Commentary Magazine


Topic: Nixon administration

Hot Times in the Far East

It’s getting harder to pick the most noteworthy headline among geopolitical events in East Asia. For the second time in two weeks, a high-ranking South Korean defense official has abruptly resigned (this time, the army chief of staff). His departure followed intelligence disclosures suggesting that North Korea has as many as four uranium-enrichment sites in operation, a level of activity previously unsuspected by the South Korean public. But are those developments more portentous than the most recent communications from Japan? And what about the Russian patrol aircraft that interrupted the U.S.-Japan naval exercise last week?

Japan’s announcements on defense this month figure collectively as the augury of a seminal shift. It’s not all that unusual for Tokyo to announce an increase in the size of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). But the reason invoked on this occasion amounts to a crack in the foundation of the U.S.-guaranteed security regime in the Far East. Japan plans to reorient its defense policy toward the emerging threat from China — and plans, in general, to defend its interests against Chinese and North Korean threats more proactively than at any time since 1945.

The Japanese will officially abandon the Cold War–era “basic defense doctrine,” which provided for territorial defense but not for the projection of military power beyond Japan’s recognized borders. Besides adding more submarines to the fleet, they will look at a military build-up in the southern chain of Japanese islands, near the Senkaku archipelago disputed with China. And on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan startled South Koreans by telling an audience that Japan would consider changing JSDF policy to allow for the deploying of troops to South Korea to rescue Japanese citizens.

The point here is not that any such move by Japan is suspicious. The point is that Japan perceives the need for a new, more active security posture. The tacit U.S. guarantee since World War II has been a balance in the Far East: the three great powers there — Russia, China, and Japan — held in check with a network of alliances and military presence. In the past two decades, however, the U.S. has failed to effectively counter what are arguably the most important threats to stability in the region: Chinese maritime aggression and the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Against that backdrop, the Obama administration’s determined reliance on China to deal with North Korea looks — from the Asian side of the Pacific — like ceding China too much power. If America will not broker a balanced stasis, Russia and China will arm themselves for emerging opportunities, and everyone else will follow suit. Read More

It’s getting harder to pick the most noteworthy headline among geopolitical events in East Asia. For the second time in two weeks, a high-ranking South Korean defense official has abruptly resigned (this time, the army chief of staff). His departure followed intelligence disclosures suggesting that North Korea has as many as four uranium-enrichment sites in operation, a level of activity previously unsuspected by the South Korean public. But are those developments more portentous than the most recent communications from Japan? And what about the Russian patrol aircraft that interrupted the U.S.-Japan naval exercise last week?

Japan’s announcements on defense this month figure collectively as the augury of a seminal shift. It’s not all that unusual for Tokyo to announce an increase in the size of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF). But the reason invoked on this occasion amounts to a crack in the foundation of the U.S.-guaranteed security regime in the Far East. Japan plans to reorient its defense policy toward the emerging threat from China — and plans, in general, to defend its interests against Chinese and North Korean threats more proactively than at any time since 1945.

The Japanese will officially abandon the Cold War–era “basic defense doctrine,” which provided for territorial defense but not for the projection of military power beyond Japan’s recognized borders. Besides adding more submarines to the fleet, they will look at a military build-up in the southern chain of Japanese islands, near the Senkaku archipelago disputed with China. And on Sunday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan startled South Koreans by telling an audience that Japan would consider changing JSDF policy to allow for the deploying of troops to South Korea to rescue Japanese citizens.

The point here is not that any such move by Japan is suspicious. The point is that Japan perceives the need for a new, more active security posture. The tacit U.S. guarantee since World War II has been a balance in the Far East: the three great powers there — Russia, China, and Japan — held in check with a network of alliances and military presence. In the past two decades, however, the U.S. has failed to effectively counter what are arguably the most important threats to stability in the region: Chinese maritime aggression and the North Korean nuclear-weapons program. Against that backdrop, the Obama administration’s determined reliance on China to deal with North Korea looks — from the Asian side of the Pacific — like ceding China too much power. If America will not broker a balanced stasis, Russia and China will arm themselves for emerging opportunities, and everyone else will follow suit.

Meanwhile, Russia is probing and making shows of force wherever possible. The intrusion of Russian patrol aircraft in the naval exercise held by the U.S. and Japan last week was remarkable for the fact that it was an actual intrusion. Military aircraft monitor foreign exercises all the time, but usually from a distance. The Russian planes approached so closely last week that the exercise was suspended while fighters were scrambled to intercept them.

