that he was in mortal peril as commander of a  naval battle group? Sensing that this is a gross exaggeration, his spokesman piped up with a “clarification”:

Sestak spokesman Jonathan Dworkin says the reference was not to any specific conflict, but to a series of operations with the Israeli Military, including a deployment in 2003 to help protect Israel from Iraqi missiles. “There is no suggestion that he served in the Navy for the purpose of defending Israel, only that he was involved in situations with the Israeli military and while serving the United States, he was willing to lay his life on the line in defense of our ally, Israel,” he writes.

Any military service, in my book, should be commended, but we’ve had enough of puffery lately about military credentials and it sure wasn’t the case that he was crawling on his belly through Gaza to protect the Jewish state. But, frankly, it’s hard to tell precisely what he did, because Sestak has refused to release his military records. If they show that he in fact risked life and limb for Israel and put to rest the controversy as to whether he was relieved of command — or told to resign (for creating a “poor command climate”) — why isn’t he putting out his Navy records?

Nor is the lawyer’s argument compelling, let along intelligible, that Sestak wasn’t really accusing Israel of “resorting to collective punishment” when he signed a letter promoted by J Street along with 53 other Israel-bashers. That letter called on Israel to figure out an approach to Gaza “without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza strip.” Huh? I don’t see how Sestak can escape from the text he signed off on.

But that’s not the weirdest part of the letter. He’s essentially saying: “I didn’t actually raise money for CAIR (although there was an admission fee), I just spoke at an event.” And he’s arguing it wasn’t the whole FBI who called CAIR a Hamas front group — just one agent did. Sheesh. I don’t see how that is going to fly. After all, CAIR officials have been the subject of many a legal investigation and have some rather radical views.

In the campaign Sestak’s going to have some explaining to do. Really, is he going to say it was only after the fundraising event that CAIR got the moniker of “Hamas front group”? They had been under investigation, after all, for years. More to the point, does he now understand that CAIR is in fact a front group?

Also, take a look at the letter and exhibits that the ECI submitted in response to the “shut them up” plea from Sestak’s lawyer. I’m not sure how fair-minded people can look at all that and conclude that Sestak has a pro-Israel track record, unless we are willing to concede that “pro-Israel” has no meaning.

Arlen Specter tried to raise many of these same points during the primary, so this isn’t anything new. What is surprising is that Sestak thinks he can muscle his way through the campaign without revealing his Navy records, without expressing any remorse for speaking at a CAIR event (with a Muslim activist who compared Zionists to Nazis) and without explaining what exactly makes him so attractive to J Street. We’ll see if he can pull it off.

Yes, it’s a trend, apparently. Run an add that hits home and the target wants to make sure viewers can’t see it so they can make up their own minds. The ECI launched its opening salvo against Joe Sestak and Sestak’s lawyer rushes in to respond, as Ben Smith reports:

A lawyer for Rep. Joe Sestak, attesting to the Senate candidate’s pro-Israel bona fides, wrote that Sestak had “put his life on the line to defend Israel” during his years in the Navy. The letter, an unsuccessful attempt to persuade Comcast not to air an attack ad from the Emergency Committee for Israel, aggressively makes Sestak’s case on several fronts, but the suggestion that his naval service* in was performed “to defend Israel” is rarely heard outside conspiracy circles.

“Congressman Joe Sestak is the only candidate in the U.S. Senate race who (as an officer of the Navy) was willing to put his life on the line to defend Israel,” Sestak lawyer Jared Solomon wrote Comcast. “It is offensive and outrageous to suggest that he does not stand with Israel.”

Solomon’s letter, obtained by POLITICO,  challenges several other portions of the attack ad, including a claim that he’d helped fundraise for the Council on American Islamic Relations (his appearance was at “a portion of the event explicitly free of fundraising”) and that the group had been called a Hamas “front group” (“the characterization came a year after the CAIR event”).

This is a bizarre and telling move by Sestak on a number of grounds. First, is Sestak saying that he was in mortal peril as commander of a  naval battle group? Sensing that this is a gross exaggeration, his spokesman piped up with a “clarification”:

Sestak spokesman Jonathan Dworkin says the reference was not to any specific conflict, but to a series of operations with the Israeli Military, including a deployment in 2003 to help protect Israel from Iraqi missiles. “There is no suggestion that he served in the Navy for the purpose of defending Israel, only that he was involved in situations with the Israeli military and while serving the United States, he was willing to lay his life on the line in defense of our ally, Israel,” he writes.

Any military service, in my book, should be commended, but we’ve had enough of puffery lately about military credentials and it sure wasn’t the case that he was crawling on his belly through Gaza to protect the Jewish state. But, frankly, it’s hard to tell precisely what he did, because Sestak has refused to release his military records. If they show that he in fact risked life and limb for Israel and put to rest the controversy as to whether he was relieved of command — or told to resign (for creating a “poor command climate”) — why isn’t he putting out his Navy records?

Nor is the lawyer’s argument compelling, let along intelligible, that Sestak wasn’t really accusing Israel of “resorting to collective punishment” when he signed a letter promoted by J Street along with 53 other Israel-bashers. That letter called on Israel to figure out an approach to Gaza “without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza strip.” Huh? I don’t see how Sestak can escape from the text he signed off on.

But that’s not the weirdest part of the letter. He’s essentially saying: “I didn’t actually raise money for CAIR (although there was an admission fee), I just spoke at an event.” And he’s arguing it wasn’t the whole FBI who called CAIR a Hamas front group — just one agent did. Sheesh. I don’t see how that is going to fly. After all, CAIR officials have been the subject of many a legal investigation and have some rather radical views.

In the campaign Sestak’s going to have some explaining to do. Really, is he going to say it was only after the fundraising event that CAIR got the moniker of “Hamas front group”? They had been under investigation, after all, for years. More to the point, does he now understand that CAIR is in fact a front group?

Also, take a look at the letter and exhibits that the ECI submitted in response to the “shut them up” plea from Sestak’s lawyer. I’m not sure how fair-minded people can look at all that and conclude that Sestak has a pro-Israel track record, unless we are willing to concede that “pro-Israel” has no meaning.

Arlen Specter tried to raise many of these same points during the primary, so this isn’t anything new. What is surprising is that Sestak thinks he can muscle his way through the campaign without revealing his Navy records, without expressing any remorse for speaking at a CAIR event (with a Muslim activist who compared Zionists to Nazis) and without explaining what exactly makes him so attractive to J Street. We’ll see if he can pull it off.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Because all our problems are solved, there’s time for this: “Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a former Marine and the sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber, has convinced 79 senators to sign on to the measure [to rename the Department of the Navy] he introduced in late February. But even though it has broad bipartisan support, the bill’s fate could be decided by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and his GOP counterpart Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who oppose the efforts to rename the Department of the Navy as the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Marine Corps currently operates under the umbrella of the Department of the Navy.”

Because of columns like this, Newsweek became a self-parody. Eleanor Clift on Helen Thomas makes up a cover story and reaches an obnoxious conclusion: “She was talking about the settlers, and if she had said they should go back to Brooklyn, where many of them are from, she probably wouldn’t have made news.” And then she makes excuses for a bigot: “Thomas has always been outspoken on the Palestinian issue, phrasing questions in such a way that sometimes made eyes roll in the press room. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants who settled in Detroit, she felt she brought a perspective that people needed to hear.”

