Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. Air Force

Defense Burden Isn’t Getting Lighter

In a great op-ed at Fox News, Mackenzie Eaglen points out the degree to which Barack Obama’s passion for underfunding the Pentagon is at odds with America’s defense obligations. In March of last year, “for the first time, according to the Pentagon’s Transportation Command chief, every combatant commander had a priority one mission requiring the help of the Air Force,” she notes. Even with an administration whose first foreign-policy priority is to curtail intervention abroad, air power was maxed out.

And, in historical terms, it didn’t take much: Leading from behind in Libya, the surge in Afghanistan, support in Japan after the tsunami, and air support for Obama’s trip to South America. We did it all and we did it well but unless you believe in the end of humanitarian disaster and international conflict, America’s defense load is never going to lighten to the point that the Obama budget envisions. Instead, we’ll just be unable to carry it.

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In a great op-ed at Fox News, Mackenzie Eaglen points out the degree to which Barack Obama’s passion for underfunding the Pentagon is at odds with America’s defense obligations. In March of last year, “for the first time, according to the Pentagon’s Transportation Command chief, every combatant commander had a priority one mission requiring the help of the Air Force,” she notes. Even with an administration whose first foreign-policy priority is to curtail intervention abroad, air power was maxed out.

And, in historical terms, it didn’t take much: Leading from behind in Libya, the surge in Afghanistan, support in Japan after the tsunami, and air support for Obama’s trip to South America. We did it all and we did it well but unless you believe in the end of humanitarian disaster and international conflict, America’s defense load is never going to lighten to the point that the Obama budget envisions. Instead, we’ll just be unable to carry it.

The administration’s unprecedented defense cuts mean an unprecedented handicap for the U.S. Air Force, the hardest hit of all the armed services. “Today’s Air Force faces serious challenges: a rapidly shrinking size of its inventory and the slow loss of its cutting-edge capabilities,” Eaglen writes. And Obama’s much-vaunted Asian pivot will be DOA at this rate. “As the Obama administration looks increasingly to the Pacific, it is failing to ensure that it will have enough resources for its new strategy. At a time when the U.S. military desperately needs next-generation technologies to meet the challenges posed by proliferating precision munitions and anti-access and denial capabilities, the administration has repeatedly chosen to delay, reduce, or even kill most of the military’s high-tech modernization programs.”

Forget the sci-fi weapons. Conventional resources are disappearing. In the Vietnam era, we had over 500 B-2 bombers. Today we have 20.

You don’t have to be a warmonger to do math.

We’re entering an age of disorienting global chaos. At the same time the Obama administration is enforcing unprecedented defense cuts.  The volatility in Iran, the Arab world, Russia, and North Korea isn’t going to abate because Americans want it to. And those are just the places we can currently imagine erupting.  The harder challenges are going to come from corners and parties we’ve not been paying attention to. We could be in for a day that makes March 2011 look like a beach vacation. When America can’t rise to it, we’ll find ourselves in a different world.

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Shift in Momentum in Afghanistan

I am soon heading to Afghanistan to see for myself how the war effort is progressing, but in the meantime I note several news accounts that give a sense of cautious optimism. That doesn’t include the reports this morning that high-level negotiations with the Taliban are starting and are being facilitated by NATO forces. There have been stories along those lines for years, and they haven’t gone anywhere, because the Taliban have no serious incentive to negotiate until they see that they are losing the war on the ground.

In that connection, it is interesting to read the assessment of a French general that the situation has improved dramatically in his area of operations in eastern Afghanistan. He even claims that Afghan troops will be ready to take responsibility for this once-dangerous area by next summer. Is he right? Who knows? But it does indicate that things are moving in the right direction in at least one important area.

That is also the assessment of retired Gen. Jack Keane — one of the architects of the Iraq surge — who has just returned from Afghanistan and reports: “There are already some early signs of a beginning of a momentum shift in our favor.”

New York Times correspondent C.J. Chivers, a former Marine, also notes progress in training Afghan security forces:

Two main training sites — the Kabul Military Training Center, used principally by the Afghan Army, and the Central Training Center, used by the police — have become bustling bases, packed with trainers and recruits, and there is a sense among the officers that they are producing better soldiers than before.

The military center has been graduating 1,400 newly trained soldiers every two …. The ratio of instructors to students has gone from one for every 79 trainees in 2009 to one for every 29, officers at the center say, suggesting that the new police officers and soldiers are getting more attention than in years past. The soldiers are paid better and desert less often, officials say.