The Nixon administration concluded a 1972 agreement with Soviet Russia to avoid such provocations in air and naval activity. Indeed, it was Nixon who, during the same period, re-established relations with China, returned Okinawa to Japan, and signed landmark defense agreements with Thailand and the Philippines. He hoped that these measures, desirable in their own right, would contribute to an environment of stabilized tension in which the two Vietnams could coexist. Although the hopes for Vietnam were dashed, his larger arrangements have stood for nearly 40 years. But they will not last much longer. The older pattern that obtains in the absence of U.S. power is reasserting itself.

Read Less

The Problem with Palin

“He is … endowed with a happy nature,” Edmund Morris wrote of Ronald Reagan, “his optimism unquenchable, his smile enchantingly crooked, his laughter impossible to resist. If these attributes, together with [others], do not constitute grace, in the old sense of favors granted by God, then the word has no meaning.”

While a fierce advocate for the causes he believed in, Reagan demonstrated passion without rancor and “aggression without anger,” in Morris’ words. This is particularly impressive given that Reagan was the object of repeated ad hominem attacks. He was derided as a dunce and accused of being a war-monger, a racist, a religious extremist, and indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Yet Reagan possessed a remarkable ability to rise above it, to resist returning insult for insult. Clearly at peace with himself and the world around him, Reagan helped conservatism shed its attitude of distrust and defensiveness.

This approach had enormous political benefits. Reagan understood that tone and bearing are undervalued commodities in American politics. He succeeded in part because he came across as agreeable rather than abrasive, genial rather than bitter, good-natured rather than self-pitying. He was a man blessedly free of resentments.

This is an example from which Sarah Palin can learn.

Governor Palin has undeniable appeal to the GOP base. She can deliver sharp, clever criticisms of President Obama. Her endorsement can catapult relatively unknown candidates to primary victories. And there is no doubt that she’s been on the receiving end of deeply unfair personal attacks. Many pundits and reporters have barely concealed — or completely unconcealed — disdain for her.

Unfortunately, she has allowed herself to be drawn into the mud pit. Earlier this month, for example, responding to a negative story in Politico that relied on unnamed sources Palin said this:

I suppose I could play their immature, unprofessional, waste-of-time game, too, by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobe, child molesting, tax evading, anti-dentite, puppy-kicking, chain smoking porn producers. … Really, they are. … I’ve seen it myself. … But I’ll only give you the information off-the-record, on deep, deep background; attribute these ‘facts’ to an ‘anonymous source’ and I’ll give you more.

Those of a certain generation will recall that Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, was well known for lashing out at the media (“nattering nabobs of negativism”) as well as anti-war protesters (“choleric young intellectuals and tired, embittered elders”). In 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served in the Nixon Administration, wrote to Agnew directly: “You cannot win the argument you are now engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose.”

Moynihan went on to say this:

If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. Begin talking about the complex problems we must now face. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all of our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.

Moynihan’s counsel, which went unheeded by Agnew, should be heeded by Palin. She sounds increasingly more like Agnew than Reagan — and in so doing, her brand of conservatism comes across as bitter rather than self-confident. This is not good for her or her party.

As Republicans look toward 2012, it would be wise to look to public figures who are not only philosophically conservative but who are also serious students of policy and display a measure of grace, equanimity, and good cheer. Right now, Sarah Palin is falling short of these standards. Lashing out at her critics may be understandable. It may even be cathartic. But it is not the Reagan way.

“He is … endowed with a happy nature,” Edmund Morris wrote of Ronald Reagan, “his optimism unquenchable, his smile enchantingly crooked, his laughter impossible to resist. If these attributes, together with [others], do not constitute grace, in the old sense of favors granted by God, then the word has no meaning.”

While a fierce advocate for the causes he believed in, Reagan demonstrated passion without rancor and “aggression without anger,” in Morris’ words. This is particularly impressive given that Reagan was the object of repeated ad hominem attacks. He was derided as a dunce and accused of being a war-monger, a racist, a religious extremist, and indifferent to the suffering of the poor. Yet Reagan possessed a remarkable ability to rise above it, to resist returning insult for insult. Clearly at peace with himself and the world around him, Reagan helped conservatism shed its attitude of distrust and defensiveness.