Because Obama is now a weight around the necks of his fellow Democrats, David Axelrod is forced to offer this spin: “I believe that ultimately these [2010] races are going to be decided at the local level at the, at the grass roots.  And the candidates who speak to the aspirations and concerns of people in their districts and states are going to win.”

Because there is no state in which Democrats escape Obama’s toxic effect: “Obamaland is crumbling. Democrats have firmly controlled Illinois, the president’s home state, for nearly a decade, turning it into what one Republican called ‘a deep blue state.’ But this has changed almost overnight. In the midterm elections on November 2, Democrats stand to lose the governorship, Obama’s old Senate seat, two to four House seats, and any number of state legislative seats and down-ticket statewide offices.”

Because there really is no way to overestimate their economic illiteracy, you shouldn’t be surprised when Democrats like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) say things like “Republicans need to stop talking about cutting taxes and ‘look to the future with a little more compassion and bipartisanship.’”

Because they have no clue what to do about the listing economy — cutting taxes and easing up on business burdens aren’t in their repertoire – the Obami’s solution is always the same: more government spending.

Because the mainstream media continually carry water for the Democrats, the obvious always comes as a surprise to their readers and the chattering class: “We’re all familiar with the factional fights among Republicans, the party purges, and rabid RINO (a.k.a. Republican in Name Only) hunting. … The divisions in the Democratic Party are deepening, less than two years after its galvanizing 2008 victory that left liberals crowing about the prospect of a 40-year majority. With Republicans essentially stonewalling any hope of bipartisan support for Obama’s policies, the reason the significant Democrat majorities have not materialized into a steady stream of legislative victories is because of these ideological and political divisions within the Democratic caucus itself, largely between big-city liberals and swing-district centrists.”

Because all our problems are solved, there’s time for this: “Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a former Marine and the sponsor of the bill in the upper chamber, has convinced 79 senators to sign on to the measure [to rename the Department of the Navy] he introduced in late February. But even though it has broad bipartisan support, the bill’s fate could be decided by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and his GOP counterpart Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who oppose the efforts to rename the Department of the Navy as the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Marine Corps currently operates under the umbrella of the Department of the Navy.”

Because of columns like this, Newsweek became a self-parody. Eleanor Clift on Helen Thomas makes up a cover story and reaches an obnoxious conclusion: “She was talking about the settlers, and if she had said they should go back to Brooklyn, where many of them are from, she probably wouldn’t have made news.” And then she makes excuses for a bigot: “Thomas has always been outspoken on the Palestinian issue, phrasing questions in such a way that sometimes made eyes roll in the press room. The daughter of Lebanese immigrants who settled in Detroit, she felt she brought a perspective that people needed to hear.”

Because Obama is now a weight around the necks of his fellow Democrats, David Axelrod is forced to offer this spin: “I believe that ultimately these [2010] races are going to be decided at the local level at the, at the grass roots.  And the candidates who speak to the aspirations and concerns of people in their districts and states are going to win.”

Because there is no state in which Democrats escape Obama’s toxic effect: “Obamaland is crumbling. Democrats have firmly controlled Illinois, the president’s home state, for nearly a decade, turning it into what one Republican called ‘a deep blue state.’ But this has changed almost overnight. In the midterm elections on November 2, Democrats stand to lose the governorship, Obama’s old Senate seat, two to four House seats, and any number of state legislative seats and down-ticket statewide offices.”

Because there really is no way to overestimate their economic illiteracy, you shouldn’t be surprised when Democrats like House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) say things like “Republicans need to stop talking about cutting taxes and ‘look to the future with a little more compassion and bipartisanship.’”

Because they have no clue what to do about the listing economy — cutting taxes and easing up on business burdens aren’t in their repertoire – the Obami’s solution is always the same: more government spending.

Because the mainstream media continually carry water for the Democrats, the obvious always comes as a surprise to their readers and the chattering class: “We’re all familiar with the factional fights among Republicans, the party purges, and rabid RINO (a.k.a. Republican in Name Only) hunting. … The divisions in the Democratic Party are deepening, less than two years after its galvanizing 2008 victory that left liberals crowing about the prospect of a 40-year majority. With Republicans essentially stonewalling any hope of bipartisan support for Obama’s policies, the reason the significant Democrat majorities have not materialized into a steady stream of legislative victories is because of these ideological and political divisions within the Democratic caucus itself, largely between big-city liberals and swing-district centrists.”

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U.S. Defense Merits Spending

Big surprise. Reason magazine, the libertarian Bible, favors cutting defense spending. But it would be hard to come up with a more unpersuasive argument if they tried. Contributor Veronica de Rugy of George Mason University, a bastion of free-market economics, writes:

Liberals often view the Pentagon as an item that should be cut but can’t for political reasons. … Yet such cuts have been achieved in the past. … During the last 70 years, the defense budget was cut 26 times by an average rate of 10 percent. … The biggest cuts followed World War II, with a 72 percent reduction in 1947. The last cut was in 1998. … Most of the cuts have taken place after the end of a war. But cuts were also achieved in the late 1960s and early ’70s, despite the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. Politicians explicitly debated how to cut spending without cutting security, and they still managed to get re-elected.

So let me see if I have this straight: de Rugy thinks that defense cuts in the late 1940s, early 1970s, and early 1990s are a good model to follow? In all three instances, major wars were winding down (World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War, respectively), and the political class was eager to spend a “peace dividend.” Ms. de Rugy is an economist, not a historian, but she would be well advised to study the historical record for what happened next.

In all three cases, the result was to make America less secure and to embolden our adversaries. The precipitous decline in defense spending after World War II left us ill-prepared to confront Communist aggression in Korea. The drawdown after the end of the Vietnam War led to a “hollow army” that could not stand up to Soviet aggression or the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1970s. And the 1990s drawdown, which included slashing a third of the Army’s active-duty strength, left the armed forces overstretched and ill-prepared to deal with a host of low-intensity conflicts, from Somalia to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, the trend has reversed, with a big increase in defense budgets, but most of the money has gone for current operations and personnel costs (including health care and pensions) – the latter line item consuming an ever-larger share of the budget since the abolition of the draft in 1973. The U.S. armed forces have not been able to acquire enough big-ticket items to replace weapons designed and bought during the Reagan years or even earlier. (B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers date back to the Eisenhower administration.) The Army has grown slightly, but it is still far below its strength at the end of the Cold War, when it had 710,000 active-duty soldiers. (Today the figure is 560,000.)

It’s true that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, but our commitments are also greater because the U.S. armed forces have to maintain peace and security across the globe – something that is increasingly hard to do when the Navy, for example, has just 286 ships (down from almost 600 ships in the Reagan years). We can certainly afford to keep spending as much on defense as we do today – or even spend more. As de Rugy notes in passing, defense spending is hardly a crippling burden, insofar as it accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget and 4.6 percent of GDP (down from 6.2 percent in the 1980s).

