Commentary Magazine


Topic: United States Marine Corps

Don’t Balance the Budget on the Back of Defense

I am struck by the juxtaposition of two news items. First, it is being reported that Bob Gates is proposing $100 billion in defense cuts over the next five years, including the cancellation of the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Second it is being reported that China’s military modernization program is moving ahead faster than expected. In recent days, China has unveiled a new stealth fighter, the J-20, and a new ballistic missile that has been dubbed a “carrier killer” because it is designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers. China is also reportedly building its own aircraft carriers and taking other actions to beef up its arsenal.

Granted, China has a long way to go before it approaches parity with the U.S. — but then again, it doesn’t need parity. Much of our military spending goes to enable operations thousands of miles from home. China, by contrast, seems to lack global ambitions, at least for the moment. It is concerned with dominating its region. And that does not require that it match U.S. military capacity across the board. All it has to do is raise the cost to the U.S. of taking action to keep in check Chinese expansionism, whereas the U.S. must worry not only about the threat from China but also about North Korea, Iran, al-Qaeda, Somalia, Yemen, and myriad other concerns.

The cuts proposed by Secretary Gates do not seriously threaten America’s military position in the world. Heck, I’ve expressed my own skepticism about the utility of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. I am also not that alarmed about the cancellation of the F-22 or the pushing back of the Marine Corps’s vertical-takeoff version of the F-35; I think the Marine version of the F-35 could be canceled altogether, because the vertical takeoff and landing capability of the Harrier jump jet has so seldom been utilized in combat.

But I am concerned about talk of delaying or downsizing the overall F-35 program at a time when China and Russia are both fielding their own stealth fighters. More than that, I am worried that Gates’s cuts may be only the beginning of a drawdown that is happening even as we are still fighting a major war in Afghanistan. Already proposals are circulating — see, for instance, this Foreign Affairs article — for massive cutbacks, including the loss of hundreds of thousands of service personnel, that would eviscerate American power-projection capabilities. Alas, many in Congress, even some Republicans, appear to be open to deeper defense cuts.

I am all for addressing our runaway federal spending — but we won’t balance the budget on the back of the Defense Department. Not when defense spending is less than 20 percent of the budget and less than 5 percent of GDP. Getting our fiscal house in order requires cutting entitlement spending. Downsizing the military, by contrast, will contribute to future insecurity and turn out to be the most costly option in the long run. That is a lesson we should have learned in the past, many times over (as I argued in this op-ed).

I am struck by the juxtaposition of two news items. First, it is being reported that Bob Gates is proposing $100 billion in defense cuts over the next five years, including the cancellation of the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. Second it is being reported that China’s military modernization program is moving ahead faster than expected. In recent days, China has unveiled a new stealth fighter, the J-20, and a new ballistic missile that has been dubbed a “carrier killer” because it is designed to target U.S. aircraft carriers. China is also reportedly building its own aircraft carriers and taking other actions to beef up its arsenal.

Granted, China has a long way to go before it approaches parity with the U.S. — but then again, it doesn’t need parity. Much of our military spending goes to enable operations thousands of miles from home. China, by contrast, seems to lack global ambitions, at least for the moment. It is concerned with dominating its region. And that does not require that it match U.S. military capacity across the board. All it has to do is raise the cost to the U.S. of taking action to keep in check Chinese expansionism, whereas the U.S. must worry not only about the threat from China but also about North Korea, Iran, al-Qaeda, Somalia, Yemen, and myriad other concerns.

The cuts proposed by Secretary Gates do not seriously threaten America’s military position in the world. Heck, I’ve expressed my own skepticism about the utility of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. I am also not that alarmed about the cancellation of the F-22 or the pushing back of the Marine Corps’s vertical-takeoff version of the F-35; I think the Marine version of the F-35 could be canceled altogether, because the vertical takeoff and landing capability of the Harrier jump jet has so seldom been utilized in combat.

But I am concerned about talk of delaying or downsizing the overall F-35 program at a time when China and Russia are both fielding their own stealth fighters. More than that, I am worried that Gates’s cuts may be only the beginning of a drawdown that is happening even as we are still fighting a major war in Afghanistan. Already proposals are circulating — see, for instance, this Foreign Affairs article — for massive cutbacks, including the loss of hundreds of thousands of service personnel, that would eviscerate American power-projection capabilities. Alas, many in Congress, even some Republicans, appear to be open to deeper defense cuts.

I am all for addressing our runaway federal spending — but we won’t balance the budget on the back of the Defense Department. Not when defense spending is less than 20 percent of the budget and less than 5 percent of GDP. Getting our fiscal house in order requires cutting entitlement spending. Downsizing the military, by contrast, will contribute to future insecurity and turn out to be the most costly option in the long run. That is a lesson we should have learned in the past, many times over (as I argued in this op-ed).