Another interesting data point comes from this report that coalition air strikes are up 172 percent: “Last month, NATO attack planes dropped their bombs and fired their guns on 700 separate missions, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. That’s more than double the 257 attack sorties they flew in September 2009, and one of the highest single-month totals of the entire nine-year Afghan campaign.” That should help allay the concerns of those who worry that U.S. forces are so handicapped by rules of engagement that they can’t take the fight to the enemy. In fact, tight rules are necessary to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties, but these statistics suggest that American airpower is still being used effectively to help win the fight. There has also been a less-publicized increase in Special Operations raids, which are taking a nightly toll on the Taliban’s leadership.

I would caution against reading too much into any of this. It’s still early days, the full complement of surge forces having arrived in Afghanistan only last month. There is much hard fighting ahead, and many setbacks are certain. But at least there is now a sense that the war may be moving, however haltingly and slowly, in the right direction.

I am soon heading to Afghanistan to see for myself how the war effort is progressing, but in the meantime I note several news accounts that give a sense of cautious optimism. That doesn’t include the reports this morning that high-level negotiations with the Taliban are starting and are being facilitated by NATO forces. There have been stories along those lines for years, and they haven’t gone anywhere, because the Taliban have no serious incentive to negotiate until they see that they are losing the war on the ground.

In that connection, it is interesting to read the assessment of a French general that the situation has improved dramatically in his area of operations in eastern Afghanistan. He even claims that Afghan troops will be ready to take responsibility for this once-dangerous area by next summer. Is he right? Who knows? But it does indicate that things are moving in the right direction in at least one important area.

That is also the assessment of retired Gen. Jack Keane — one of the architects of the Iraq surge — who has just returned from Afghanistan and reports: “There are already some early signs of a beginning of a momentum shift in our favor.”

New York Times correspondent C.J. Chivers, a former Marine, also notes progress in training Afghan security forces:

Two main training sites — the Kabul Military Training Center, used principally by the Afghan Army, and the Central Training Center, used by the police — have become bustling bases, packed with trainers and recruits, and there is a sense among the officers that they are producing better soldiers than before.

The military center has been graduating 1,400 newly trained soldiers every two …. The ratio of instructors to students has gone from one for every 79 trainees in 2009 to one for every 29, officers at the center say, suggesting that the new police officers and soldiers are getting more attention than in years past. The soldiers are paid better and desert less often, officials say.

Another interesting data point comes from this report that coalition air strikes are up 172 percent: “Last month, NATO attack planes dropped their bombs and fired their guns on 700 separate missions, according to U.S. Air Force statistics. That’s more than double the 257 attack sorties they flew in September 2009, and one of the highest single-month totals of the entire nine-year Afghan campaign.” That should help allay the concerns of those who worry that U.S. forces are so handicapped by rules of engagement that they can’t take the fight to the enemy. In fact, tight rules are necessary to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties, but these statistics suggest that American airpower is still being used effectively to help win the fight. There has also been a less-publicized increase in Special Operations raids, which are taking a nightly toll on the Taliban’s leadership.

I would caution against reading too much into any of this. It’s still early days, the full complement of surge forces having arrived in Afghanistan only last month. There is much hard fighting ahead, and many setbacks are certain. But at least there is now a sense that the war may be moving, however haltingly and slowly, in the right direction.

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Foreign Policy Alternatives

Foreign Policy has a symposium on “Plan B” for Obama’s foreign policy. The assumption is, of course, that what he’s tried hasn’t worked very well.

Elliott Abrams suggests:

Forget the peace talks. A lasting, final Israeli-Palestinian agreement is nowhere in sight. With the negotiations as background music, Barack Obama should get serious. The rest of his term should be spent building the institutions of a Palestinian state in the West Bank — not chasing a dream.

That’s one of the smartest entries. From the left we also get Bob Shrum (yes, that Bob Shrum), who actually is on to something:

On critical issues like Afghanistan and Iran, Obama will need to take his case to the people directly, as he did so convincingly as a candidate. This means a continuing conversation in town halls and speeches that connect both emotionally and logically with a majority of Americans. … Obama needs to become the diplomat-in-chief — not just for U.S. allies overseas, but for his own citizenry at home.