She seems enamored of studies that claim that great efficiencies can be achieved “by eliminating a few controversial weapons systems or by reforming the Pentagon’s supply chain, I.T., and personnel management practices.” There is little doubt that the Pentagon – one of the world’s largest bureaucracies – can be more efficiently run. But, to refer once again to the historical record, every secretary of defense since the post was created in 1947 has tried to cut “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This may have saved a few bucks at the margins, but at the end of the day, no green-eye-shade legerdemain can produce a budgetary miracle of less spending and more defense capabilities.

The bottom line is: either we keep spending a lot for defense, or we will watch our strategic position decline. And the consequences of such a decline – as we learned in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s – will be far more costly in the end than maintaining a robust deterrent capacity to begin with.

Big surprise. Reason magazine, the libertarian Bible, favors cutting defense spending. But it would be hard to come up with a more unpersuasive argument if they tried. Contributor Veronica de Rugy of George Mason University, a bastion of free-market economics, writes:

Liberals often view the Pentagon as an item that should be cut but can’t for political reasons. … Yet such cuts have been achieved in the past. … During the last 70 years, the defense budget was cut 26 times by an average rate of 10 percent. … The biggest cuts followed World War II, with a 72 percent reduction in 1947. The last cut was in 1998. … Most of the cuts have taken place after the end of a war. But cuts were also achieved in the late 1960s and early ’70s, despite the ongoing conflict in Vietnam. Politicians explicitly debated how to cut spending without cutting security, and they still managed to get re-elected.

So let me see if I have this straight: de Rugy thinks that defense cuts in the late 1940s, early 1970s, and early 1990s are a good model to follow? In all three instances, major wars were winding down (World War II, Vietnam, and the Cold War, respectively), and the political class was eager to spend a “peace dividend.” Ms. de Rugy is an economist, not a historian, but she would be well advised to study the historical record for what happened next.

In all three cases, the result was to make America less secure and to embolden our adversaries. The precipitous decline in defense spending after World War II left us ill-prepared to confront Communist aggression in Korea. The drawdown after the end of the Vietnam War led to a “hollow army” that could not stand up to Soviet aggression or the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1970s. And the 1990s drawdown, which included slashing a third of the Army’s active-duty strength, left the armed forces overstretched and ill-prepared to deal with a host of low-intensity conflicts, from Somalia to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 9/11, the trend has reversed, with a big increase in defense budgets, but most of the money has gone for current operations and personnel costs (including health care and pensions) – the latter line item consuming an ever-larger share of the budget since the abolition of the draft in 1973. The U.S. armed forces have not been able to acquire enough big-ticket items to replace weapons designed and bought during the Reagan years or even earlier. (B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers date back to the Eisenhower administration.) The Army has grown slightly, but it is still far below its strength at the end of the Cold War, when it had 710,000 active-duty soldiers. (Today the figure is 560,000.)

It’s true that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, but our commitments are also greater because the U.S. armed forces have to maintain peace and security across the globe – something that is increasingly hard to do when the Navy, for example, has just 286 ships (down from almost 600 ships in the Reagan years). We can certainly afford to keep spending as much on defense as we do today – or even spend more. As de Rugy notes in passing, defense spending is hardly a crippling burden, insofar as it accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget and 4.6 percent of GDP (down from 6.2 percent in the 1980s).

She seems enamored of studies that claim that great efficiencies can be achieved “by eliminating a few controversial weapons systems or by reforming the Pentagon’s supply chain, I.T., and personnel management practices.” There is little doubt that the Pentagon – one of the world’s largest bureaucracies – can be more efficiently run. But, to refer once again to the historical record, every secretary of defense since the post was created in 1947 has tried to cut “waste, fraud, and abuse.” This may have saved a few bucks at the margins, but at the end of the day, no green-eye-shade legerdemain can produce a budgetary miracle of less spending and more defense capabilities.

The bottom line is: either we keep spending a lot for defense, or we will watch our strategic position decline. And the consequences of such a decline – as we learned in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s – will be far more costly in the end than maintaining a robust deterrent capacity to begin with.

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RE: How Obama’s Policy Ensures More Flotillas

Hard on the heels of Evelyn Gordon’s stingingly accurate analysis, the news comes that Iran is offering a naval escort for the next flotilla. The UK Guardian quotes a top Revolutionary Guard official speaking this past weekend:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard naval forces are prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys that carry humanitarian assistance for the defenceless and oppressed people of Gaza with all their strength,” pledged Hojjatoleslam Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s personal representative to the guards corps.

This is not an empty threat. Iran’s navy has deployed units to the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea for antipiracy operations since December 2008. The Iranians have taken great pride in expanding their maritime operating range across the region; extending their navy’s reach into the Eastern Mediterranean is now an incremental step, something no longer obviously beyond their force’s capabilities.

This is the kind of move President Obama could have deterred by affirming U.S. support for Israel’s right to secure borders and self-defense. Iran has been emboldened to take this step — one that must provoke a regional showdown — by the perception that Israel stands condemned and alone.

With his response implying U.S. disengagement, however, Obama has ensured that we will ultimately have to do more to protect our own interests. If Iran makes good on this offer, Egypt will quickly face the game-changing decision about whether to allow Iranian navy ships through the Suez Canal for such a mission. And if the U.S. is not acting overtly to give Egypt what the military calls “top cover” — political support and material backing for a negative decision — there is no guarantee that Arab regional fears of Iranian militarism will govern the Egyptian thought process.

Indeed, the long-term effects would be worse than the immediate consequences of an Iranian tactical triumph. A self-imposed posture of impotence on America’s part would drive nations like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to turn elsewhere for patronage. In addition to giving them a reason for accommodation with Turkey and Iran, passivity and incoherence on our part would open regional doors further for Russia and perhaps for China, as well.

Events are moving quickly now. It was clear a year ago that Israel’s national security could not be put in question without a feeding frenzy erupting in the Middle East. The past week has demonstrated that Western nations need not actively repudiate Israel to galvanize Israel’s terrorist enemies. Simply withholding affirmation of Israel’s rights as a nation works equally well.

The enemies of Israel are also the enemies of Western civilization — and they are emboldened today to press for what they want. They do not want the global stasis on which our way of life depends, with its liberality of trade, travel, and culture. Obama still has a little time to avert the battle they are preparing for — a battle that will unfold excruciatingly over weeks and months of probing Israel and the West by unconventional methods — but now is the time to act. If he fails to do so, he will rapidly lose control over what the fight is about and what America’s role in it is to be.

Hard on the heels of Evelyn Gordon’s stingingly accurate analysis, the news comes that Iran is offering a naval escort for the next flotilla. The UK Guardian quotes a top Revolutionary Guard official speaking this past weekend:

“Iran’s Revolutionary Guard naval forces are prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys that carry humanitarian assistance for the defenceless and oppressed people of Gaza with all their strength,” pledged Hojjatoleslam Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s personal representative to the guards corps.

This is not an empty threat. Iran’s navy has deployed units to the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea for antipiracy operations since December 2008. The Iranians have taken great pride in expanding their maritime operating range across the region; extending their navy’s reach into the Eastern Mediterranean is now an incremental step, something no longer obviously beyond their force’s capabilities.