This approach had enormous political benefits. Reagan understood that tone and bearing are undervalued commodities in American politics. He succeeded in part because he came across as agreeable rather than abrasive, genial rather than bitter, good-natured rather than self-pitying. He was a man blessedly free of resentments.

This is an example from which Sarah Palin can learn.

Governor Palin has undeniable appeal to the GOP base. She can deliver sharp, clever criticisms of President Obama. Her endorsement can catapult relatively unknown candidates to primary victories. And there is no doubt that she’s been on the receiving end of deeply unfair personal attacks. Many pundits and reporters have barely concealed — or completely unconcealed — disdain for her.

Unfortunately, she has allowed herself to be drawn into the mud pit. Earlier this month, for example, responding to a negative story in Politico that relied on unnamed sources Palin said this:

I suppose I could play their immature, unprofessional, waste-of-time game, too, by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobe, child molesting, tax evading, anti-dentite, puppy-kicking, chain smoking porn producers. … Really, they are. … I’ve seen it myself. … But I’ll only give you the information off-the-record, on deep, deep background; attribute these ‘facts’ to an ‘anonymous source’ and I’ll give you more.

Those of a certain generation will recall that Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, was well known for lashing out at the media (“nattering nabobs of negativism”) as well as anti-war protesters (“choleric young intellectuals and tired, embittered elders”). In 1971, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who served in the Nixon Administration, wrote to Agnew directly: “You cannot win the argument you are now engaged in. Frankly, the longer you pursue it, I expect the more you will lose.”

Moynihan went on to say this:

If you were to ask my advice it would be this. Cease attacking. Begin talking about the complex problems we must now face. … A great deal of charity and forgiveness is going to be required on all of our parts to come through this experience whole. You really can help in this, and I know you would want to do so.

Moynihan’s counsel, which went unheeded by Agnew, should be heeded by Palin. She sounds increasingly more like Agnew than Reagan — and in so doing, her brand of conservatism comes across as bitter rather than self-confident. This is not good for her or her party.

As Republicans look toward 2012, it would be wise to look to public figures who are not only philosophically conservative but who are also serious students of policy and display a measure of grace, equanimity, and good cheer. Right now, Sarah Palin is falling short of these standards. Lashing out at her critics may be understandable. It may even be cathartic. But it is not the Reagan way.

Read Less

‘Why Saigon Fell and Jerusalem Hasn’t’

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

Read Less

Abuse of Power

It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

Read More

It is astonishing, really.

The president of the United States has accused the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, despite its denial and without supporting evidence, of illegally funneling foreign money into U.S. campaigns. “Just this week,” Barack Obama said recently about the chamber, “we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these [political] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations. So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections.”

On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer asked David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, if there is any evidence to support their accusation. Axelrod responded this way: “Well, do you have any evidence that it’s not, Bob?”

Likewise, Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, wouldn’t back away from the incendiary charges yesterday. “The president will continue to make the argument that we don’t know where this money comes from and entities like the Chamber have said they get money from overseas,” Gibbs told reporters at the White House.

Set aside the hypocrisy of this whole episode. (My former White House colleague Ed Gillespie points out that no Democrats, least of all Obama, expressed concern about such outside spending in 2008, when more than $400 million was spent to help elect Barack Obama, much of it from undisclosed donors.) Set aside the fact that Mr. Axelrod concedes that the chamber is abiding by long-standing rules, that it doesn’t have to disclose its donors list, and that no other organizations are disclosing theirs. Set aside the fact that the chamber has 115 foreign-member affiliates who pay a total of less than $100,000 in membership dues to a group whose total budget is more than $200 million. And set aside the fact that various news organizations have dismissed the charges, including the New York Times, which reports, “a closer examination shows that there is little evidence that what the chamber does in collecting overseas dues is improper or even unusual, according to both liberal and conservative election-law lawyers and campaign finance documents.”

What we are witnessing is the abuse of power. We are now in a situation in which the president and his most senior advisers feel completely at liberty to throw out unsubstantiated charges and put the burden on people (and institutions) to prove their innocence. Liberals once referred to such tactics as McCarthyism. But Joseph McCarthy, for all his abuses, was “only” a United States senator, one member out of 100. The president and his advisers, on the other hand, have at their disposal far more power and the ability to inflict far more injury.