But then again, Obama is not convincing Americans of much of anything, so it’s not clear that this would prove a productive exercise. And of course Obama first would have to decide what he wants to do about Iran.

Another helpful contribution comes from Ellen Laipson, who recommends:

Barack Obama needs to rethink his approach to engaging the Muslim world. After the promise of his seminal June 2009 Cairo speech, his administration has not focused on any serious initiatives and has fallen into the trap of fawning over Muslims in ways that are contrary to America’s core values. … The case of Egypt and its upcoming presidential election is a good place to start. The White House must try to ensure that the 2011 contest be fair and legitimate, for Egypt’s sake and ours. But America’s good work with grassroots activists needs to be complemented by a bolder public stance and even tough measures when governments fail to advance the most basic democratic reforms.

One of the more horrid suggestions come from Will Marshall, who wants a new Geneva Convention. One can only imagine what rules they would come up with to further impede America’s and Israel’s security. Nearly as bad is Christopher Preble (demonstrating the danger of the “austerity trap“), who wants massive defense cuts. But don’t worry, he says: “The hawks will scream, but America will be just fine.”

It’s a hard choice, but my vote for the dopiest recommendation comes from Joseph Cirincione:

Obama should unilaterally reduce the active U.S. arsenal to 1,000 weapons (which is still three times more than U.S. Air Force experts judge are necessary) and remove the 200 U.S. nuclear bombs that remain in Europe. Such cuts won’t hurt U.S. or global security in the least — and Obama has plenty of bipartisan, expert support for cuts of this size. They would put him on the road to fulfilling his compelling promise of a truly nuclear-free world.

Except for all the other countries that have nukes.

Get the sense that the left isn’t very serious about foreign policy? Me too. And it’s not just the left. As we correctly turn our attention to our massive deficits, the pressure will be on from the right and the left to bring troops home, cut defense spending, and return to Fortress America. But there is no return. Our enemies are real, and we need to rise to meet the challenges they pose to the U.S. and our allies.

Foreign Policy has a symposium on “Plan B” for Obama’s foreign policy. The assumption is, of course, that what he’s tried hasn’t worked very well.

Elliott Abrams suggests:

Forget the peace talks. A lasting, final Israeli-Palestinian agreement is nowhere in sight. With the negotiations as background music, Barack Obama should get serious. The rest of his term should be spent building the institutions of a Palestinian state in the West Bank — not chasing a dream.

That’s one of the smartest entries. From the left we also get Bob Shrum (yes, that Bob Shrum), who actually is on to something:

On critical issues like Afghanistan and Iran, Obama will need to take his case to the people directly, as he did so convincingly as a candidate. This means a continuing conversation in town halls and speeches that connect both emotionally and logically with a majority of Americans. … Obama needs to become the diplomat-in-chief — not just for U.S. allies overseas, but for his own citizenry at home.

But then again, Obama is not convincing Americans of much of anything, so it’s not clear that this would prove a productive exercise. And of course Obama first would have to decide what he wants to do about Iran.

Another helpful contribution comes from Ellen Laipson, who recommends:

Barack Obama needs to rethink his approach to engaging the Muslim world. After the promise of his seminal June 2009 Cairo speech, his administration has not focused on any serious initiatives and has fallen into the trap of fawning over Muslims in ways that are contrary to America’s core values. … The case of Egypt and its upcoming presidential election is a good place to start. The White House must try to ensure that the 2011 contest be fair and legitimate, for Egypt’s sake and ours. But America’s good work with grassroots activists needs to be complemented by a bolder public stance and even tough measures when governments fail to advance the most basic democratic reforms.

One of the more horrid suggestions come from Will Marshall, who wants a new Geneva Convention. One can only imagine what rules they would come up with to further impede America’s and Israel’s security. Nearly as bad is Christopher Preble (demonstrating the danger of the “austerity trap“), who wants massive defense cuts. But don’t worry, he says: “The hawks will scream, but America will be just fine.”

It’s a hard choice, but my vote for the dopiest recommendation comes from Joseph Cirincione:

Obama should unilaterally reduce the active U.S. arsenal to 1,000 weapons (which is still three times more than U.S. Air Force experts judge are necessary) and remove the 200 U.S. nuclear bombs that remain in Europe. Such cuts won’t hurt U.S. or global security in the least — and Obama has plenty of bipartisan, expert support for cuts of this size. They would put him on the road to fulfilling his compelling promise of a truly nuclear-free world.