This is the kind of move President Obama could have deterred by affirming U.S. support for Israel’s right to secure borders and self-defense. Iran has been emboldened to take this step — one that must provoke a regional showdown — by the perception that Israel stands condemned and alone.

With his response implying U.S. disengagement, however, Obama has ensured that we will ultimately have to do more to protect our own interests. If Iran makes good on this offer, Egypt will quickly face the game-changing decision about whether to allow Iranian navy ships through the Suez Canal for such a mission. And if the U.S. is not acting overtly to give Egypt what the military calls “top cover” — political support and material backing for a negative decision — there is no guarantee that Arab regional fears of Iranian militarism will govern the Egyptian thought process.

Indeed, the long-term effects would be worse than the immediate consequences of an Iranian tactical triumph. A self-imposed posture of impotence on America’s part would drive nations like Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to turn elsewhere for patronage. In addition to giving them a reason for accommodation with Turkey and Iran, passivity and incoherence on our part would open regional doors further for Russia and perhaps for China, as well.

Events are moving quickly now. It was clear a year ago that Israel’s national security could not be put in question without a feeding frenzy erupting in the Middle East. The past week has demonstrated that Western nations need not actively repudiate Israel to galvanize Israel’s terrorist enemies. Simply withholding affirmation of Israel’s rights as a nation works equally well.

The enemies of Israel are also the enemies of Western civilization — and they are emboldened today to press for what they want. They do not want the global stasis on which our way of life depends, with its liberality of trade, travel, and culture. Obama still has a little time to avert the battle they are preparing for — a battle that will unfold excruciatingly over weeks and months of probing Israel and the West by unconventional methods — but now is the time to act. If he fails to do so, he will rapidly lose control over what the fight is about and what America’s role in it is to be.

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Amnesty Int’l: Under No Circumstances Can Israel Not Occupy Gaza

I know you don’t need to be reminded that the “human-rights community” is full of fanatics and crackpots, but this example could be considered dark comedy. Abbott and Costello, anyone?

Q. Is an exit by the Navy from Gaza’s waters an end to the occupation?

A. No.

Q. Is opening the border crossings with Israel ending the occupation?

A. That’s a step towards ending the occupation….

Q. So what actions must Israel take? You say that the occupation ends if Israel opens the crossings, so if the occupation ends, Israel needs to close the borders since Gaza is defined as an enemy state. There’s a logical contradiction here.

A. I don’t understand where the contradiction is.

Q. The border between Israel and Lebanon is closed since Lebanon is an enemy state. You’re claiming that Israel needs to open the borders to Gaza and then the occupation will end. And then Israel will have to close the crossings.

A. I’ll ask you another question. Can Lebanon control the transfer of goods and people to Lebanon not opposite Israel but opposite other countries?

Q. So the problem is with the control by sea and air. If the seas are open there is no occupation?

A. Of course, had it been possible to enter Gaza freely through the air, by sea and land, that would certainly be one component of the occupation ending.

Q. What are all the components to end the occupation? Amnesty does not present a plan in which Israel stops the occupation. It says that Israel needs to stop the occupation and deepen the occupation by opening the borders. I don’t comprehend that.

A. Amnesty International does not deal with solving conflicts.

It goes on. Read it all.

I know you don’t need to be reminded that the “human-rights community” is full of fanatics and crackpots, but this example could be considered dark comedy. Abbott and Costello, anyone?

Q. Is an exit by the Navy from Gaza’s waters an end to the occupation?

A. No.

Q. Is opening the border crossings with Israel ending the occupation?

A. That’s a step towards ending the occupation….

Q. So what actions must Israel take? You say that the occupation ends if Israel opens the crossings, so if the occupation ends, Israel needs to close the borders since Gaza is defined as an enemy state. There’s a logical contradiction here.

A. I don’t understand where the contradiction is.

Q. The border between Israel and Lebanon is closed since Lebanon is an enemy state. You’re claiming that Israel needs to open the borders to Gaza and then the occupation will end. And then Israel will have to close the crossings.

A. I’ll ask you another question. Can Lebanon control the transfer of goods and people to Lebanon not opposite Israel but opposite other countries?

Q. So the problem is with the control by sea and air. If the seas are open there is no occupation?

A. Of course, had it been possible to enter Gaza freely through the air, by sea and land, that would certainly be one component of the occupation ending.

Q. What are all the components to end the occupation? Amnesty does not present a plan in which Israel stops the occupation. It says that Israel needs to stop the occupation and deepen the occupation by opening the borders. I don’t comprehend that.

A. Amnesty International does not deal with solving conflicts.

It goes on. Read it all.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Jamie Fly asks, “No Daylight?” about the U.S. stance on the terrorist flotilla: “So, over the course of two days, ‘no daylight’ has essentially become ‘we told you so,’ ‘perhaps you shouldn’t have done that,’ and ‘we plan to use this to our advantage to further our agenda.’ It’s no wonder that ally after ally feels slighted by the Obama administration, because even when this White House says they are standing with you, they are simultaneously undermining you.”

No Big Labor guarantees for the Democrats in 2010: “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Thursday that he sees unions as ‘unpredictable partners’ to Democratic candidates in the coming 2010 midterm elections.”

No Democrat in a competitive seat wants to get too closely tied to Obama these days: “Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, has called on President Barack Obama to do more to contain the fallout from the Gulf oil spill. Nelson on Thursday called for the White House to send more military assets to the Gulf before the giant oil slick hits Florida’s beaches. ‘This is the largest environmental disaster in our nation’s history,’ Nelson said in a statement. ‘If this doesn’t call for more organization, control and assets — like sub-sea mapping by the Navy, for instance — then nothing does.’”

No idea what he’s talking about — Turkey has been hostile to Israel for some time: “Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sharply criticized Israel for its reaction to the Mavi Marmara raid Thursday saying that ‘Israel stands to lose its closest ally in the Middle East if it does not change its mentality.’”

No doubt about the Carly Fiorina surge: “Former eBay executive Meg Whitman holds a commanding lead over Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in the June 8 Republican gubernatorial primary. In the GOP Senate primary, former HP President Carly Fiorina has pulled away from rival Tom Campbell, according to the latest Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research tracking poll. … The Senate side reflects a dramatic shift toward Fiorina over the past six weeks. An April 24 Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research Poll showed Campbell with 31-17 point lead over Fiorina, and DeVore at 14 percent.”

No humanitarian goods into Gaza? Outrageous — where is the UN? Oh, wait — it’s Hamas: “Hamas will not allow goods from an aid flotilla raided by Israel to enter the blockaded Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Islamist organization said Thursday.”

No way! Really? John Judis assures us that the Tea party movement isn’t racist: “What I am suggesting is that it’s very possible to believe that the Tea Party is not the latest manifestation of the Ku Klux Klan or White Citizens’ Councils—while still believing that it is a terrible menace, nonetheless.” Whew — takes a load off the left, doesn’t it? All the fictional racial incidents were getting to be a chore.

