Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pentagon

Government at Work

The great comic writer Robert Benchley once wrote a short story in which his friend, Mr. McGregor, says that he has lost a locomotive. “How do you lose a locomotive?” Benchley, not unreasonably, asks. Mr. McGregor hasn’t the faintest idea. He just can’t remember where he put it. As they’re discussing how to lose a locomotive, the phone rings and when Benchley hangs up he says, “What were we talking about?” Mr. McGregor can’t remember and they change the subject.

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The great comic writer Robert Benchley once wrote a short story in which his friend, Mr. McGregor, says that he has lost a locomotive. “How do you lose a locomotive?” Benchley, not unreasonably, asks. Mr. McGregor hasn’t the faintest idea. He just can’t remember where he put it. As they’re discussing how to lose a locomotive, the phone rings and when Benchley hangs up he says, “What were we talking about?” Mr. McGregor can’t remember and they change the subject.

Well the Pentagon has, apparently, lost $6.6 billion in $100 bills, according to the American Spectator. That’s about one percent of the total supply of American currency, more than $20 for each man, woman, and child in the American population:

It’s little wonder the money disappeared. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration flooded the country with cash for reconstruction and other projects. It was a cash delivery that made the post-World War II Marshall Plan pale by comparison.

Pentagon officials determined that one giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills. They sent an initial full planeload of cash, followed by 20 other flights to Iraq by May 2004 in a $12 billion haul that U.S. officials believe to be the biggest international cash airlift of all time. The handling of the cash was haphazard at best, and totally lacking in financial controls.

Banks keep careful cash controls for both tellers, responsible for their draws, and head tellers, responsible for the whole branch. If more than a few dollars goes missing, someone gets fired. Apparently this vast hoard of cash was kept in the vault of one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. (One wonders what Saddam Hussein’s reaction would have been to that much money going missing—it wouldn’t have been pretty.)

After numerous audits, the Pentagon just stopped looking for it:

Astonishingly, in June 2011 the Pentagon and the Iraqi government closed the books on the program that handled the disappeared $6.6 billion in cold, hard cash. They just gave up. But before shutting the program down, federal auditors admitted that that some or all of the cash may have been stolen, not just misplaced in an accounting error. Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an office created by Congress, said the missing $6.6 billion may be “the largest theft of funds in national history.”

Seeing as the Pentagon needed a C-130 to move just one-third of that much money, that’s a pretty safe bet. Eat your heart out, Willy Sutton.

And liberals wonder why conservatives don’t trust government to run the nation’s health-care industry.

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Forgotten POW Marks 3 Years of Captivity

During the weekend, the only remaining POW in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho, marked three years in captivity.

The details of his capture are still a mystery. In a recent Rolling Stone article, the Bergdahl family released previously unseen emails which detailed Bowe’s discontent with his service in Afghanistan. Many of his fellow soldiers told Rolling Stone they believe he was captured because he deserted his post. The White House and Pentagon have both refused to comment on how the Taliban captured Bergdahl and have given few details about how they have worked to return him to his family. The Pentagon has not classified him as a deserter and gave him promotions while in captivity.

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During the weekend, the only remaining POW in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho, marked three years in captivity.

The details of his capture are still a mystery. In a recent Rolling Stone article, the Bergdahl family released previously unseen emails which detailed Bowe’s discontent with his service in Afghanistan. Many of his fellow soldiers told Rolling Stone they believe he was captured because he deserted his post. The White House and Pentagon have both refused to comment on how the Taliban captured Bergdahl and have given few details about how they have worked to return him to his family. The Pentagon has not classified him as a deserter and gave him promotions while in captivity.

Despite the murky details of his capture, Bergdahl has, according to reports, attempted to escape as recently as late last year. The Daily Beast reported on his heroic attempt after years of gaining his captors’ trust:

Bergdahl successfully avoided capture for three days and two nights. The searchers finally found him, weak, exhausted, and nearly naked—he had spent three days without food or water—hiding in a shallow trench he had dug with his own hands and covered with leaves.

Even then, he put up a ferocious fight. The two gunmen who found him first were unable to subdue him. “He fought like a boxer,” [Afghan militant Hafiz] Hanif was told. It took five more militants to overpower him. Now back in custody, he is kept shackled at night, and his jailers are taking no chances.

Soon after publishing this blog post in May about Taliban prisoner exchanges, it became clear Bergdahl was the centerpoint of secret (and stalled) negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S. government. The Bergdahl family released the details of the negotiations in an attempt to pressure the Obama administration into action. Robert Bergdahl, Bowe’s father, has also reached out to insurgents himself and is in “regular e-mail contact with a man he believes is a member of the Taliban with accurate knowledge of his son.” The Bergdahl family have told the media  they feel abandoned by the Obama administration and feel the need to try to secure their son’s release themselves.

The piece in Rolling Stone speculated, while naming anonymous sources, that there are elements within the Pentagon who are loathe to exchange prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for a potential deserter. Rolling Stone also speculated that the reluctance to negotiate on the part of the Obama administration is due to their not wanting to be seen negotiating with terrorists during an election year.

Whatever the reason for the breakdown in negotiations, one would hope the Pentagon and Obama administration’s number one priority remains the safety of an American soldier held captive by a terrorist organization as ruthless as the Taliban. During his imprisonment, Bergdahl’s health has visibly deteriorated as demonstrated on videos released by his captors. The anniversary of his capture was marked locally by friends and family in a massive Crossfit workout in honor of the missing soldier but was largely absent from the national consciousness. Going into his fourth year of captivity his family released a statement, which closed with:

We’d also like to ask each of you as individuals and as a nation for your continued awareness as Bowe begins his fourth year as a prisoner. We want this to be the year we see our only son safely returned home.

We owe it to Bergdahl and his family to keep his name in our hearts and minds as we, as a nation, prioritize his release as we would if Bowe were our own son or brother.

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Staving Off Sequestration

CNN’s Security Clearance blog raises a good question: Why isn’t the Pentagon planning for sequestration? On Jan. 1, 2013, the Defense Department could suffer more than $50 billion in cuts, the first part of $500 billion in cuts during ten years as a result of the Draconian sequestration process which is on autopilot. Yet the Pentagon has not released any budget documents to suggest that might wind up getting cut. Apparently the department has not even done such planning for internal purposes.

CNN explains the lack of planning as follows: “If you do have a list of items to cut, ‘you are showing that cuts are possible,’ and Congress would be more likely to go forward with them, according to Pentagon officials who were not authorized to discuss the details of sequestration on the record.”

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CNN’s Security Clearance blog raises a good question: Why isn’t the Pentagon planning for sequestration? On Jan. 1, 2013, the Defense Department could suffer more than $50 billion in cuts, the first part of $500 billion in cuts during ten years as a result of the Draconian sequestration process which is on autopilot. Yet the Pentagon has not released any budget documents to suggest that might wind up getting cut. Apparently the department has not even done such planning for internal purposes.

CNN explains the lack of planning as follows: “If you do have a list of items to cut, ‘you are showing that cuts are possible,’ and Congress would be more likely to go forward with them, according to Pentagon officials who were not authorized to discuss the details of sequestration on the record.”