What Obama and his aides are demanding is that the Chamber of Commerce prove a negative — and in doing so, they are trying to intimidate the chamber into disclosing what is, by law, privileged information. “If the Chamber doesn’t have anything to hide about these contributions,” Mr. Axelrod says, “and I take them at their word that they don’t, then why not disclose? Why not let people see where their money is coming from?”

Let’s see if we can help Mr. Axelrod out by providing him with an explanation.

For one thing, he is employing the guilty-until-proven-innocent argument. For another, the White House’s standard is being selectively applied. And it encourages slanderous charges because it forces innocent people to disprove them. All this is troubling in any case; but it is triply pernicious when it is practiced by those with unmatched power, because they have an unparalleled capacity to intimidate American citizens.

In further answering Axelrod’s argument, consider this thought experiment. It’s the year 2021, and a partisan critic of a future president repeatedly asserts that the president is addicted to child pornography. It turns out that the critic has no proof of the charge — but when told he is asking the president to prove a negative, he responds: “I take the president at his word. But just to be sure, we’d like to examine his phone records and text messages, his computer accounts, and his credit card receipts. What we want, in other words, is full access to all the relevant information we need. After all, if he’s innocent, why not disclose this information? Why not let people see what you’re doing with your life and free time?”

It must be obvious to Messrs. Axelrod and Obama that what they are doing is irresponsible, dangerous, and deeply illiberal. It’s important to note, however, that this libel is taking place within a particular context. The attack on the Chamber of Commerce is only the most recent link in a long chain. The Obama White House has targeted Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, and John Boehner; George W. Bush and Dick Cheney; conservative talk radio; Fox News; the state of Arizona; the Supreme Court (for its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission); members of the Tea Party; critics of ObamaCare who attended town hall meetings; pharmaceutical, insurance, and oil companies; corporate executives, Wall Street, and the “rich.”

All this ugliness comes to us courtesy of a man who said during the 2008 campaign that “the times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook”; who told us that we should “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long”; and who assured us, on the night of his election, “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

Back in October 2009, I wrote about this White House’s burning anger and resentment toward its critics and what it foreshadowed. That inferno is burning hotter than ever – and if it goes unchecked, it will eventually lead to a crisis.

In an August 16, 1971, memorandum from White House Counsel John Dean to Lawrence Higby, titled “Dealing with our Political Enemies,” Dean wrote:

This memorandum addresses the matter of how we can maximize the fact of our incumbency in dealing with persons known to be active in their opposition to our Administration; stated a bit more bluntly – how we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.

At comparable stages in their first terms, the Obama administration seems to be at least as eager as the Nixon administration to use the available federal machinery to “screw our political enemies.” We know how things turned out for the Nixon administration. President Obama cannot say he hasn’t been forewarned.

Read Less

RE: Obama’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Fantasy

Hillary Clinton declared of the new START treaty, “The treaty also shows the world — particularly states like Iran and North Korea — that one of our top priorities is to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime and keep nuclear materials out of the wrong hands.” Sigh. One hopes they really don’t believe this gibberish — that small reductions in the stockpiles of two nuclear powers have any impact on the mullahs’ determination to get their hands on just one bomb. But, alas, they seem to be sincere, and that’s the danger.

Turning to the other nuclear news of the week, John Noonan contends that the Nuclear Posture Review could have been a lot worse. Thanks to Defense Secretary Gates:

It preserved both the structure and readiness of America’s nuclear force, as the missile-bomber-submarine triad will remain intact, and there will be no “de-alerting” of ICBMs. Additionally, the NPR acknowledged that rapidly developing security scenarios may require a nuclear first strike. First strike, alerted ICBMs, and a three-system nuclear triad were all key bugaboos that the go-to-zero egalitarians wanted gone. Gates left them disappointed.

No doubt to their eternal annoyance, the secretary took the NPR a step further. He acknowledged that missile defense will play a critical role in America’s security future. He called for follow-ons to the Ohio Class ballistic missile submarine and the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (which has been on alert since the Nixon administration). Gates also clearly dictated the need for significant life extension to the current inventory of nuclear weapons, a proposal that prompted nose turning from the Obama White House.