No clear winner in the Peter Beinart–Leon Wieseltier competition for the most vile comments directed against Israel. From the latter: “Israel does not need enemies: it has itself. Or more precisely: it has its government. The Netanyahu-Barak government has somehow found a way to lose the moral high ground, the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas. That is quite an accomplishment. Operation Make the World Hate Us, it might have been called.” To be precise, Israel has enough weaselly critics who flaunt their Judaism to establish their bona fides in order to gain legitimacy for their savage and a-factual attacks on the Jewish state.

Jamie Fly asks, “No Daylight?” about the U.S. stance on the terrorist flotilla: “So, over the course of two days, ‘no daylight’ has essentially become ‘we told you so,’ ‘perhaps you shouldn’t have done that,’ and ‘we plan to use this to our advantage to further our agenda.’ It’s no wonder that ally after ally feels slighted by the Obama administration, because even when this White House says they are standing with you, they are simultaneously undermining you.”

No Big Labor guarantees for the Democrats in 2010: “AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Thursday that he sees unions as ‘unpredictable partners’ to Democratic candidates in the coming 2010 midterm elections.”

No Democrat in a competitive seat wants to get too closely tied to Obama these days: “Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida, has called on President Barack Obama to do more to contain the fallout from the Gulf oil spill. Nelson on Thursday called for the White House to send more military assets to the Gulf before the giant oil slick hits Florida’s beaches. ‘This is the largest environmental disaster in our nation’s history,’ Nelson said in a statement. ‘If this doesn’t call for more organization, control and assets — like sub-sea mapping by the Navy, for instance — then nothing does.’”

No idea what he’s talking about — Turkey has been hostile to Israel for some time: “Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sharply criticized Israel for its reaction to the Mavi Marmara raid Thursday saying that ‘Israel stands to lose its closest ally in the Middle East if it does not change its mentality.’”

No doubt about the Carly Fiorina surge: “Former eBay executive Meg Whitman holds a commanding lead over Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in the June 8 Republican gubernatorial primary. In the GOP Senate primary, former HP President Carly Fiorina has pulled away from rival Tom Campbell, according to the latest Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research tracking poll. … The Senate side reflects a dramatic shift toward Fiorina over the past six weeks. An April 24 Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research Poll showed Campbell with 31-17 point lead over Fiorina, and DeVore at 14 percent.”

No humanitarian goods into Gaza? Outrageous — where is the UN? Oh, wait — it’s Hamas: “Hamas will not allow goods from an aid flotilla raided by Israel to enter the blockaded Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Islamist organization said Thursday.”

No way! Really? John Judis assures us that the Tea party movement isn’t racist: “What I am suggesting is that it’s very possible to believe that the Tea Party is not the latest manifestation of the Ku Klux Klan or White Citizens’ Councils—while still believing that it is a terrible menace, nonetheless.” Whew — takes a load off the left, doesn’t it? All the fictional racial incidents were getting to be a chore.

No clear winner in the Peter Beinart–Leon Wieseltier competition for the most vile comments directed against Israel. From the latter: “Israel does not need enemies: it has itself. Or more precisely: it has its government. The Netanyahu-Barak government has somehow found a way to lose the moral high ground, the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas. That is quite an accomplishment. Operation Make the World Hate Us, it might have been called.” To be precise, Israel has enough weaselly critics who flaunt their Judaism to establish their bona fides in order to gain legitimacy for their savage and a-factual attacks on the Jewish state.

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You Can Take the Pol Out of Chicago. . .

As he often does, Obama tried to distance himself from his own administration’s mess. He ducked a personal response and had his lawyer issue a memo on the Joe Sestak job-offer scandal on the Friday before Memorial Day. He thereby succeeded in revealing that Sestak is a fabulist, his own White House is little more than a Blago-like operation, an ex-president has been reduced to the the role of a “cut out,” and the whole lot of them practice the same sleazy-politics-as usual that Obama ran against (which, ironically, was symbolized in the primary by Hillary Clinton).

The White House counsel says it really wasn’t the secretary of the Navy post that was offered. It was an unpaid advisory-board position. A few problems there. You send a former president to offer that to avoid a primary fight? And more important, it doesn’t get over the legal hurdle. As Hans von Spakovsky explains:

[White House Counsel Robert] Bauer admits that Rahm Emanuel asked Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an appointment to a “Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board,” and that the appointment would be attractive, i.e., a benefit. The statute does not absolve you of liability if you are offering someone an uncompensated appointment. It also specifies that you are guilty of a violation if you make such an offer “directly or indirectly.” Moreover, since the executive branch may not spend money that is not appropriated by Congress, any such board would be authorized by or at least paid for by an “Act of Congress.”

And boy, did they pick the wrong election cycle to pull this. The underlying gambit is bad enough, but the roll out of the explanation is potentially worse and will be thrown in Sestak’s face in the election. The stall. The lawyer swooping in with the cover story. The process of getting everyone on the same page. It is precisely what the voters are screaming about: backroom deals, evasive pols, lack of transparency, and dishonesty. Obama has made perfect hash out of the race, first by pulling the weather vane Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, then trying to unsuccessfully push the opponent out of the way, and finally by sullying everyone involved.

Obama has been compared to Jimmy Carter (in his misguided notions about the world), to Richard Nixon (in his sleazy backroom dealing and lack of transparency) and to LBJ (in his infatuation with government). Unfortunately, it appears that he embodies the worst of three unsuccessful presidents. And like all three, he may manage to drag his party down with him.

As he often does, Obama tried to distance himself from his own administration’s mess. He ducked a personal response and had his lawyer issue a memo on the Joe Sestak job-offer scandal on the Friday before Memorial Day. He thereby succeeded in revealing that Sestak is a fabulist, his own White House is little more than a Blago-like operation, an ex-president has been reduced to the the role of a “cut out,” and the whole lot of them practice the same sleazy-politics-as usual that Obama ran against (which, ironically, was symbolized in the primary by Hillary Clinton).

The White House counsel says it really wasn’t the secretary of the Navy post that was offered. It was an unpaid advisory-board position. A few problems there. You send a former president to offer that to avoid a primary fight? And more important, it doesn’t get over the legal hurdle. As Hans von Spakovsky explains:

[White House Counsel Robert] Bauer admits that Rahm Emanuel asked Bill Clinton to offer Sestak an appointment to a “Presidential or other Senior Executive Branch Advisory Board,” and that the appointment would be attractive, i.e., a benefit. The statute does not absolve you of liability if you are offering someone an uncompensated appointment. It also specifies that you are guilty of a violation if you make such an offer “directly or indirectly.” Moreover, since the executive branch may not spend money that is not appropriated by Congress, any such board would be authorized by or at least paid for by an “Act of Congress.”

And boy, did they pick the wrong election cycle to pull this. The underlying gambit is bad enough, but the roll out of the explanation is potentially worse and will be thrown in Sestak’s face in the election. The stall. The lawyer swooping in with the cover story. The process of getting everyone on the same page. It is precisely what the voters are screaming about: backroom deals, evasive pols, lack of transparency, and dishonesty. Obama has made perfect hash out of the race, first by pulling the weather vane Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, then trying to unsuccessfully push the opponent out of the way, and finally by sullying everyone involved.