Perhaps. But if you do have a list of items that will be cut it would also be possible to mobilize support from various constituencies to keep those projects alive by staving off sequestration. That is, in essence, the famous Washington Monument strategy supposedly utilized by the U.S. Park Service to stave off budget cuts by threatening to close a major tourist attraction. Why can’t the Pentagon pursue its own version of this strategy by threatening to close production lines, ground aircraft, mothball ships, close bases, etc., to bring home to lawmakers the horrific consequences of letting sequestration go forward?

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To Save Aid, Cut Aides

Max Boot last month argued that the State Department and USAID should largely be spared budget cuts. That may be true of the State Department, although (like the Pentagon), the Department has layers of bureaucratic fat and unnecessary positions. Various undersecretaries, for example, have their own press advisers, a wholly unnecessary position that not only might come with a six-figure salary, but also can run up hundreds of thousands of dollars each in flight, hotel, and benefit cost. Simply put, if a Foreign Service officer or a political appointee is smart enough to become an undersecretary, then they should be smart enough to handle their own press. And if they are not up to the task, there are dozens of ambitious diplomats or politicos who probably are. This might, indeed, make for more skilled diplomats because it would benefit those who have a broader array of experiences than simply passing a “trivial pursuit”-like written exam and then a contrived oral exam upon leaving college and entering the State Department’s bubble. It would enable those who have backgrounds in business or law, for example, to apply a skill set to their careers which would benefit everybody.

To be fair, the same is true for the Pentagon. Last month, I attended a conference in Europe in which a senior U.S. general spoke. The general was worth his stars, but came to Europe from Washington with a delegation of aides and assistants whose sole mission was to ensure that the general hewed close to a script which they developed. “We don’t want him to make any comment which the press might pick up on,” one explained. Now, these aides duplicated the work of the defense attaché and American embassy which was also working overtime to babysit the three-star. Surely, there are better uses for taxpayer money than hiring press aides and minders whose sole job is to obfuscate and do damage control. If a general is able to navigate the politics of the Pentagon, then he can understand the minefield of the fourth estate without spending millions of dollars to ensure that he says nothing.

Max Boot last month argued that the State Department and USAID should largely be spared budget cuts. That may be true of the State Department, although (like the Pentagon), the Department has layers of bureaucratic fat and unnecessary positions. Various undersecretaries, for example, have their own press advisers, a wholly unnecessary position that not only might come with a six-figure salary, but also can run up hundreds of thousands of dollars each in flight, hotel, and benefit cost. Simply put, if a Foreign Service officer or a political appointee is smart enough to become an undersecretary, then they should be smart enough to handle their own press. And if they are not up to the task, there are dozens of ambitious diplomats or politicos who probably are. This might, indeed, make for more skilled diplomats because it would benefit those who have a broader array of experiences than simply passing a “trivial pursuit”-like written exam and then a contrived oral exam upon leaving college and entering the State Department’s bubble. It would enable those who have backgrounds in business or law, for example, to apply a skill set to their careers which would benefit everybody.

To be fair, the same is true for the Pentagon. Last month, I attended a conference in Europe in which a senior U.S. general spoke. The general was worth his stars, but came to Europe from Washington with a delegation of aides and assistants whose sole mission was to ensure that the general hewed close to a script which they developed. “We don’t want him to make any comment which the press might pick up on,” one explained. Now, these aides duplicated the work of the defense attaché and American embassy which was also working overtime to babysit the three-star. Surely, there are better uses for taxpayer money than hiring press aides and minders whose sole job is to obfuscate and do damage control. If a general is able to navigate the politics of the Pentagon, then he can understand the minefield of the fourth estate without spending millions of dollars to ensure that he says nothing.

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Congress Must Act Now on Defense Budget

Much of the attention in defense circles in recent weeks has been focused, naturally enough, on the release of a new defense budget that contains the first tranche of cuts as part of the $487 billion in savings mandated by Congress last summer under the Budget Control Act. But it is also important to remember that sequestration is still barreling down the track, and, if left unstopped, will produce a catastrophic collision that will leave the armed forces, already reeling, in a seriously weakened state.

Sequestration, recall, was the process whereby a special congressional committee was supposed to find $1.2 trillion in budget cuts on pain of seeing half that amount automatically deducted from the defense budget and the other half from domestic programs. The threat did not work, and the special committee finished its work before Thanksgiving without having reached any agreement. That means that half of those cuts–roughly $600 billion–will fall on the defense budget starting on January 1, 2013, even though defense spending as a whole only accounts for just 20 percent of the entire federal budget. There is widespread bi-partisan agreement that the consequences of sequestration would be catastrophic; everyone from Leon Panetta to Gen. Martin Dempsey have said so.

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Much of the attention in defense circles in recent weeks has been focused, naturally enough, on the release of a new defense budget that contains the first tranche of cuts as part of the $487 billion in savings mandated by Congress last summer under the Budget Control Act. But it is also important to remember that sequestration is still barreling down the track, and, if left unstopped, will produce a catastrophic collision that will leave the armed forces, already reeling, in a seriously weakened state.

Sequestration, recall, was the process whereby a special congressional committee was supposed to find $1.2 trillion in budget cuts on pain of seeing half that amount automatically deducted from the defense budget and the other half from domestic programs. The threat did not work, and the special committee finished its work before Thanksgiving without having reached any agreement. That means that half of those cuts–roughly $600 billion–will fall on the defense budget starting on January 1, 2013, even though defense spending as a whole only accounts for just 20 percent of the entire federal budget. There is widespread bi-partisan agreement that the consequences of sequestration would be catastrophic; everyone from Leon Panetta to Gen. Martin Dempsey have said so.

Yet, there has been no progress on derailing sequestration, and President Obama has threatened to veto any bill that exempts defense from cuts without finding offsetting savings.

It’s only February, but there is not much time for Congress to act; the closer we get to Jan. 1, the more the Pentagon will have to start suspending contracts and taking other actions in anticipation of a huge falloff in funding.

Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has introduced legislation to push back the sequestration for a year and pay for the offsetting savings (around $60 billion) through attrition of the federal workforce. Laying off federal civilian workers may not be palatable to members of Congress—although apparently it’s okay to lay off 110,000 Army and Marine veterans as part of the current round of cutbacks.

But there is no biblical commandment that says Congress must find savings to offset the cost of saving the Defense Department from disaster. Congress could simply pass a bill suspending defense cuts pending action next year to find a more rational way to cut the defense budget. It is hard to believe the bond markets will be spooked by such a move because they know that cutting the Defense Department does little to address our serious debt crisis.

It is imperative that Congress act now. Otherwise our armed forces will be devastated at a time when they are still fighting a major war in Afghanistan, combating terrorism and piracy, deterring Iran, North Korea and China, and performing myriad other vital missions.