Except for all the other countries that have nukes.

Get the sense that the left isn’t very serious about foreign policy? Me too. And it’s not just the left. As we correctly turn our attention to our massive deficits, the pressure will be on from the right and the left to bring troops home, cut defense spending, and return to Fortress America. But there is no return. Our enemies are real, and we need to rise to meet the challenges they pose to the U.S. and our allies.

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Debating the DREAM Act (UPDATED)

The Defense Authorization Act, which is soon to come for a vote in the Senate, has a controversial provision added to it repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Whatever one thinks of the hot-button issue of gays in the military (personally, as I’ve written before, I believe that it is inevitable that gay service people will be allowed to serve openly), there should be much more agreement on another provision added to the bill: the DREAM Act. A good summary can be found in this Wall Street Journal article of how this provision would speed citizenship for those who arrived in the U.S. by the age of 15 if they attend college or serve in the armed forces for two years. This would open up a new avenue for service for those like David Cho, “an honor student and leader of the UCLA marching band,” who “plans to join the U.S. Air Force after he graduates in the spring — if Congress lets him.” Why it makes sense to turn away those like Cho who want to wear our nation’s uniform is beyond me. According to the Journal:

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) believes passage of the Dream Act would entice more people to sneak into the U.S. “When you take a policy that says you are going to reward people who have entered our country illegally with a guaranteed pathway to citizenship, and with billions of dollars in financial aid or benefits they would not otherwise be entitled to, what message are we sending?” Sen. Sessions said.

Count me as skeptical that the prospect of attending college or serving in our armed forces will really draw more undocumented immigrants to our shores. (Plenty are coming already simply in the hope of picking lettuce or working in construction.) But if it does, so what? Aren’t these precisely the kind of productive, highly motivated individuals that we want to see in this country?

Our ability to attract and integrate immigrants gives us a key long-term advantage over more homogenous societies such as Japan, China, and Western Europe. Immigrants are already serving proudly in the U.S. armed forces — as they have since the beginning of the Republic. It makes perfect sense to continue to make use of these dedicated volunteers, especially because of the valuable cultural and linguistic knowledge they can bring to our armed forces, which find themselves in need of such skills to wage a global counterinsurgency. In the process, we can use our armed forces and our universities as they have long been used — to integrate newcomers into the mainstream of American society. If we don’t, we risk expanding the underclass of undocumented immigrants who turn to illicit activities because legal work and education are closed to them.

ADDENDUM: One of the leading legal experts on the DREAM Act e-mails me that Senator Sessions’s objection is even less to the point than I realized: “The DREAM Act doesn’t cover anyone who enters the U.S. illegally today. It has a cut-off date, so the objection that it will ‘encourage illegal immigration’ seems just a little bit ‘off.’ ”

The Defense Authorization Act, which is soon to come for a vote in the Senate, has a controversial provision added to it repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Whatever one thinks of the hot-button issue of gays in the military (personally, as I’ve written before, I believe that it is inevitable that gay service people will be allowed to serve openly), there should be much more agreement on another provision added to the bill: the DREAM Act. A good summary can be found in this Wall Street Journal article of how this provision would speed citizenship for those who arrived in the U.S. by the age of 15 if they attend college or serve in the armed forces for two years. This would open up a new avenue for service for those like David Cho, “an honor student and leader of the UCLA marching band,” who “plans to join the U.S. Air Force after he graduates in the spring — if Congress lets him.” Why it makes sense to turn away those like Cho who want to wear our nation’s uniform is beyond me. According to the Journal:

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) believes passage of the Dream Act would entice more people to sneak into the U.S. “When you take a policy that says you are going to reward people who have entered our country illegally with a guaranteed pathway to citizenship, and with billions of dollars in financial aid or benefits they would not otherwise be entitled to, what message are we sending?” Sen. Sessions said.

Count me as skeptical that the prospect of attending college or serving in our armed forces will really draw more undocumented immigrants to our shores. (Plenty are coming already simply in the hope of picking lettuce or working in construction.) But if it does, so what? Aren’t these precisely the kind of productive, highly motivated individuals that we want to see in this country?