Obama has been compared to Jimmy Carter (in his misguided notions about the world), to Richard Nixon (in his sleazy backroom dealing and lack of transparency) and to LBJ (in his infatuation with government). Unfortunately, it appears that he embodies the worst of three unsuccessful presidents. And like all three, he may manage to drag his party down with him.

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The Limits of Anti-Israel Activists’ Compassion

For those who wish to end the continued existence of a sovereign Jewish state on the shores of the Mediterranean, there is only one cause worth caring about: breaking the limited blockade that both Israel and Egypt have placed on Hamas-ruled Gaza. No one in Gaza is starving. All are fed by a United Nations Agency — UNRWA — specifically set up to ensure the continued existence of a Palestinian refugee problem. Gaza is poor, but the region, which Israel evacuated in 2005, is now an independent entity ruled by the Hamas terrorist group. For years, it served as a launching pad for missile attacks on Israeli civilians in southern Israel. But after Israel’s counteroffensive in December 2008, the Islamists who run Gaza have mostly held their fire. This is done partly out of fear of more Israeli counterterror operations and partly because the blockade imposed on the area — a blockade that allows in food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies but not construction materials that could aid Hamas’s homegrown weapons industry — has made it difficult for them to replenish their arsenal.

Thus, efforts to break this blockade and the international isolation imposed on this Hamasistan, created to force Gaza’s rulers to renounce their allegiance to a program pledged to the violent destruction of Israel, have little to do with sympathy for Gazans and everything to do with fueling anti-Israel propaganda. Though European sympathy for the “plight” of besieged Gaza is commonplace, support for breaking the blockade means freedom for Hamas, not the people who must live under the rule of Islamist tyrants.

But that hasn’t stopped anti-Israel activists from attempting to stage propaganda incidents highlighting their opposition to the blockade against Hamas. The latest is a so-called Freedom Flotilla of eight ships that left Istanbul, Turkey, this week. Al Jazeera, whose peppered a “news” report about the launch editorialized about how the “issue of Gaza moves Turks more than any other single issue,” noted that the convoy “is from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey, and is comprised of 800 people from 50 nationalities.” Though the rhetoric from the organizers centered on the supposed lack of food and medicine in Gaza, the report also noted that the ships are carrying 500 tons of construction equipment. Omitted from the Al Jazeera article was the fact that high-ranking members of the Hamas leadership also attended the festive launch of the ships. It is no surprise that Israel has said its Navy will prevent the ships from landing at Gaza and delivering their cargo. If they persist in trying to land, they will be diverted to Israel, where the passengers will be sent home, and any actual humanitarian supplies (as opposed to construction material) will be sent on to Gaza.

But though they claim they are trying to help people in need, there are limits to even the boundless compassion for humanity exhibited by those taking part in the Freedom Flotilla.

A lawyer representing the family of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006, approached the organizers of the Free Gaza flotilla. The Shalit family asked the pro-Palestinian group to bring letters and food packages to the kidnapped soldier, who has been denied Red Cross visits by his Hamas captors. In exchange, the family, which has the sympathy of all Israel and the ear of the Israeli government, offered to lobby to give the flotilla docking rights in Gaza. The response from these humanitarians: no!

Had they agreed to pass on the letters and packages from Shalit’s family, the pro-Palestinian group could have bolstered their shaky credibility as humanitarians. But by refusing, they have revealed themselves as nothing more than people bent on aiding and abetting an international terrorist group.

For those who wish to end the continued existence of a sovereign Jewish state on the shores of the Mediterranean, there is only one cause worth caring about: breaking the limited blockade that both Israel and Egypt have placed on Hamas-ruled Gaza. No one in Gaza is starving. All are fed by a United Nations Agency — UNRWA — specifically set up to ensure the continued existence of a Palestinian refugee problem. Gaza is poor, but the region, which Israel evacuated in 2005, is now an independent entity ruled by the Hamas terrorist group. For years, it served as a launching pad for missile attacks on Israeli civilians in southern Israel. But after Israel’s counteroffensive in December 2008, the Islamists who run Gaza have mostly held their fire. This is done partly out of fear of more Israeli counterterror operations and partly because the blockade imposed on the area — a blockade that allows in food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies but not construction materials that could aid Hamas’s homegrown weapons industry — has made it difficult for them to replenish their arsenal.

Thus, efforts to break this blockade and the international isolation imposed on this Hamasistan, created to force Gaza’s rulers to renounce their allegiance to a program pledged to the violent destruction of Israel, have little to do with sympathy for Gazans and everything to do with fueling anti-Israel propaganda. Though European sympathy for the “plight” of besieged Gaza is commonplace, support for breaking the blockade means freedom for Hamas, not the people who must live under the rule of Islamist tyrants.

But that hasn’t stopped anti-Israel activists from attempting to stage propaganda incidents highlighting their opposition to the blockade against Hamas. The latest is a so-called Freedom Flotilla of eight ships that left Istanbul, Turkey, this week. Al Jazeera, whose peppered a “news” report about the launch editorialized about how the “issue of Gaza moves Turks more than any other single issue,” noted that the convoy “is from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey, and is comprised of 800 people from 50 nationalities.” Though the rhetoric from the organizers centered on the supposed lack of food and medicine in Gaza, the report also noted that the ships are carrying 500 tons of construction equipment. Omitted from the Al Jazeera article was the fact that high-ranking members of the Hamas leadership also attended the festive launch of the ships. It is no surprise that Israel has said its Navy will prevent the ships from landing at Gaza and delivering their cargo. If they persist in trying to land, they will be diverted to Israel, where the passengers will be sent home, and any actual humanitarian supplies (as opposed to construction material) will be sent on to Gaza.

But though they claim they are trying to help people in need, there are limits to even the boundless compassion for humanity exhibited by those taking part in the Freedom Flotilla.

A lawyer representing the family of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006, approached the organizers of the Free Gaza flotilla. The Shalit family asked the pro-Palestinian group to bring letters and food packages to the kidnapped soldier, who has been denied Red Cross visits by his Hamas captors. In exchange, the family, which has the sympathy of all Israel and the ear of the Israeli government, offered to lobby to give the flotilla docking rights in Gaza. The response from these humanitarians: no!

Had they agreed to pass on the letters and packages from Shalit’s family, the pro-Palestinian group could have bolstered their shaky credibility as humanitarians. But by refusing, they have revealed themselves as nothing more than people bent on aiding and abetting an international terrorist group.

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Joe Sestak Wants Terrorists Tried in Open Court

As troubling as Joe Sestak’s stance on Israel may be, a potentially more potent issue with the general electorate in Pennsylvania may be his support for the idea of trying terrorists in federal courts. Sestak hasn’t been shy in voicing his views. He explained in a CNN interview last November:

Well, I was stationed at the Pentagon when 9/11 happened. Right after that, I took over the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit, where we shaped the policies to pursue al Qaeda. I went on the ground earlier in that war, then did the retaliatory strikes with the aircraft carrier battle group … all to bring these perpetrators of this outrage to justice.