 

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Caution Urged About Excessive Reliance on SOCOM

President Obama’s infatuation with Special Operations Forces–he is more enamored of them than any president since John F. Kennedy– continues this week with the release of the new Pentagon budget. While the military as a whole is sustaining punishing cuts of nearly $500 billion, and the ground forces in particular are losing more than 100,000 soldiers and Marines, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is slated to get more money and personnel. Not only that, but SOCOM’s commander, Admiral William McRaven, a hard-charging SEAL who oversaw the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, is pushing for SOCOM to be granted additional authority to move its forces around the world without going through normal Pentagon channels.

No doubt the level of infatuation with the Special Operators will only increase after the Feb. 24 release of “Act of Valor,” a movie showing actual Navy SEALs in fictional scenarios.

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President Obama’s infatuation with Special Operations Forces–he is more enamored of them than any president since John F. Kennedy– continues this week with the release of the new Pentagon budget. While the military as a whole is sustaining punishing cuts of nearly $500 billion, and the ground forces in particular are losing more than 100,000 soldiers and Marines, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is slated to get more money and personnel. Not only that, but SOCOM’s commander, Admiral William McRaven, a hard-charging SEAL who oversaw the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, is pushing for SOCOM to be granted additional authority to move its forces around the world without going through normal Pentagon channels.

No doubt the level of infatuation with the Special Operators will only increase after the Feb. 24 release of “Act of Valor,” a movie showing actual Navy SEALs in fictional scenarios.

I join President Obama, and indeed all Americans, in expressing admiration and gratitude for the skills, dedication and heroism of our Special Operators–especially those on the pointy end of the spear. (In SOCOM, as in the rest of the military, most personnel are in support functions and are not actual trigger-pullers.) But I would also urge caution about relying too much on these warriors and granting them too much authority to run their own operations free of oversight.

In the first place, as retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno and Travis Sharp of the Center for a New American Security, point out, two of the essential “SOF truths” are “quality is better than quantity” and the special operations forces “cannot be mass-produced.” Already SOCOM has experienced explosive growth since 2001. As Barno and Sharp note, “Its manpower has nearly doubled, its budget has nearly tripled, and its overseas deployments have quadrupled.” How much larger can SOCOM possibly get without compromising its high quality? In fact, the past decade’s expansion has already raised painful questions about whether incoming troopers are up to the standards of their predecessors, especially when it comes to the non-kinetic skills, such as knowledge of languages and cultures. These are a hallmark of the Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, who comprise the single biggest group of “operators” within the Special Operations community even if their work is not as glamorous as that of the SEALS or Delta Force, which are sent after the highest value targets.

Moreover, for all of SOCOM’s impressive achievement in hunting down terrorists, there is another essential truth to be kept in mind regarding any counterinsurgency campaign: We cannot kill our way to victory. If they are left alone in ungoverned territory, terrorist groups are likely to regenerate themselves no matter how many top leaders they lose. To succeed in the Global War on Terror–that now-forbidden term–we must engage not only in manhunting but in nation-building–another verboten term. Otherwise, we will not be able to change the conditions that allow terrorist groups to flourish.

Unfortunately, Special Operations Forces, while very good at manhunting, are less useful for nation-building. That is especially true of the top-tierdoor-kickers, such as the SEALs, who get so much publicity. Bolstering weak states may be a job for Green Berets, but it is also a job for conventional military forces, albeit in small numbers, for example, on training teams. It is, in addition, a job for diplomats, intelligence operatives, information warriors, and development officials. Alas, we are much weaker in all those skill sets than we are at kinetic Special Operations, and indeed it is possible in some instances SOCOM’s propensity to target individuals may actually further destabilize a country and prove counterproductive in the end.

The use of force needs to be managed carefully and should not be freed from the normal oversight mechanisms of the Pentagon. Nor should we be growing SOCOM while eviscerating the conventional forces and failing to bolster our ability to project soft power. We need a more balanced approach to the security challenges of the 21st century; one that does not place excessive or exclusive reliance on an already-overstretched Special Operations community.

 

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Obama’s Defense Budget: Broken Promises

A few weeks ago, President Obama released his much ballyhooed strategic blueprint, called “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” It called for a force that would be “agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced,” with “cutting-edge capabilities,” staffed by “the highest-quality, battle-tested professionals,” and with a “global presence emphasizing the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.” Today, the Pentagon unveiled details of the new defense budget which make clear none of these promises will be kept.

The most defensible elements of the new cutbacks are rolling back military pay increases and increasing the cost of Tricare insurance, both of which are generous by civilian standards–even if it does call into question the president’s pledge to “keep faith with our troops, military families, and veterans.” Our faith in those brave men and women is truly strained if not broken altogether by the decision to fire 100,000 of them–80,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines who are being let go to find jobs in an anemic economy.

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A few weeks ago, President Obama released his much ballyhooed strategic blueprint, called “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense.” It called for a force that would be “agile, flexible, ready and technologically advanced,” with “cutting-edge capabilities,” staffed by “the highest-quality, battle-tested professionals,” and with a “global presence emphasizing the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.” Today, the Pentagon unveiled details of the new defense budget which make clear none of these promises will be kept.

The most defensible elements of the new cutbacks are rolling back military pay increases and increasing the cost of Tricare insurance, both of which are generous by civilian standards–even if it does call into question the president’s pledge to “keep faith with our troops, military families, and veterans.” Our faith in those brave men and women is truly strained if not broken altogether by the decision to fire 100,000 of them–80,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines who are being let go to find jobs in an anemic economy.

What of the promise to sustain U.S. global leadership and even to increase power projection in the Pacific? It’s hard to see how we can possibly do this when the current budget once again slows down acquisition of the F-35, the critical fifth-generation fighter needed to counter China. Six of 60 Air Force tactical squadrons will be eliminated altogether, further hurting our power projection capabilities. Also gone will be 27 giant C-5As and 65 of the smaller C-130s which are needed to move troops and materiel around the world–the centerpiece of the not-so-new “lily-pad” strategy that Don Rumsfeld had pushed and which Leon Panetta has now revived. This is premised on the idea of reducing our permanent overseas presence in favor of moving small numbers of troops for short-term exercises and Special Operations-type raids. However, with the reduction in the number of our cargo aircraft it will be harder to accomplish that.

Our fleet–already the smallest since the early years of the 20th century–will suffer more cuts, too: “To find savings,” the New York Times reports, “the Navy will retire seven cruisers, and slow work on amphibious ships and an attack submarine. Two littoral combat ships will be eliminated.” All of these cutbacks are coming, mind you, in the midst of China’s rapid military buildup which is already shifting the balance of power in the Western Pacific against the Seventh Fleet. To keep pace we need to build more ships–not mothball those we already have.

The administration claims we should not be worried about all these cuts–why, we are expanding Special Operations Forces and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Both SOF and UAVs are important capabilities, but they should be seen as supplements to, rather than replacements for, conventional forces. It appears, ironically, the Obama administration is being seduced by the same techno-utopian vision that entranced Rumsfeld–of doing more with less. The fault in that line of thinking was displayed in Iraq and Afghanistan, where we quickly found out there was no substitute for a humble rifleman to impose our will on the enemy at bayonet point. Now the Obama administration is fooling itself into thinking we will never have to fight another major ground war again. That is a myth we have fallen prey to many times before–only to have a painful disabusing. You would think we would have learned our lesson. Apparently not.