But it also — because this is the sort of thing Obama cannot be dissuaded from doing — included the goofy renunciation of nuclear weapons that allows us to use nuclear weapons only to defend ourselves against a biological or chemical attack against a country that is not in compliance with the NPT. (Imagine the inane conversation after such a strike — “Hmm, is Syria in compliance? Does Hezbollah count, as it’s not a country at all?”) On one level, it’s nonsense because in all likelihood, NPT signatories aren’t going to attack us, and if they did — and a million Americans were dead — no president is going to take any option off the table. But on another level, like Clinton’s inanity on START, it projects foolishness and removes strategic ambiguity that is useful in deterring all manner of rogue states. As Noonan comments:

The problem is the fact that Obama has tampered with a simple, effective nuclear policy that keeps the bad guys in check. That is, use a WMD of any sort on the U.S. or her allies and the response will be apocalyptic in its devastation. That doesn’t necessarily have to be true, it just has be to perceived as true by potential adversaries. Deterrence is predicated on fear of force, not force itself. It’s classic Sun Tzu — “to subdue your enemies without fighting is supreme excellence.”

Taking military force off the table with Iran, hoping the START treaty impresses the mullahs, and forswearing a nuclear response to defend the country — these are unserious and unhelpful gestures that are recognized by our enemies as evidence of a feckless administration reluctant to use force or even the threat of force. We are less safe because of it.

Hillary Clinton declared of the new START treaty, “The treaty also shows the world — particularly states like Iran and North Korea — that one of our top priorities is to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime and keep nuclear materials out of the wrong hands.” Sigh. One hopes they really don’t believe this gibberish — that small reductions in the stockpiles of two nuclear powers have any impact on the mullahs’ determination to get their hands on just one bomb. But, alas, they seem to be sincere, and that’s the danger.

Turning to the other nuclear news of the week, John Noonan contends that the Nuclear Posture Review could have been a lot worse. Thanks to Defense Secretary Gates:

It preserved both the structure and readiness of America’s nuclear force, as the missile-bomber-submarine triad will remain intact, and there will be no “de-alerting” of ICBMs. Additionally, the NPR acknowledged that rapidly developing security scenarios may require a nuclear first strike. First strike, alerted ICBMs, and a three-system nuclear triad were all key bugaboos that the go-to-zero egalitarians wanted gone. Gates left them disappointed.

No doubt to their eternal annoyance, the secretary took the NPR a step further. He acknowledged that missile defense will play a critical role in America’s security future. He called for follow-ons to the Ohio Class ballistic missile submarine and the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (which has been on alert since the Nixon administration). Gates also clearly dictated the need for significant life extension to the current inventory of nuclear weapons, a proposal that prompted nose turning from the Obama White House.

But it also — because this is the sort of thing Obama cannot be dissuaded from doing — included the goofy renunciation of nuclear weapons that allows us to use nuclear weapons only to defend ourselves against a biological or chemical attack against a country that is not in compliance with the NPT. (Imagine the inane conversation after such a strike — “Hmm, is Syria in compliance? Does Hezbollah count, as it’s not a country at all?”) On one level, it’s nonsense because in all likelihood, NPT signatories aren’t going to attack us, and if they did — and a million Americans were dead — no president is going to take any option off the table. But on another level, like Clinton’s inanity on START, it projects foolishness and removes strategic ambiguity that is useful in deterring all manner of rogue states. As Noonan comments:

The problem is the fact that Obama has tampered with a simple, effective nuclear policy that keeps the bad guys in check. That is, use a WMD of any sort on the U.S. or her allies and the response will be apocalyptic in its devastation. That doesn’t necessarily have to be true, it just has be to perceived as true by potential adversaries. Deterrence is predicated on fear of force, not force itself. It’s classic Sun Tzu — “to subdue your enemies without fighting is supreme excellence.”

Taking military force off the table with Iran, hoping the START treaty impresses the mullahs, and forswearing a nuclear response to defend the country — these are unserious and unhelpful gestures that are recognized by our enemies as evidence of a feckless administration reluctant to use force or even the threat of force. We are less safe because of it.

Read Less

Is the CIA a “Fifth Column”?

Why was the declassified summary of the latest Iran NIE drafted, as I believe it was, in such a way as to subvert U.S. policy toward Iran? Why do officials at the CIA regularly leak information that undermines the Bush administration? Why do left-wing journalists like Seymour Hersh and James Risen enjoy so much access to closely held intelligence information? Do the personnel who staff this vital intelligence bureaucracy see themselves as dispassionate civil servants dedicated to the craft of intelligence or something else?

It is of course difficult to generalize about the men and women of an institution as large and diverse as the CIA. But it is worth recalling something written by our current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in his memoir, From the Shadows.