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One More Reason Why the Military Is Among the Most Trusted of Institutions

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

I wanted to issue a concurring opinion to what Max wrote. I suspect the opposition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will, over time, appear either misplaced or exaggerated. Because social attitudes have shifted on gay rights so dramatically since the early 1990s, I rather doubt that the fears of DADT critics will be realized. As Max points out, the military has shown an impressive ability to adjust to shifting social mores. And other nations have adjusted fairly well to having openly gay members serve in the military.

I would add that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a persuasive argument, I think, in favor of congressional repeal because he foresaw a judgment by courts overturning the law. A legal judgment would require instant compliance, Gates warned, whereas a congressional repeal would allow time for the military to adapt.

Marine Corps commandant General James Amos was the most passionate advocate among the service chiefs against repealing DADT. “Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” Amos said in explaining his views on DADT. “That’s the currency of this fight. I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.” But now that the decision has been made, General Amos pledged to lead the effort to integrate openly gay Marines. Here is the text of the statement:

Fidelity is the essence of the United States Marine Corps. Above all else, we are loyal to the Constitution, our Commander in Chief, Congress, our Chain of Command, and the American people.  The House of Representatives and the Senate have voted to repeal Title 10, US Code 654 “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the United States Armed Forces.” As stated during my testimony before Congress in September and again during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, the Marine Corps will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new policy. I, and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, will personally lead this effort, thus ensuring the respect and dignity due all Marines. On this matter, we look forward to further demonstrating to the American people the discipline and loyalty that have been the hallmark of the United States Marine Corps for over 235 years.

Whatever one thinks of General Amos’s opposition to repealing DADT, his action today is quite impressive, and quite important. It’s also yet more evidence as to why the military is among the most trusted institutions in American life.

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Korea at Thanksgiving

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

Most veterans have spent a Thanksgiving on duty. Many have spent Thanksgiving overseas. Some — a growing number — have spent it on alert or in combat. Veterans the world over know what the troops in South Korea said to each other on Tuesday, when North Korea started shooting: “Well, there goes Thanksgiving.”

The timing is uncanny. On November 24, 1950, a month after the discovery of Chinese troops in the war, General Douglas MacArthur launched what became known as the “Home by Christmas” offensive with the U.S. Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps along the Ch’ongch’on River, deep in North Korea. In the previous months, U.S. forces had landed at Inchon and, with other coalition troops, recaptured Seoul. There had been some contact with the Chinese army in November, but the assessment was that the Chinese intended to demonstrate force and then withdraw across their border. MacArthur didn’t expect the fierce resistance his forces would encounter, nor was there any hint of it on the first day of the offensive. The Eighth Army troops had put together a Thanksgiving feast on November 23, and spirits were high.

Much of the battle lore of the Korean conflict comes from the bloody campaign that followed. It dragged into December and saw the fighting retreat of the Eighth Army and South Korean II Corps through North Korea, at the onset of the coldest winter in 100 years. U.S. troops were unprepared for the nights in which temperatures dropped to -30 degrees F. The carnage was punctuated by the slaughter of coalition troops in the “Gauntlet”: the valley through which ran the road to Sunchon. The Eighth Army lost more than 11,000 soldiers in the offensive, but an exact count could never be established. Records had been lost, and whole units destroyed, in the retreat.

On Thanksgiving Day 60 years later, I am thankful that America and South Korea came back from that retreat to fight again. There is a poignant oddity in a 57-year armistice; there are many things to say about failed policies, shaky political nerves, and wrong priorities. But as Kim Jong-il fires an artillery barrage at the South and issues hysterical threats, I am thankful that South Korea today is free, well-armed, and intensively drilled. I am thankful that we have 28,000 troops in South Korea, and plenty of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps forces in Japan. These factors alone are Kim’s biggest deterrent. He knows they will perform well even if there is ambiguity in the policy governing their operations.

It’s Thanksgiving in Korea again, and our forces there are on alert. They are a dedicated volunteer force; they believe in their mission and purpose. They will keep faith with those who fought before them — and with all those who have missed many a Thanksgiving standing watch over American security in the years since the “Home for Christmas” campaign of 1950.

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Retreat from Retreat?

We are told that the administration is to “tweak” its message on Afghanistan. But it sounds more like it is throwing in the towel on the most wrongheaded aspect of its Afghanistan policy:

In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. Implicit in their message, delivered at a security and diplomatic conference in Australia, was that the United States would be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

That’s no tweak; it’s an acknowledgment that a deadline devised by political hacks for partisan purposes (i.e., to keep the base from freaking out) is being discarded. About time. As always, no Obama maneuver can forgo dissembling: “There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,’ a senior administration official said Wednesday.” That obsession was the president’s, who last emphasized it from the Oval Office in a prime-time speech.