 

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Obama’s New Anti-Satellite Weapons Push to Cede Space to the Chinese?

In 2006, the Chinese reportedly used an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) to blind one of our satellites. In 2007, they definitely used an ASAT to shoot down one of their own satellites. Incidents like these led the Pentagon in 2008 and Secretary Gates in 2010 to assert that China’s ASAT program was meant, respectively, to enhance their power projection and to curtail ours.

So naturally — per Eli Lake’s extensive report this morning — the Obama administration is pushing for a U.S./EU agreement that would severely restrict our ASAT capabilities. Experts who back the administration describe it as a “not exactly binding” minor move, the upshot being that Obama wouldn’t have to secure Senate approval for the measure. But experts and congressional staffers both insist that it would significantly curb what we can do in space and would endanger our ability to develop and deploy both offensive and defensive assets:

[A] congressional staff member said: “There is a suspicion that this is a slippery slope to arms control for space-based weapons, anti-satellite weapons and a back door to potentially limiting missile defense.”… “Because it appears that they are talking about limiting operations … it could be that this is as much an agreement on the law of war as it is on arms control,” Mr. Spring [a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation] said. “If it is something more like a law-of-war agreement, then you are creating a situation of legal jeopardy for a military commander who is responsible for operating systems in space.”

Presumably, the argument is that if we give up ours, they’ll give up theirs. The muddy, cascading norms argument is always trotted out when people push for unilateral disarmament, which is what opposing space militarization means in an age of Chinese ascendancy. In a full-blown movement, you’ll find the argument buttressed by everything from “at least our side won’t be complicit” moral preening to “it’ll snowball into a global movement, then there won’t be any more sides” activist nonsense. But it’s always there, in part because we have a surplus of foreign-policy experts churning out implausible advantages for their pet policies — and then selling those fanciful pretexts as objective evaluations.

If stopping Israeli construction in a particular Jerusalem neighborhood can placate Afghanis who’ve never seen a map of Israel, is it too much to suggest that unilateral Western gestures on space militarization will cause Beijing to abandon its ASAT program?

Turns out, there’s an answer to that:

The State Department has exchanged language with the EU on the code of conduct. The U.S. and Russia also have begun talks about creating confidence-building measures regarding space-based activities. The U.S. has reached out to China on space issues, but Beijing has declined offers to discuss the issue, according to a senior State Department official. [emphasis added]

Disappointing to be sure, but I’m sure there’s still something else we can give up that would swing them.

In 2006, the Chinese reportedly used an anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) to blind one of our satellites. In 2007, they definitely used an ASAT to shoot down one of their own satellites. Incidents like these led the Pentagon in 2008 and Secretary Gates in 2010 to assert that China’s ASAT program was meant, respectively, to enhance their power projection and to curtail ours.

So naturally — per Eli Lake’s extensive report this morning — the Obama administration is pushing for a U.S./EU agreement that would severely restrict our ASAT capabilities. Experts who back the administration describe it as a “not exactly binding” minor move, the upshot being that Obama wouldn’t have to secure Senate approval for the measure. But experts and congressional staffers both insist that it would significantly curb what we can do in space and would endanger our ability to develop and deploy both offensive and defensive assets:

[A] congressional staff member said: “There is a suspicion that this is a slippery slope to arms control for space-based weapons, anti-satellite weapons and a back door to potentially limiting missile defense.”… “Because it appears that they are talking about limiting operations … it could be that this is as much an agreement on the law of war as it is on arms control,” Mr. Spring [a defense analyst at the Heritage Foundation] said. “If it is something more like a law-of-war agreement, then you are creating a situation of legal jeopardy for a military commander who is responsible for operating systems in space.”

Presumably, the argument is that if we give up ours, they’ll give up theirs. The muddy, cascading norms argument is always trotted out when people push for unilateral disarmament, which is what opposing space militarization means in an age of Chinese ascendancy. In a full-blown movement, you’ll find the argument buttressed by everything from “at least our side won’t be complicit” moral preening to “it’ll snowball into a global movement, then there won’t be any more sides” activist nonsense. But it’s always there, in part because we have a surplus of foreign-policy experts churning out implausible advantages for their pet policies — and then selling those fanciful pretexts as objective evaluations.

If stopping Israeli construction in a particular Jerusalem neighborhood can placate Afghanis who’ve never seen a map of Israel, is it too much to suggest that unilateral Western gestures on space militarization will cause Beijing to abandon its ASAT program?

Turns out, there’s an answer to that:

The State Department has exchanged language with the EU on the code of conduct. The U.S. and Russia also have begun talks about creating confidence-building measures regarding space-based activities. The U.S. has reached out to China on space issues, but Beijing has declined offers to discuss the issue, according to a senior State Department official. [emphasis added]

Disappointing to be sure, but I’m sure there’s still something else we can give up that would swing them.

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Morning Commentary

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

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Two Very Different GOP Responses to DADT Repeal

Two stories from yesterday highlight very different reactions to the recent Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, from two prominent Republican lawmakers who both fought to keep the policy in place.

The first one focuses on John McCain, who helped lead the charge against the repeal in the Senate. Now that the repeal passed, McCain has promised to do all he can to help the troops deal with the new challenge successfully:

“I think I have to do everything I can to make sure that the impact on morale, retention, recruitment and battle effectiveness of the military is minimized as much as possible,” the Arizona Republican and Vietnam war hero said on Fox Business.

“It’s the law. I’ve got to do whatever I can to help the men and women who are serving, particularly in combat, cope with this situation.”

McCain has supported “don’t ask, don’t tell” since it was put in place under then-President Clinton, but the 2008 GOP presidential contender said last year he would consider endorsing the repeal if the military leadership decided that was best.

Compare that to the reaction of Rep. Joe Wilson, the incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee military personnel panel, who said he will work to find ways to reinstate the policy:

The new Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel says he will hold hearings to look at the Pentagon’s plans allow openly gay people to serve, and he will look for chances to reinstate the ban lifted by Congress in December.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who became the personnel subcommittee chairman on Wednesday when the 112th Congress convened, said it was “irresponsible” for Congress to repeal the ban on openly gay service members without giving the House of Representatives time to hold hearings into what is involved in changing the law and how the change might effect current and future service members.

I understand some people are still nervous about the impact of the DADT changes, but I honestly can’t think of a worse way to respond to the repeal than what Wilson is proposing. Now that Congress has made its decision on the matter, lawmakers need to trust that the institutions of our military will handle the implementation process appropriately and responsibly. Does anyone really believe that members of Congress have a better grasp on how to impose these policy changes than the current military leadership? Read More

Two stories from yesterday highlight very different reactions to the recent Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, from two prominent Republican lawmakers who both fought to keep the policy in place.

The first one focuses on John McCain, who helped lead the charge against the repeal in the Senate. Now that the repeal passed, McCain has promised to do all he can to help the troops deal with the new challenge successfully:

“I think I have to do everything I can to make sure that the impact on morale, retention, recruitment and battle effectiveness of the military is minimized as much as possible,” the Arizona Republican and Vietnam war hero said on Fox Business.