In 1969, when Gates was twenty-five, he found himself a junior analyst in the agency, working on Soviet policy toward Africa and the Middle East. The Vietnam war was raging, the country was bitterly divided, and attitudes inside the agency had already strongly tilted in one direction: “I and virtually all of my friends and acquaintances in CIA,” writes Gates,

were opposed to the war and to any prolonged strategy for extracting us. Feelings among my colleagues –  and nearly all of the men in those days were military veterans — were strong. Many from the CIA marched in antiwar demonstrations on the Mall and at the Pentagon. My one and only was the May 9, 1970 demonstration  after the U.S. military offensive in Cambodia.

Popular impressions then and now about CIA — especially as a conservative, cold-war bureaucratic monolith — have always been wrong. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s not only was antiwar sentiment strong at the Agency, we were also influenced by the counterculture. There is not a doubt in my mind that some of my older colleagues and supervisors, presumably influenced in some measure by their college-age children, experimented with marijuana and perhaps even other drugs. Antiwar and anti-Nixon posters and bumper stickers festooned CIA office walls.

Gates subsequently grew up and went on to a distinguished career, including a stint as director of the CIA and many other top-level jobs. Whatever he now thinks of Vietnam, he has clearly had a change of mind about the behavior of his colleagues in those years. Indeed, he goes so far as to speak of the agency of his youth as “a not inconsiderable Fifth Column” within the Nixon administration.

Today, like then, the country is deeply polarized by a controversial war. And today, like then, government bureaucracies, like so many sponges, absorb the attitudes and ideas circulating in the broader society. The CIA is no exception. Is it possible that our premier intelligence agency has become, once again, “a not inconsiderable Fifth Column”?

Connecting the Dots would welcome sightings from inside Langley. Are anti-Bush posters and bumper stickers festooning CIA office walls today? Are some CIA officers smoking marijuana in classified documents vaults, or are they just acting like it?

Why was the declassified summary of the latest Iran NIE drafted, as I believe it was, in such a way as to subvert U.S. policy toward Iran? Why do officials at the CIA regularly leak information that undermines the Bush administration? Why do left-wing journalists like Seymour Hersh and James Risen enjoy so much access to closely held intelligence information? Do the personnel who staff this vital intelligence bureaucracy see themselves as dispassionate civil servants dedicated to the craft of intelligence or something else?

It is of course difficult to generalize about the men and women of an institution as large and diverse as the CIA. But it is worth recalling something written by our current Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, in his memoir, From the Shadows.

In 1969, when Gates was twenty-five, he found himself a junior analyst in the agency, working on Soviet policy toward Africa and the Middle East. The Vietnam war was raging, the country was bitterly divided, and attitudes inside the agency had already strongly tilted in one direction: “I and virtually all of my friends and acquaintances in CIA,” writes Gates,

were opposed to the war and to any prolonged strategy for extracting us. Feelings among my colleagues –  and nearly all of the men in those days were military veterans — were strong. Many from the CIA marched in antiwar demonstrations on the Mall and at the Pentagon. My one and only was the May 9, 1970 demonstration  after the U.S. military offensive in Cambodia.

Popular impressions then and now about CIA — especially as a conservative, cold-war bureaucratic monolith — have always been wrong. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s not only was antiwar sentiment strong at the Agency, we were also influenced by the counterculture. There is not a doubt in my mind that some of my older colleagues and supervisors, presumably influenced in some measure by their college-age children, experimented with marijuana and perhaps even other drugs. Antiwar and anti-Nixon posters and bumper stickers festooned CIA office walls.

Gates subsequently grew up and went on to a distinguished career, including a stint as director of the CIA and many other top-level jobs. Whatever he now thinks of Vietnam, he has clearly had a change of mind about the behavior of his colleagues in those years. Indeed, he goes so far as to speak of the agency of his youth as “a not inconsiderable Fifth Column” within the Nixon administration.

Today, like then, the country is deeply polarized by a controversial war. And today, like then, government bureaucracies, like so many sponges, absorb the attitudes and ideas circulating in the broader society. The CIA is no exception. Is it possible that our premier intelligence agency has become, once again, “a not inconsiderable Fifth Column”?

Connecting the Dots would welcome sightings from inside Langley. Are anti-Bush posters and bumper stickers festooning CIA office walls today? Are some CIA officers smoking marijuana in classified documents vaults, or are they just acting like it?

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.