How can we even think about letting terrorists force us to abandon our principles? Keeping them in a black hole away from the rule of law? I defended this nation because I honestly believed it was not a rule of men, it was rule of law. …

What better way to show the resolve of this nation than to bring them to New York City to see how their effort to try to destroy something has risen again. And then to bring them into that court system, to show them the strength of America, that the rule of law will show them they were wrong and throw away the keys once they’ve been brought to justice, it’s the right way to do it. …

Well, as they well said today, those that will come before the military tribunals were ones that their acts were done overseas. Their acts were ones that were done on the battlefield over there.

He specifically has supported the idea of trying KSM in Pennsylvania — if it was logistically easier.

A large majority of Americans disagree, as polls have consistently shown. It is ironic that at a time when the Obama administration is reconsidering the civilian-trial option for KSM, Sestak remains committed to civilian trials for the jihadists. It’s not easy for a politician to get to the left of the president on anti-terror policies, but Sestak has done it. He may find it difficult if not impossible to get elected when you’re to the left of Obama on the war against Muslim extremists.

As troubling as Joe Sestak’s stance on Israel may be, a potentially more potent issue with the general electorate in Pennsylvania may be his support for the idea of trying terrorists in federal courts. Sestak hasn’t been shy in voicing his views. He explained in a CNN interview last November:

Well, I was stationed at the Pentagon when 9/11 happened. Right after that, I took over the Navy’s anti-terrorism unit, where we shaped the policies to pursue al Qaeda. I went on the ground earlier in that war, then did the retaliatory strikes with the aircraft carrier battle group … all to bring these perpetrators of this outrage to justice.

How can we even think about letting terrorists force us to abandon our principles? Keeping them in a black hole away from the rule of law? I defended this nation because I honestly believed it was not a rule of men, it was rule of law. …

What better way to show the resolve of this nation than to bring them to New York City to see how their effort to try to destroy something has risen again. And then to bring them into that court system, to show them the strength of America, that the rule of law will show them they were wrong and throw away the keys once they’ve been brought to justice, it’s the right way to do it. …

Well, as they well said today, those that will come before the military tribunals were ones that their acts were done overseas. Their acts were ones that were done on the battlefield over there.

He specifically has supported the idea of trying KSM in Pennsylvania — if it was logistically easier.

A large majority of Americans disagree, as polls have consistently shown. It is ironic that at a time when the Obama administration is reconsidering the civilian-trial option for KSM, Sestak remains committed to civilian trials for the jihadists. It’s not easy for a politician to get to the left of the president on anti-terror policies, but Sestak has done it. He may find it difficult if not impossible to get elected when you’re to the left of Obama on the war against Muslim extremists.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

But they are supposed to go into harm’s way for their country: the Navy takes away the lard and water hoses from a 60-year tradition in which plebes climb a greased 21-foot monument. Why? They might get hurt. A former Naval Academy graduate chimes in: “We’re going to send these guys to war but they can’t climb a monument because they might get hurt? Come on.” Next thing you know, they’ll be allowing proper names in Scrabble.

But don’t we have a First Amendment or something? “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused the president of being in the pocket of Big Oil, a charge usually leveled by Democrats at the GOP. ‘You’ve got to have a license to drive a car in this country, but, regrettably, you can get on a TV show and say virtually anything,’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.” Gosh, if we only licensed talking heads.

But he’s a “genius”! “Millions of Americans are out of work, the budget deficit is in the trillions and Europe is flirting with economic collapse. Fear not, says Larry Summers, the chief economic adviser to President Obama. It is merely a ‘fluctuation.’” His long-winded gobbledygook about moving from the G-7 to the G-20 “was vintage Summers: smart, esoteric — and utterly unhelpful.”

But isn’t it like allowing Keith Olbermann to review a George W. Bush biography? The Washington Post has David Frum (who’s carved out a niche in Limbaugh-bashing for the mainstream media) review the latest biography of Rush Limbaugh. Surprise, surprise, he concludes: “It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth.”

But you didn’t really buy all that “transparency” jazz did you? “The Justice Department has rejected a Republican request to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations that the White House offered a job to Rep. Joe Sestak if he would drop out of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary. … In the letter to [Rep. Darrell] Issa, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the DOJ could handle the allegations without creating a special counsel. But Weich gave no indication that the department was looking into the Sestak matter.”

But if David Axelrod is right about there being “no evidence” of a deal, then Sestak is lying. Mark Hemingway: “There’s no good outcome here for the White House. Either the White House did something illegal here or their party’s Senate candidate in Pennsylvania is a delusional fabulist. But regardless, their prolonged foot-dragging here only appears to be making things worse.”

But the White House said, “Trust us”: “The number two Democrat in the Senate, who has close ties to the White House, is urging Rep. Joe Sestak to come clean. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN Tuesday that the Pennsylvania Democrat should fully explain whether Obama administration officials pressed him to drop his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in exchange for a job.”

But Democrats insisted we needed a humungous new uber-department! James Carafano on the BP response: “Explain to me why nine years after 9/11 we struggle with disasters. Well, the answer is easy. Homeland Security wastes its time on routine disaster; the secretary worries more about how to grant amnesty to illegals than battling terrorists and preparing for catastrophes. Congress dumps money in wasteful programs and uses 108 committees, sub-committees, and commissions to provide chaotic and incoherent oversight to the department.”

But (as a sharp colleague suggested) couldn’t we work out a deal where Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul both exit their races? Jonah Goldberg sums up why conservatives should carry no water for Paul: “[I]t’s certainly repugnant and bizarre for libertarians like Paul to lament the lost rights of bigots rather than to rejoice at the restored rights of integrationists.” (By the way, would Paul commend Obama for doing nothing at all about the BP spill?)

But they are supposed to go into harm’s way for their country: the Navy takes away the lard and water hoses from a 60-year tradition in which plebes climb a greased 21-foot monument. Why? They might get hurt. A former Naval Academy graduate chimes in: “We’re going to send these guys to war but they can’t climb a monument because they might get hurt? Come on.” Next thing you know, they’ll be allowing proper names in Scrabble.

But don’t we have a First Amendment or something? “Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused the president of being in the pocket of Big Oil, a charge usually leveled by Democrats at the GOP. ‘You’ve got to have a license to drive a car in this country, but, regrettably, you can get on a TV show and say virtually anything,’ White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.” Gosh, if we only licensed talking heads.

But he’s a “genius”! “Millions of Americans are out of work, the budget deficit is in the trillions and Europe is flirting with economic collapse. Fear not, says Larry Summers, the chief economic adviser to President Obama. It is merely a ‘fluctuation.’” His long-winded gobbledygook about moving from the G-7 to the G-20 “was vintage Summers: smart, esoteric — and utterly unhelpful.”

But isn’t it like allowing Keith Olbermann to review a George W. Bush biography? The Washington Post has David Frum (who’s carved out a niche in Limbaugh-bashing for the mainstream media) review the latest biography of Rush Limbaugh. Surprise, surprise, he concludes: “It might seem ominous for an intellectual movement to be led by a man who does not think creatively, who does not respect the other side of the argument and who frequently says things that are not intended as truth.”