“It’s the law. I’ve got to do whatever I can to help the men and women who are serving, particularly in combat, cope with this situation.”

McCain has supported “don’t ask, don’t tell” since it was put in place under then-President Clinton, but the 2008 GOP presidential contender said last year he would consider endorsing the repeal if the military leadership decided that was best.

Compare that to the reaction of Rep. Joe Wilson, the incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee military personnel panel, who said he will work to find ways to reinstate the policy:

The new Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel panel says he will hold hearings to look at the Pentagon’s plans allow openly gay people to serve, and he will look for chances to reinstate the ban lifted by Congress in December.

Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who became the personnel subcommittee chairman on Wednesday when the 112th Congress convened, said it was “irresponsible” for Congress to repeal the ban on openly gay service members without giving the House of Representatives time to hold hearings into what is involved in changing the law and how the change might effect current and future service members.

I understand some people are still nervous about the impact of the DADT changes, but I honestly can’t think of a worse way to respond to the repeal than what Wilson is proposing. Now that Congress has made its decision on the matter, lawmakers need to trust that the institutions of our military will handle the implementation process appropriately and responsibly. Does anyone really believe that members of Congress have a better grasp on how to impose these policy changes than the current military leadership?

Not to mention that holding hearings and investigations will only serve to complicate and drag out the process even more:

Armed services committee aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, said hearings will focus on implementation issues, from housing to benefits to changes in criminal laws — which would have the effect of slowing down the change.

The Republican argument for keeping DADT in place was that our military shouldn’t have to deal with a major policy change while embroiled in two wars. Now that the ban has been lifted, McCain is taking the correct approach by offering to help ensure that the transition goes as smoothly as possible. Wilson’s proposals will only impede that effort, creating additional hurtles for our troops.

I know I keep returning to what Bill Kristol wrote in late December, but his advice to conservatives on this issue was dead-on: “Don’t fret, don’t whine.” Now that DADT’s been lifted, there’s no point in harping on it. There are more important battles out there to fight, more damaging policies that need to be repealed (ObamaCare being a perfect example). Congress had its say on the matter; now it’s time for lawmakers to step back and let our military take it from here.

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Morning Commentary

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

It’s “back to reality” week at the White House, where the Obama administration has finally given up on asking Israelis to freeze settlement construction.

And, in a Cheney-esque decision, a D.C. federal judge has dismissed any challenge to the president’s authority to kill an American citizen without due process.

Bill Gertz reports that 25 percent of terrorists released from Gitmo have gone back to the battlefield, according to a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Jonah Goldberg delivers some sharp analysis on the West’s turning a blind eye to North Korea’s human rights situation: “Eventually this dynasty of misery will end and North Koreans, starved, stunted and beaten, will crawl back into the light of civilization. My hunch is that it will not be easy to meet their gaze, nor history’s. No one will be able to claim they didn’t know what was happening, and very few of us will be able to say we did anything at all to help.”

Pundits have likened Julian Assange to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, but the two bear no comparison, says Todd Gitlin at the New Republic: “Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers was a great democratic act that helped clarify for the American public how its leaders had misled it for years, to the immense detriment of the nation’s honor. By contrast, Wikileaks’s huge data dump, including the names of agents and recent diplomatic cables, is indiscriminate. Assange slashes and burns with impunity. He is a minister of chaos fighting for a world of total transparency. We have enough problems without that.”

And speaking of WikiLeaks, who wrote that story circling mainstream liberal blogs that the Swedish woman accusing Assange of rape has connections to the CIA? The author was Counterpunch’s Israel Shamir — a raving Holocaust-denier and conspiracy theorist, reports Reason magazine.

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Afternoon Commentary

The National Republican Congressional Committee  announced today that it is $12 million in debt — which turns out to be a small price to pay for 63 House seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in comparison, finished the midterms $19.5 million in debt, and with bruising losses. The Democratic committee also outspent its Republican counterpart $120.2 million to $93.7 million, showing that money doesn’t necessarily buy political victory.

Did bribery play a part in FIFA’s 2022 World Cup decision? That’s the theory being fueled by the blogosphere. Nate Silver runs through the possible explanations for the committee’s baffling choice and finds a legitimate case for selecting Qatar pretty flimsy.

Kerry is optimistic about a New START deal in the next few days, but it sounds like he’s being bit too idealistic. Republicans are still wary about rushing the agreement, and it looks like a vote may not occur before the end of the year.

Cables reveal that Russia waged a secret war on Georgia starting in 2004. This raises questions about the reset strategy and the reluctance of the U.S. to forcefully criticize Russia’s provocations against its neighboring state.

“Days of awe and light, with a dreadful new significance” — the tragic Carmel forest fire has left some Israeli officials dazed, as they struggle to beat back the flames that have already left more than 40 Israelis dead.

Recipe for a mess? The Pentagon is apparently worried that the federal courts may intervene to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy before officials have time to prepare. “You need that time cushion. The Congress, I’m certain, is willing to work with us on that,” [General James Cartwright] said.

Bad news: North Korea has likely built more than one uranium-enrichment plant, says the Obama administration, raising significant concerns about the number of atomic weapons the country will be able to pump out.

Is Obama making moves toward the center? Democrats are apparently grumbling over the president’s private negotiations with the GOP on a tax-cut extension, saying he’s “too quick to accommodate his adversaries.”

The end may be near for WikiLeaks. The website was forced to change its name and move to a Swiss server after getting pummeled by cyber-attacks. And now the British authorities are reportedly closing in on Assange.

The National Republican Congressional Committee  announced today that it is $12 million in debt — which turns out to be a small price to pay for 63 House seats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, in comparison, finished the midterms $19.5 million in debt, and with bruising losses. The Democratic committee also outspent its Republican counterpart $120.2 million to $93.7 million, showing that money doesn’t necessarily buy political victory.

Did bribery play a part in FIFA’s 2022 World Cup decision? That’s the theory being fueled by the blogosphere. Nate Silver runs through the possible explanations for the committee’s baffling choice and finds a legitimate case for selecting Qatar pretty flimsy.

Kerry is optimistic about a New START deal in the next few days, but it sounds like he’s being bit too idealistic. Republicans are still wary about rushing the agreement, and it looks like a vote may not occur before the end of the year.

Cables reveal that Russia waged a secret war on Georgia starting in 2004. This raises questions about the reset strategy and the reluctance of the U.S. to forcefully criticize Russia’s provocations against its neighboring state.

“Days of awe and light, with a dreadful new significance” — the tragic Carmel forest fire has left some Israeli officials dazed, as they struggle to beat back the flames that have already left more than 40 Israelis dead.

Recipe for a mess? The Pentagon is apparently worried that the federal courts may intervene to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy before officials have time to prepare. “You need that time cushion. The Congress, I’m certain, is willing to work with us on that,” [General James Cartwright] said.

Bad news: North Korea has likely built more than one uranium-enrichment plant, says the Obama administration, raising significant concerns about the number of atomic weapons the country will be able to pump out.