Our ability to attract and integrate immigrants gives us a key long-term advantage over more homogenous societies such as Japan, China, and Western Europe. Immigrants are already serving proudly in the U.S. armed forces — as they have since the beginning of the Republic. It makes perfect sense to continue to make use of these dedicated volunteers, especially because of the valuable cultural and linguistic knowledge they can bring to our armed forces, which find themselves in need of such skills to wage a global counterinsurgency. In the process, we can use our armed forces and our universities as they have long been used — to integrate newcomers into the mainstream of American society. If we don’t, we risk expanding the underclass of undocumented immigrants who turn to illicit activities because legal work and education are closed to them.

ADDENDUM: One of the leading legal experts on the DREAM Act e-mails me that Senator Sessions’s objection is even less to the point than I realized: “The DREAM Act doesn’t cover anyone who enters the U.S. illegally today. It has a cut-off date, so the objection that it will ‘encourage illegal immigration’ seems just a little bit ‘off.’ ”

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Defense Spending and Defense Needs: Not in Sync

The Conservative party in Britain has pledged to adopt the American practice of carrying out a “strategic review” every four years. Based on the latest Quadrennial Defense Review, which came out today, I’m not sure why they would bother. The QDR is not terrible or wrong-headed; in fact, I think it’s fairly sensible on the whole. But it’s also not particularly interesting or surprising — which is pretty much what you would expect from a report produced by a large committee and overseen by the same defense secretary who has put into place many of the policies under review. I agree with Robert Haddick’s take in the Small Wars Journal:

Rather than reading a document about strategies for the future, I had the sense that I was reading a business corporation’s annual report covering the past fiscal year. I stopped counting how many times the QDR said, “the Department will continue to …” or something similar.

Haddick goes on to note that the QDR “hints at, but leaves unsaid, many necessary and sometimes painful changes the Pentagon will need to make. In this sense the QDR seems incomplete; it kicks several important cans down the road, leaving important decisions that should have been in the QDR for future reports.”

Some of the challenges left unaddressed by the QDR are spelled out in this study by Mackenzie Eaglen at the Heritage Foundation. She notes a number of disturbing long-term trends, including the fact that  “core” defense spending (excluding contingencies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is already just 3.9 percent of GDP and set to decline under the Obama blueprint. Defense spending, even with a current budget of $690 billion, is less than 18 percent of federal spending and has been rapidly declining as a share of the federal budget over time, while entitlement spending (currently 35 percent of the budget) continues to grow.

Within the defense budget, an ever-growing share of the spending is being consumed by personnel expenditures and current operations, which leaves not enough money to recapitalize aging equipment (the U.S. Air Force continues to operate transport aircraft and tankers that are over 40 years old) and an ever-shrinking storehouse of advanced weapons systems (the U.S. Navy has the smallest number of ships since 1916). She might have mentioned, but didn’t, that the U.S. doesn’t have enough soldiers to meet all its commitments. The Army was 710,000 strong at the end of the Cold War in 1991; today it’s down 553,000 personnel.

In other words, there is a fundamental mismatch between ends and means — between what we’re willing to spend on defense and what we need to meet our global commitments. And that’s not even taking into account all the new challenges laid out in the QDR relating to areas such as cyberspace and “anti-access” threats (e.g., long-range cruise missiles that can pick off our naval ships in the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Strait). This QDR, like the preceding QDRs, is better at laying out the challenges than it is at suggesting realistic ways they can be met. It might at least have sounded a warning about some of these looming problems. Instead, it is largely a ratification of the status quo.

The Conservative party in Britain has pledged to adopt the American practice of carrying out a “strategic review” every four years. Based on the latest Quadrennial Defense Review, which came out today, I’m not sure why they would bother. The QDR is not terrible or wrong-headed; in fact, I think it’s fairly sensible on the whole. But it’s also not particularly interesting or surprising — which is pretty much what you would expect from a report produced by a large committee and overseen by the same defense secretary who has put into place many of the policies under review. I agree with Robert Haddick’s take in the Small Wars Journal:

Rather than reading a document about strategies for the future, I had the sense that I was reading a business corporation’s annual report covering the past fiscal year. I stopped counting how many times the QDR said, “the Department will continue to …” or something similar.

Haddick goes on to note that the QDR “hints at, but leaves unsaid, many necessary and sometimes painful changes the Pentagon will need to make. In this sense the QDR seems incomplete; it kicks several important cans down the road, leaving important decisions that should have been in the QDR for future reports.”