But you didn’t really buy all that “transparency” jazz did you? “The Justice Department has rejected a Republican request to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations that the White House offered a job to Rep. Joe Sestak if he would drop out of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic primary. … In the letter to [Rep. Darrell] Issa, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote that the DOJ could handle the allegations without creating a special counsel. But Weich gave no indication that the department was looking into the Sestak matter.”

But if David Axelrod is right about there being “no evidence” of a deal, then Sestak is lying. Mark Hemingway: “There’s no good outcome here for the White House. Either the White House did something illegal here or their party’s Senate candidate in Pennsylvania is a delusional fabulist. But regardless, their prolonged foot-dragging here only appears to be making things worse.”

But the White House said, “Trust us”: “The number two Democrat in the Senate, who has close ties to the White House, is urging Rep. Joe Sestak to come clean. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told CNN Tuesday that the Pennsylvania Democrat should fully explain whether Obama administration officials pressed him to drop his Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter in exchange for a job.”

But Democrats insisted we needed a humungous new uber-department! James Carafano on the BP response: “Explain to me why nine years after 9/11 we struggle with disasters. Well, the answer is easy. Homeland Security wastes its time on routine disaster; the secretary worries more about how to grant amnesty to illegals than battling terrorists and preparing for catastrophes. Congress dumps money in wasteful programs and uses 108 committees, sub-committees, and commissions to provide chaotic and incoherent oversight to the department.”

But (as a sharp colleague suggested) couldn’t we work out a deal where Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul both exit their races? Jonah Goldberg sums up why conservatives should carry no water for Paul: “[I]t’s certainly repugnant and bizarre for libertarians like Paul to lament the lost rights of bigots rather than to rejoice at the restored rights of integrationists.” (By the way, would Paul commend Obama for doing nothing at all about the BP spill?)

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Millions for Defense, Not One Cent for Tribute

Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute has written twice in the last few weeks (here and here) on a topic integral to U.S. national security: our declining naval dominance. His point at Pajamas Media on Tuesday — that Defense Secretary Gates’s May 3 call for a smaller navy got little attention or criticism in the press — resonates with me. Americans have trouble remembering that we are, most fundamentally, a maritime trading nation. Naval power is a core element of our own national security as well as of the global stability we seek to promote. We can maintain naval dominance or we can fight to get it back, but our position and character as a nation are impossible without it.

The proximate reason for the current debate is the ongoing shrinkage of the U.S. Navy, which has declined nearly 20 percent in the last decade while other navies are expanding and modernizing. China has had a very successful naval expansion program during this period. Russia and Iran have accelerated their efforts at modernization and new construction. Nations from Vietnam to India to Saudi Arabia and Algeria are making major investments in naval weapon systems.

Moreover, the navies of Russia, China, and India are operating in distant waters and cultivating their images as “power projection” forces. Russia has resumed visiting its Cold War-era haunts in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Western hemisphere. China’s navy conducted its largest and farthest-flung fleet exercise ever in March and April 2010, twice operating provocatively in a Japanese strait. India dispatched a naval task force in 2009 to conduct unprecedented joint drills with European navies in the Atlantic. All three of these navies are now operating in the international antipiracy effort off of Somalia, as are navies like Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s, which formerly kept to their own coastal waters.

Nations don’t expand their navies or the scope of their operations because they are satisfied with the status quo. Although the Somali piracy problem has been a key catalyst for unprecedented naval deployments, there is no question that the fastest-growing navies — those of China, Russia, India, and Iran — are being enlarged because their political leaders envision an alternative to U.S. maritime dominance.

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Seth Cropsey of the Hudson Institute has written twice in the last few weeks (here and here) on a topic integral to U.S. national security: our declining naval dominance. His point at Pajamas Media on Tuesday — that Defense Secretary Gates’s May 3 call for a smaller navy got little attention or criticism in the press — resonates with me. Americans have trouble remembering that we are, most fundamentally, a maritime trading nation. Naval power is a core element of our own national security as well as of the global stability we seek to promote. We can maintain naval dominance or we can fight to get it back, but our position and character as a nation are impossible without it.

The proximate reason for the current debate is the ongoing shrinkage of the U.S. Navy, which has declined nearly 20 percent in the last decade while other navies are expanding and modernizing. China has had a very successful naval expansion program during this period. Russia and Iran have accelerated their efforts at modernization and new construction. Nations from Vietnam to India to Saudi Arabia and Algeria are making major investments in naval weapon systems.

Moreover, the navies of Russia, China, and India are operating in distant waters and cultivating their images as “power projection” forces. Russia has resumed visiting its Cold War-era haunts in the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Western hemisphere. China’s navy conducted its largest and farthest-flung fleet exercise ever in March and April 2010, twice operating provocatively in a Japanese strait. India dispatched a naval task force in 2009 to conduct unprecedented joint drills with European navies in the Atlantic. All three of these navies are now operating in the international antipiracy effort off of Somalia, as are navies like Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s, which formerly kept to their own coastal waters.

Nations don’t expand their navies or the scope of their operations because they are satisfied with the status quo. Although the Somali piracy problem has been a key catalyst for unprecedented naval deployments, there is no question that the fastest-growing navies — those of China, Russia, India, and Iran — are being enlarged because their political leaders envision an alternative to U.S. maritime dominance.

As we go forward in this shifting security environment, we need to keep two conceptual touchstones in mind. One is that our dominance can wane meaningfully even if no other navy is a symmetrical rival to ours on a global scale. To confound us effectively, navies like China’s or Russia’s need only be able to enforce unilateral ukases locally, particularly in the easily threatened chokepoints through which trillions of dollars in global trade pass every year.

China, for example, would prefer to gradually establish maritime preeminence in the South China Sea until the point is reached at which the U.S. must either provoke a confrontation or accept China as the dictator of policy there. And China’s policy would not entail keeping the seaways of Southeast Asia free for all nations’ commerce, as ours has. Favoritism and political extortion would be the new norm under Chinese hegemony.

Our Pacific alliances could not survive China’s assumption of de facto maritime hegemony in Southeast Asia. And that leads to the other conceptual touchstone: the efficient use America has long made of maritime dominance and alliances in preserving our own security between the great oceans. Alliances and naval deterrence are difficult and expensive to maintain, but they are far less costly in every way than fighting repeated land wars in the Eastern hemisphere. They are particularly suited, moreover, to our national preference for consensual relations abroad rather than Roman- or colonial-style imperialism.

As Cropsey’s articles suggest, we are at present reworking our national-security strategy and force doctrine. Our choices about defense capabilities today will dictate our political responses in the future. There is no question that waste, pork, service infighting, and bureaucratic inertia make our navy cost more than it needs to, but merely shrinking it to save money is not the answer. Nor is it wise to dismantle the essential tool of maritime deterrence — a navy capable of dominating any other in the regional confrontations that several nations are currently preparing for — in favor of “down-tooling” our force to deal symmetrically with pirates. Somali piracy is the least of the maritime problems we will face in the next two to three decades. Other navies have proven effective at attacking Somali piracy head-on. But there is only one navy that can shoulder aside the challenges from nation-state rivals and keep the world’s vulnerable tradeways open to all. If we do not do it, it will not be done.

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Liberals Like Swift-Boat Attack Against Specter’s Foe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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