Is Obama making moves toward the center? Democrats are apparently grumbling over the president’s private negotiations with the GOP on a tax-cut extension, saying he’s “too quick to accommodate his adversaries.”

The end may be near for WikiLeaks. The website was forced to change its name and move to a Swiss server after getting pummeled by cyber-attacks. And now the British authorities are reportedly closing in on Assange.

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WikiLeaks: Nihilism in the Guise of Transparency

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

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RE: WikiLeaks and Consequences

I would strongly concur with J.E. Dyer’s observation concerning the leaked cables:

Its true value lies in confirming what hawks and conservatives have been saying about global security issues. China’s role in missile transfers from North Korea to Iran; Syria’s determined arming of Hezbollah; Iran’s use of Red Crescent vehicles to deliver weapons to terrorists; Obama’s strong-arming of foreign governments to accept prisoners from Guantanamo — these are things many news organizations are reporting prominently only because they have been made known through a WikiLeaks dump. In the end, WikiLeaks’s most enduring consequences may be the unintended ones.

You can add to the list of the hawks’ confirmed truths: the enthusiastic support of the Arab states for a more vigorous U.S. response to Iran, the mullahs’ possession of more advanced technology than previously acknowledged, and the recognition by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates that “reset” has been a disaster for democracy in Russia.

You don’t have to cheer the leaks of confidential information (as the left did with every revelation helpful to their cause, from the Pentagon Papers to the drips from the infamously porous CIA during the Bush administration) to understand that, aside from the salacious parts, they do inform the debate by providing details that reveal that the Obama policies in many respects are a failure — and recognized as such by some high-ranking officials within the administration.

Should we prosecute the WikiLeaks gang? Of course. But let’s not deny reality: this is a huge embarrassment for the Obama administration.

I would strongly concur with J.E. Dyer’s observation concerning the leaked cables:

Its true value lies in confirming what hawks and conservatives have been saying about global security issues. China’s role in missile transfers from North Korea to Iran; Syria’s determined arming of Hezbollah; Iran’s use of Red Crescent vehicles to deliver weapons to terrorists; Obama’s strong-arming of foreign governments to accept prisoners from Guantanamo — these are things many news organizations are reporting prominently only because they have been made known through a WikiLeaks dump. In the end, WikiLeaks’s most enduring consequences may be the unintended ones.

You can add to the list of the hawks’ confirmed truths: the enthusiastic support of the Arab states for a more vigorous U.S. response to Iran, the mullahs’ possession of more advanced technology than previously acknowledged, and the recognition by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates that “reset” has been a disaster for democracy in Russia.

You don’t have to cheer the leaks of confidential information (as the left did with every revelation helpful to their cause, from the Pentagon Papers to the drips from the infamously porous CIA during the Bush administration) to understand that, aside from the salacious parts, they do inform the debate by providing details that reveal that the Obama policies in many respects are a failure — and recognized as such by some high-ranking officials within the administration.

Should we prosecute the WikiLeaks gang? Of course. But let’s not deny reality: this is a huge embarrassment for the Obama administration.

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The Irresponsible Left’s Deficit-Cutting Plan

We learn from this report:

One of the most liberal members of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission unveiled her own plan Tuesday to balance the budget: Keep Social Security benefits intact, make deep reductions at the Pentagon and raise corporate taxes to target profits and excessive pay for chief executives.

This is important for several reasons. First, it comes from not only one of  the most liberal but also one of the  least influential members of Congress, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). Second, it bears little resemblance to what came out of the president’s debt commission. Third, it reflects a total unawareness that we are in the midst of a war (“she proposes to take virtually all of the cuts from the military, slicing $110 billion from the defense budget in 2015 by reducing troop levels, cutting weapons systems, and scaling back wartime spending”). In sum, it is the perfect distillation of the irresponsible left, which imagines that we can simply decide not to defend ourselves, savage the “rich,” and — presto — become a more secure and prosperous country.

It’s good to know that this is not the starting point for deficit debate (that was the debt-commission plan). It is also a helpful reminder of what the Pelosi Democrats would do if they had their druthers.

We learn from this report:

One of the most liberal members of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit commission unveiled her own plan Tuesday to balance the budget: Keep Social Security benefits intact, make deep reductions at the Pentagon and raise corporate taxes to target profits and excessive pay for chief executives.

This is important for several reasons. First, it comes from not only one of  the most liberal but also one of the  least influential members of Congress, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). Second, it bears little resemblance to what came out of the president’s debt commission. Third, it reflects a total unawareness that we are in the midst of a war (“she proposes to take virtually all of the cuts from the military, slicing $110 billion from the defense budget in 2015 by reducing troop levels, cutting weapons systems, and scaling back wartime spending”). In sum, it is the perfect distillation of the irresponsible left, which imagines that we can simply decide not to defend ourselves, savage the “rich,” and — presto — become a more secure and prosperous country.

It’s good to know that this is not the starting point for deficit debate (that was the debt-commission plan). It is also a helpful reminder of what the Pelosi Democrats would do if they had their druthers.

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Weak Leaks

When the first batch of WikiLeaks’s prize field reports was posted in July, I was underwhelmed by the strategic import of the content. This unauthorized disclosure was nothing like the “Pentagon Papers,” which revealed a marked difference between the Johnson administration’s public protestations about our policy in Vietnam and the policy it was actually pursuing. The significance of the Pentagon Papers leak lay in what it revealed — directly and explicitly — about the American executive.

The WikiLeaks document dumps this year have done no such thing. The leaked field reports contain no direct information about policy in Washington. The first batch of reports tended mainly to confirm that the American understanding of what was going on in the field, in Iraq and Afghanistan, was pretty accurate. The second batch of reports, which was provided to selected news outlets last week, appears to be going beyond that to vindicate key claims of the Bush administration and debunk one of the principal talking points of its critics.

The New York Times, given advance access to the new batch of documents, reported on Friday that they are full of references to Iranian involvement in the Shia insurgency in Iraq. As the Times observes, the Bush administration was strongly criticized for charging Iran with this interference, but the field reports indicate that Bush’s allegations comported with what he was hearing from the field. (h/t: Legal Insurrection)

Wired’s Danger Room notes that the reports are also full of references to the discovery and identification in Iraq of chemical weapons, weapons-making laboratories, and chemical-weapons experts among Iraq’s insurgents and terrorists. (h/t: Ed Morrissey at Hot Air) Many of the facts surrounding these discoveries have been public for years, but as several bloggers have pointed out, this documentary validation isn’t propaganda: it comes from field reports that were never intended to reach or persuade the public. Ironically, for a leak made with its particular political motives, this one validates precisely the concern with which George W. Bush went into Iraq — i.e., that the WMD components acquired by terrorism sponsors could fall into the hands of terrorists.

But there’s more irony in those leaked documents. They contain civilian casualty summaries that give the lie to the wild estimates from the 2006 Lancet study of 655,000 “excess deaths” in Iraq because of the war. The casualty total reflected in the documents is 109,032 through 2009. From a humanitarian perspective, any civilian casualties are assuredly “too many.” But the disingenuousness of urging the public to indignation over a particular number is thrown into strong relief when the number is revealed to have been a ridiculous and irresponsible exaggeration. As the Melbourne Herald Sun blogger observes, the Iraqi total from the WikiLeaks documents makes the civilian fatality rate from combat there lower than the murder rate in South Africa.