Some of the challenges left unaddressed by the QDR are spelled out in this study by Mackenzie Eaglen at the Heritage Foundation. She notes a number of disturbing long-term trends, including the fact that  “core” defense spending (excluding contingencies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is already just 3.9 percent of GDP and set to decline under the Obama blueprint. Defense spending, even with a current budget of $690 billion, is less than 18 percent of federal spending and has been rapidly declining as a share of the federal budget over time, while entitlement spending (currently 35 percent of the budget) continues to grow.

Within the defense budget, an ever-growing share of the spending is being consumed by personnel expenditures and current operations, which leaves not enough money to recapitalize aging equipment (the U.S. Air Force continues to operate transport aircraft and tankers that are over 40 years old) and an ever-shrinking storehouse of advanced weapons systems (the U.S. Navy has the smallest number of ships since 1916). She might have mentioned, but didn’t, that the U.S. doesn’t have enough soldiers to meet all its commitments. The Army was 710,000 strong at the end of the Cold War in 1991; today it’s down 553,000 personnel.

In other words, there is a fundamental mismatch between ends and means — between what we’re willing to spend on defense and what we need to meet our global commitments. And that’s not even taking into account all the new challenges laid out in the QDR relating to areas such as cyberspace and “anti-access” threats (e.g., long-range cruise missiles that can pick off our naval ships in the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Strait). This QDR, like the preceding QDRs, is better at laying out the challenges than it is at suggesting realistic ways they can be met. It might at least have sounded a warning about some of these looming problems. Instead, it is largely a ratification of the status quo.

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On The Same Team

Since John McCain wrapped up the nomination last week, his campaign and the RNC have effectively merged efforts for the 2008 election. The change is dramatic and affords McCain the assistance and research capabilities of the RNC. For example, in response to the announcement that the AFL-CIO will now spend $53M to target McCain, the RNC has put out a statement:

The AFL-CIO’s campaign against John McCain clearly demonstrates their priorities lie in attack politics as opposed to focusing on American families. Voters looking for something new will find it in John McCain’s campaign to help working families–not the AFL-CIO’s partisan attacks. Considering Senators Obama and Clinton’s frequent denunciations of special interests, they must reject the unions’ campaign against Senator McCain.

And Alex Conant, RNC Press Secretary, has come out with a nicely packaged bit of oppo research questioning whether an attack operation by big labor is really “new politics” or just the same old story of special interest money. Likewise, in response to the attack on McCain’s role in insisting that Boeing not receive a no-bid contract for a U.S. Air Force tanker, the RNC and McCain made sure to circulate this from McCain advisor Steve Schmidt:

Over the past few days, there have been a number of political attacks launched by John McCain’s political opponents attempting to blame him for the Boeing Company not being awarded the USAF tanker contract. Incredibly, several news organizations have parroted the attack. Here are the facts:

John McCain uncovered a massive taxpayer rip-off and evidence leading to corruption convictions for Boeing and Pentagon officials, some of whom went to jail for their crimes. The CEO of Boeing resigned.

John McCain’s investigation saved the taxpayers over $6 billion dollars.

So wrapping up the GOP nomination has many benefits for McCain–watching the Democrats snipe, for example–but one of them should not be underestimated: the full machinery of the the RNC is now at his disposal.

Since John McCain wrapped up the nomination last week, his campaign and the RNC have effectively merged efforts for the 2008 election. The change is dramatic and affords McCain the assistance and research capabilities of the RNC. For example, in response to the announcement that the AFL-CIO will now spend $53M to target McCain, the RNC has put out a statement:

The AFL-CIO’s campaign against John McCain clearly demonstrates their priorities lie in attack politics as opposed to focusing on American families. Voters looking for something new will find it in John McCain’s campaign to help working families–not the AFL-CIO’s partisan attacks. Considering Senators Obama and Clinton’s frequent denunciations of special interests, they must reject the unions’ campaign against Senator McCain.

And Alex Conant, RNC Press Secretary, has come out with a nicely packaged bit of oppo research questioning whether an attack operation by big labor is really “new politics” or just the same old story of special interest money. Likewise, in response to the attack on McCain’s role in insisting that Boeing not receive a no-bid contract for a U.S. Air Force tanker, the RNC and McCain made sure to circulate this from McCain advisor Steve Schmidt:

Over the past few days, there have been a number of political attacks launched by John McCain’s political opponents attempting to blame him for the Boeing Company not being awarded the USAF tanker contract. Incredibly, several news organizations have parroted the attack. Here are the facts:

John McCain uncovered a massive taxpayer rip-off and evidence leading to corruption convictions for Boeing and Pentagon officials, some of whom went to jail for their crimes. The CEO of Boeing resigned.