Glenn Reynolds points out at Instapundit that the timing of this fresh document dump is beneficial mainly to the impending release of George W. Bush’s presidential memoir. That’s probably an unintended consequence, too.

When the first batch of WikiLeaks’s prize field reports was posted in July, I was underwhelmed by the strategic import of the content. This unauthorized disclosure was nothing like the “Pentagon Papers,” which revealed a marked difference between the Johnson administration’s public protestations about our policy in Vietnam and the policy it was actually pursuing. The significance of the Pentagon Papers leak lay in what it revealed — directly and explicitly — about the American executive.

The WikiLeaks document dumps this year have done no such thing. The leaked field reports contain no direct information about policy in Washington. The first batch of reports tended mainly to confirm that the American understanding of what was going on in the field, in Iraq and Afghanistan, was pretty accurate. The second batch of reports, which was provided to selected news outlets last week, appears to be going beyond that to vindicate key claims of the Bush administration and debunk one of the principal talking points of its critics.

The New York Times, given advance access to the new batch of documents, reported on Friday that they are full of references to Iranian involvement in the Shia insurgency in Iraq. As the Times observes, the Bush administration was strongly criticized for charging Iran with this interference, but the field reports indicate that Bush’s allegations comported with what he was hearing from the field. (h/t: Legal Insurrection)

Wired’s Danger Room notes that the reports are also full of references to the discovery and identification in Iraq of chemical weapons, weapons-making laboratories, and chemical-weapons experts among Iraq’s insurgents and terrorists. (h/t: Ed Morrissey at Hot Air) Many of the facts surrounding these discoveries have been public for years, but as several bloggers have pointed out, this documentary validation isn’t propaganda: it comes from field reports that were never intended to reach or persuade the public. Ironically, for a leak made with its particular political motives, this one validates precisely the concern with which George W. Bush went into Iraq — i.e., that the WMD components acquired by terrorism sponsors could fall into the hands of terrorists.

But there’s more irony in those leaked documents. They contain civilian casualty summaries that give the lie to the wild estimates from the 2006 Lancet study of 655,000 “excess deaths” in Iraq because of the war. The casualty total reflected in the documents is 109,032 through 2009. From a humanitarian perspective, any civilian casualties are assuredly “too many.” But the disingenuousness of urging the public to indignation over a particular number is thrown into strong relief when the number is revealed to have been a ridiculous and irresponsible exaggeration. As the Melbourne Herald Sun blogger observes, the Iraqi total from the WikiLeaks documents makes the civilian fatality rate from combat there lower than the murder rate in South Africa.

Glenn Reynolds points out at Instapundit that the timing of this fresh document dump is beneficial mainly to the impending release of George W. Bush’s presidential memoir. That’s probably an unintended consequence, too.

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Things We Shouldn’t Be Doing with China

Four U.S. senators have registered concern about the proposal of a start-up company, Amerilink Telecom Corp., to upgrade Sprint Nextel’s national network to 4G data-rate capacity using Chinese-provided equipment from Huawei Shenzen Ltd., a company with longstanding ties to the Chinese military. The point made by the senators – Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Jon Kyl, and Sue Myrick – is that China could install a surveillance or sabotage capability in a very large segment of the U.S. wireless infrastructure. The scope of the Sprint Nextel 4G upgrade reportedly encompasses about 35,000 transmission towers throughout the 50 states.

Huawei has been trying to crack the U.S. market for years but has always been blocked by the security concerns of American officials, backed by comprehensive cyber-security reports from intelligence agencies and the Pentagon. Huawei hoped to contract directly with Sprint this past summer, but when a group of senators shot that attempt down, a senior Sprint executive left the company to join Amerilink and began planning a new strategy to bring Huawei into the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure. The strategy has included developing “insider” connections by recruiting Dick Gephardt and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn to Amerilink’s board, along with former Navy secretary and Defense Department official Gordon England.

Although vigilant senators deflected the Huawei-Sprint bid as recently as August, there’s a reason for disquiet in October. In a move that received little attention outside the tech-industry press, Huawei finally managed this month to contract with a U.S. wireless provider, T-Mobile, to supply handsets to customers. On Monday, Forbes tech writer Jeffrey Carr wondered why this contract was allowed to go through, considering that T-Mobile is a government contractor and supplies handsets and wireless service to federal agencies.

That’s a good question. India, Britain, and Australia have all zeroed in on Huawei (along with Chinese tech firm ZTE) as a source of potential security risks. India’s resistance to penetration has equaled that of the U.S. – and may soon exceed it. America seems to be quietly lowering its guard with Huawei: the announcement of the T-Mobile contract last week came on the heels of an October 11 press release from Huawei Symantec on its plan to sell data-storage platforms and gateway packages to U.S. customers. For a company that has consistently been excluded from the U.S. due to security concerns, that’s a lot of market-entry announcements in one week.

The Stuxnet worm has reminded us of the stealthy and devious methods by which security vulnerabilities can be introduced into the IT systems that control major infrastructure operations. We won’t see the next “Stuxnet” coming, or the one after that; the events of 2010 clarify for us that we can’t rely solely on technical vigilance to protect our critical infrastructure. We also need a basis for trusting suppliers the old-fashioned way. China and its tech companies haven’t met that test.

Four U.S. senators have registered concern about the proposal of a start-up company, Amerilink Telecom Corp., to upgrade Sprint Nextel’s national network to 4G data-rate capacity using Chinese-provided equipment from Huawei Shenzen Ltd., a company with longstanding ties to the Chinese military. The point made by the senators – Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins, Jon Kyl, and Sue Myrick – is that China could install a surveillance or sabotage capability in a very large segment of the U.S. wireless infrastructure. The scope of the Sprint Nextel 4G upgrade reportedly encompasses about 35,000 transmission towers throughout the 50 states.

Huawei has been trying to crack the U.S. market for years but has always been blocked by the security concerns of American officials, backed by comprehensive cyber-security reports from intelligence agencies and the Pentagon. Huawei hoped to contract directly with Sprint this past summer, but when a group of senators shot that attempt down, a senior Sprint executive left the company to join Amerilink and began planning a new strategy to bring Huawei into the U.S. telecommunications infrastructure. The strategy has included developing “insider” connections by recruiting Dick Gephardt and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn to Amerilink’s board, along with former Navy secretary and Defense Department official Gordon England.

Although vigilant senators deflected the Huawei-Sprint bid as recently as August, there’s a reason for disquiet in October. In a move that received little attention outside the tech-industry press, Huawei finally managed this month to contract with a U.S. wireless provider, T-Mobile, to supply handsets to customers. On Monday, Forbes tech writer Jeffrey Carr wondered why this contract was allowed to go through, considering that T-Mobile is a government contractor and supplies handsets and wireless service to federal agencies.

That’s a good question. India, Britain, and Australia have all zeroed in on Huawei (along with Chinese tech firm ZTE) as a source of potential security risks. India’s resistance to penetration has equaled that of the U.S. – and may soon exceed it. America seems to be quietly lowering its guard with Huawei: the announcement of the T-Mobile contract last week came on the heels of an October 11 press release from Huawei Symantec on its plan to sell data-storage platforms and gateway packages to U.S. customers. For a company that has consistently been excluded from the U.S. due to security concerns, that’s a lot of market-entry announcements in one week.

The Stuxnet worm has reminded us of the stealthy and devious methods by which security vulnerabilities can be introduced into the IT systems that control major infrastructure operations. We won’t see the next “Stuxnet” coming, or the one after that; the events of 2010 clarify for us that we can’t rely solely on technical vigilance to protect our critical infrastructure. We also need a basis for trusting suppliers the old-fashioned way. China and its tech companies haven’t met that test.

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

What a New National Security Adviser Means for Foreign Policy

There has been much speculation in Washington circles about what it means that Tom Donilon has replaced James Jones as national security adviser. My hunch is: not much. I am not particularly persuaded by theories that hold that Donilon is more left-wing than Jones, and that he will clash more with senior generals. Jones, after all, was not exactly an outspoken advocate of the surge in Afghanistan (or for that matter in Iraq).

My sense is that a lot of the reason why he was appointed, even though Obama had barely met him, was so that Obama, who has no experience in military affairs, would have a high-profile retired officer on his staff who could with credibility stand up to the Pentagon. Jones made news in the summer of 2009 when he warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal that any further troop requests would be a “whisky tango foxtrot” moment for the White House. McChrystal asked for more troops anyway, because they were necessary. Most of his request wound up being granted not because of any decision made by Jones or by Donilon, who was then deputy national security adviser but widely seen as the power behind Jones’s throne. The ultimate call was made, unsurprisingly, by Barack Obama himself. That’s the way it always is and always has to be. The president is the “decider in chief.”

A good national security adviser can help marshal the information the boss needs to make good decisions and then help to implement them, but it is extremely rare for a national security adviser to be a major power in his or her own right. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are notable exceptions to this rule, but there haven’t been many others — and it has been many decades since they were in power. Usually, the national security adviser is a reflection of the president. This was certainly the case with Condi Rice, who was widely faulted for not doing a better job of getting the Bush administration to march in lockstep behind the president’s policies. That failure was ultimately not hers but George W. Bush’s. It was he, after all, who appointed her and gave her the power she had — or didn’t have. So, too, it will be with Donilon. He is certainly not a foreign policy intellectual like Kissinger or Brzezinski; he is a consummate staffer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is that we shouldn’t expect much change from his appointment.

There has been much speculation in Washington circles about what it means that Tom Donilon has replaced James Jones as national security adviser. My hunch is: not much. I am not particularly persuaded by theories that hold that Donilon is more left-wing than Jones, and that he will clash more with senior generals. Jones, after all, was not exactly an outspoken advocate of the surge in Afghanistan (or for that matter in Iraq).

My sense is that a lot of the reason why he was appointed, even though Obama had barely met him, was so that Obama, who has no experience in military affairs, would have a high-profile retired officer on his staff who could with credibility stand up to the Pentagon. Jones made news in the summer of 2009 when he warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal that any further troop requests would be a “whisky tango foxtrot” moment for the White House. McChrystal asked for more troops anyway, because they were necessary. Most of his request wound up being granted not because of any decision made by Jones or by Donilon, who was then deputy national security adviser but widely seen as the power behind Jones’s throne. The ultimate call was made, unsurprisingly, by Barack Obama himself. That’s the way it always is and always has to be. The president is the “decider in chief.”

A good national security adviser can help marshal the information the boss needs to make good decisions and then help to implement them, but it is extremely rare for a national security adviser to be a major power in his or her own right. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are notable exceptions to this rule, but there haven’t been many others — and it has been many decades since they were in power. Usually, the national security adviser is a reflection of the president. This was certainly the case with Condi Rice, who was widely faulted for not doing a better job of getting the Bush administration to march in lockstep behind the president’s policies. That failure was ultimately not hers but George W. Bush’s. It was he, after all, who appointed her and gave her the power she had — or didn’t have. So, too, it will be with Donilon. He is certainly not a foreign policy intellectual like Kissinger or Brzezinski; he is a consummate staffer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is that we shouldn’t expect much change from his appointment.

Read Less

Encumbered Female Marines

The New York Times has a fascinating story on how female Marines are making a contribution in Marja, a still dangerous district in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. They are assigned to a “female engagement team,” which is designed to interact with Afghanistan’s women; turns out, they also do a good job of interacting with Afghanistan’s men, who sometimes open up more when confronted with women Marines than with their male counterparts.

But their deployment has run into legal problems because of the anachronistic and overly restrictive Pentagon rules on employing women in combat roles. They are technically forbidden from serving in infantry, armor, or Special Forces, but are nevertheless often in the field, sometimes under the legal fiction of being “attached to” (allowed) rather than “assigned to” (forbidden) a combat unit. The rules only allow women “temporary stays” at combat bases. So, the Times reports, “To fulfill the letter but hardly the spirit of the guidelines, the female Marines now travel from their combat outposts every six weeks for an overnight stay at a big base like Camp Leatherneck, then head back out the next morning.”

The commander of the female engagement team, Capt. Emily Naslund, thinks “the legal hoops are absurd when there are no front lines — and when members of her team are taking fire almost daily on foot patrols. ‘The current policy on women in combat is outdated and does not apply to the type of war we are fighting,’ she wrote to her parents, friends and this reporter in an e-mail after the legal review in July.”

Capt. Naslund is right. These old-fashioned rules from the Department of Defense need to be adjusted to conform with the “no front-lines” reality of today’s wars.

The New York Times has a fascinating story on how female Marines are making a contribution in Marja, a still dangerous district in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. They are assigned to a “female engagement team,” which is designed to interact with Afghanistan’s women; turns out, they also do a good job of interacting with Afghanistan’s men, who sometimes open up more when confronted with women Marines than with their male counterparts.

But their deployment has run into legal problems because of the anachronistic and overly restrictive Pentagon rules on employing women in combat roles. They are technically forbidden from serving in infantry, armor, or Special Forces, but are nevertheless often in the field, sometimes under the legal fiction of being “attached to” (allowed) rather than “assigned to” (forbidden) a combat unit. The rules only allow women “temporary stays” at combat bases. So, the Times reports, “To fulfill the letter but hardly the spirit of the guidelines, the female Marines now travel from their combat outposts every six weeks for an overnight stay at a big base like Camp Leatherneck, then head back out the next morning.”

The commander of the female engagement team, Capt. Emily Naslund, thinks “the legal hoops are absurd when there are no front lines — and when members of her team are taking fire almost daily on foot patrols. ‘The current policy on women in combat is outdated and does not apply to the type of war we are fighting,’ she wrote to her parents, friends and this reporter in an e-mail after the legal review in July.”

Capt. Naslund is right. These old-fashioned rules from the Department of Defense need to be adjusted to conform with the “no front-lines” reality of today’s wars.

Read Less




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