John McCain’s investigation saved the taxpayers over $6 billion dollars.

So wrapping up the GOP nomination has many benefits for McCain–watching the Democrats snipe, for example–but one of them should not be underestimated: the full machinery of the the RNC is now at his disposal.

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What the Airstrikes Mean

There has been a good deal of informed speculation in the press regarding the Israeli Air Force’s Sept. 6 raid on a suspected nuclear development site in Syria. (See, for instance, Bret Stephens’s excellent column in the Wall Street Journal.) Two aspects of the raid haven’t received enough attention, however.

First, the fact that the Israeli Air Force was able to catch the Syrians by surprise. There is no indication that any Israeli aircraft were shot down or even damaged. This is pretty significant: Syria has been making an effort to upgrade its air defenses in recent years by buying Russian-made surface-to-air missiles. Yet Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers were still able to strike deep into Syria unscathed.

Second, Syria has not (so far at least) mounted any kind of retaliation that we know of. Perhaps some counter-blow—possibly in the form of a terrorist attack against Israelis or even non-Israeli Jews—is coming. But so far the Syrian response can only be described as very muted. Perhaps the Syrians realize that, if they escalate the conflict, Israel can do far worse to Syria than Syria can do to Israel.

What do these two facts combined mean? They suggest that both Syria and its Iranian patrons (who have also been upgrading their air defenses with Russian help) remain very vulnerable to air attack by a sophisticated state like Israel or the United States. That increases the pressure on these “axis of evil” members to rethink their continuing efforts to facilitate attacks on Western forces in Iraq and to develop nuclear-weapons. They must know that whatever the Israeli Air Force can do, the U.S. Air Force can do on much bigger scale. If anything will lead them to negotiate seriously, that is it.

Even so, I can’t say I have much hope they will mend their ways until they see that the U.S. has not only the capability to hurt them but also the willingness to do so. As the Journal’s editorial board argues today, Tehran has been told it will pay a price for killing Americans, but it never has.”

There has been a good deal of informed speculation in the press regarding the Israeli Air Force’s Sept. 6 raid on a suspected nuclear development site in Syria. (See, for instance, Bret Stephens’s excellent column in the Wall Street Journal.) Two aspects of the raid haven’t received enough attention, however.

First, the fact that the Israeli Air Force was able to catch the Syrians by surprise. There is no indication that any Israeli aircraft were shot down or even damaged. This is pretty significant: Syria has been making an effort to upgrade its air defenses in recent years by buying Russian-made surface-to-air missiles. Yet Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers were still able to strike deep into Syria unscathed.

Second, Syria has not (so far at least) mounted any kind of retaliation that we know of. Perhaps some counter-blow—possibly in the form of a terrorist attack against Israelis or even non-Israeli Jews—is coming. But so far the Syrian response can only be described as very muted. Perhaps the Syrians realize that, if they escalate the conflict, Israel can do far worse to Syria than Syria can do to Israel.

What do these two facts combined mean? They suggest that both Syria and its Iranian patrons (who have also been upgrading their air defenses with Russian help) remain very vulnerable to air attack by a sophisticated state like Israel or the United States. That increases the pressure on these “axis of evil” members to rethink their continuing efforts to facilitate attacks on Western forces in Iraq and to develop nuclear-weapons. They must know that whatever the Israeli Air Force can do, the U.S. Air Force can do on much bigger scale. If anything will lead them to negotiate seriously, that is it.

Even so, I can’t say I have much hope they will mend their ways until they see that the U.S. has not only the capability to hurt them but also the willingness to do so. As the Journal’s editorial board argues today, Tehran has been told it will pay a price for killing Americans, but it never has.”

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Striking Iran: Cakewalk or Slam-Dunk?

In 1981, Israel hit Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak. Eight F-16 fighter-bombers and eight F-15 fighters swooped in to carry out a precision strike that set back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions by more than a decade.

As the whole world knows, Israel now faces a similar challenge from Iran, which has an ambitious nuclear program of its own, and whose president has threatened to wipe Israel from the map. Unlike Osirak, however, the Iranian program is housed in multiple sites, with the most critical ones hardened against attack from the air, and all of them situated much further away from Israel than Osirak was.

A key question therefore is whether Israel possesses the military means to attack the Iranian facility on its own, or whether it would depend upon the far mightier United States to help it or do the job in its entirety. This question is being analyzed in defense ministries and intelligence agencies around the world. But the central issues have been laid out for the public in great detail by two MIT military analysts, Whitney Raas and Austin Long, in a paper that appears in the spring issue of International Security.

One of the problems entailed in such a raid would be dealing with the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Raas and Long call “one of the most difficult and important targets.” It is 23 meters underground and covered by multiple layers of concrete, such that “only a very robust strike could hope to destroy or at least render unusable” the centrifuges that it houses. Read More

In 1981, Israel hit Iraq’s nuclear facility at Osirak. Eight F-16 fighter-bombers and eight F-15 fighters swooped in to carry out a precision strike that set back Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions by more than a decade.

As the whole world knows, Israel now faces a similar challenge from Iran, which has an ambitious nuclear program of its own, and whose president has threatened to wipe Israel from the map. Unlike Osirak, however, the Iranian program is housed in multiple sites, with the most critical ones hardened against attack from the air, and all of them situated much further away from Israel than Osirak was.

A key question therefore is whether Israel possesses the military means to attack the Iranian facility on its own, or whether it would depend upon the far mightier United States to help it or do the job in its entirety. This question is being analyzed in defense ministries and intelligence agencies around the world. But the central issues have been laid out for the public in great detail by two MIT military analysts, Whitney Raas and Austin Long, in a paper that appears in the spring issue of International Security.

One of the problems entailed in such a raid would be dealing with the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Raas and Long call “one of the most difficult and important targets.” It is 23 meters underground and covered by multiple layers of concrete, such that “only a very robust strike could hope to destroy or at least render unusable” the centrifuges that it houses.

To attack such a target, Israel would need to use penetrating warheads that are either “delay-fused bombs that have been modified to have a more ‘pointed’ shape and extensively structurally reinforced,” or even more advanced  warheads that “detonate in stages to increase penetration.” To destroy Natanz effectively, one technique, write Raas and Long, would be to use such weapons

targeted on the same aimpoint but separated slightly in release time to “burrow” into the target. Essentially one bomb hits the crater made by the previous weapon, a technique contemplated by the U.S. Air Force in the first Gulf war. This takes advantage of the extremely high accuracy of LGB’s [laser-guided bombs] in combination with a penetrating warhead. The IAF [Israeli Air Force] appears to have purchased penetrating LGB’s with this technique in mind. General Eitan Ben-Elyahu, former commander of the IAF and a participant in the Osirak strike, commented on this method of attacking hardened facilities in Jane’s Defense Weekly: “Even if one bomb would not suffice to penetrate, we could guide other bombs directly to the hole created by the previous ones and eventually destroy any target.”

Is Israel going to strike Iran? We do not yet know the answer, and there are many imponderables, including its calculation of whether the U.S. will strike first and its additional calculation of Tehran’s likely response.

Not only does Iran have long-range missiles but it also has Hizballah cells all over the world poised to carry out terror missions in the event of an attack. We ourselves are not exempt; according to the State Department’s 2006 annual report on terrorism, Hizballah has “established cells in Europe, Africa, South America, North America, and Asia.” If that were not enough, FBI Director Robert Mueller has confirmed that Hizballah “retains the capability to strike in the U.S.”

In response to Israeli attacks on its leaders in the early 1990’s, Hizballah, in separate incidents, bombed the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, killing 29, and the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, killing 85. Of course, once Iran has nuclear weapons, we would not be worrying about the lives of hundreds but the lives of hundreds of thousands and even millions. The dangers posed to Israel and to the rest of the world would thus seem to be intolerable, except of course to some of the writers at Vanity Fair—see my Learning to Love the Islamic Bomb.

However one judges Israeli intentions vis-a-vis Iran, the Raas-Long paper is of the view that the Jewish state has the capability to go it alone. Their conviction is that despite all the complexities of the Iranian target set, the advent of precision-guided munitions means that such an assault today would appear “to be no more risky than the earlier attack on Osirak.”

Of course, it should be obvious, at the same time, that such a military operation would be neither a slam-dunk nor a cakewalk. Thus, one does not have to be a Vanity Fair writer, or to love the Islamic bomb, to see that Israel’s decision, whatever it is, will be one of the biggest rolls of the dice in the sixty-year history of the Jewish state.

 

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