One of those aforementioned hacks is running for mayor of Chicago, and the other is about to depart for the 2012 campaign. More important, the liberal base has already absorbed the midterm losses and won’t have another chance to wreak havoc on Obama until 2012. So now the White House can do it right:

The message shift is effectively a victory for the military, which has long said that the July 2011 deadline undermined its mission by making Afghans reluctant to work with troops perceived to be leaving shortly. “They say you’ll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off,” Cpl. Lisa Gardner, a Marine based in Helmand Province, told a reporter this past spring. This summer Gen. James T. Conway, then the Marine Corps’s commandant, went so far as to say that the deadline “was probably giving our enemy sustenance.”

Last year the White House insisted on the July deadline to inject a sense of urgency into the Afghans to get their security in order — military officials acknowledge that it has partly worked — but also to quiet critics in the Democratic Party upset about Mr. Obama’s escalation of the war and his decision to order 30,000 more troops to the country.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision is the correct one. But this is pathetic. Obama didn’t have the political courage to do what was plainly in our strategic interests, with men on the field of battle, when he feared electoral consequences. Only when the coast is clear can he do the right thing. How completely not-Bush.

We are told that the administration is to “tweak” its message on Afghanistan. But it sounds more like it is throwing in the towel on the most wrongheaded aspect of its Afghanistan policy:

In a move away from President Obama’s deadline of July 2011 for the start of an American drawdown from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all cited 2014 this week as the key date for handing over the defense of Afghanistan to the Afghans themselves. Implicit in their message, delivered at a security and diplomatic conference in Australia, was that the United States would be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for at least four more years.

That’s no tweak; it’s an acknowledgment that a deadline devised by political hacks for partisan purposes (i.e., to keep the base from freaking out) is being discarded. About time. As always, no Obama maneuver can forgo dissembling: “There’s not really any change, but what we’re trying to do is to get past that July 2011 obsession so that people can see what the president’s strategy really entails,’ a senior administration official said Wednesday.” That obsession was the president’s, who last emphasized it from the Oval Office in a prime-time speech.

One of those aforementioned hacks is running for mayor of Chicago, and the other is about to depart for the 2012 campaign. More important, the liberal base has already absorbed the midterm losses and won’t have another chance to wreak havoc on Obama until 2012. So now the White House can do it right:

The message shift is effectively a victory for the military, which has long said that the July 2011 deadline undermined its mission by making Afghans reluctant to work with troops perceived to be leaving shortly. “They say you’ll leave in 2011 and the Taliban will chop their heads off,” Cpl. Lisa Gardner, a Marine based in Helmand Province, told a reporter this past spring. This summer Gen. James T. Conway, then the Marine Corps’s commandant, went so far as to say that the deadline “was probably giving our enemy sustenance.”

Last year the White House insisted on the July deadline to inject a sense of urgency into the Afghans to get their security in order — military officials acknowledge that it has partly worked — but also to quiet critics in the Democratic Party upset about Mr. Obama’s escalation of the war and his decision to order 30,000 more troops to the country.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision is the correct one. But this is pathetic. Obama didn’t have the political courage to do what was plainly in our strategic interests, with men on the field of battle, when he feared electoral consequences. Only when the coast is clear can he do the right thing. How completely not-Bush.

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Shifting Positions in the Far East?

While President Obama danced with Indian children and admired a moghul’s monument, our secretaries of state and defense were busy restructuring America’s security posture in Asia. It wasn’t clear before they went, as far as I can tell, that this is what they’d be doing. The Obama administration seems to keep finding major strategy shifts unexpectedly while rooting around in its pockets.

Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates have just concluded a successful visit to Australia during which they obtained agreements to significantly increase the use of Australian bases by the U.S. military. Now, I can attest that Townsville and Darwin, on Australia’s northern coast, are superb liberty ports. Working with our Australian allies is always a top-notch experience; count me a fan of having Oz on your “closest allies” list. But enlarging the U.S. military footprint anywhere is the kind of thing America does sparingly, for serious strategic reasons — and in the context of deliberate and announced policy. No such context is apparent with this move.

Speculation is rampant, however. The Australian media think we’re preparing for the likelihood that our major bases in Okinawa will have to close. The fate of the Marine Corps air forces stationed there does remain uncertain, but that difficult issue could be negotiated without sending a series of counterproductive signals during the process. There is no emergency demanding an immediate increase of U.S. forces in East Asia; under current conditions, shifting our basing scheme there can only be seen as a preemptive shift away from Japan. Read More

While President Obama danced with Indian children and admired a moghul’s monument, our secretaries of state and defense were busy restructuring America’s security posture in Asia. It wasn’t clear before they went, as far as I can tell, that this is what they’d be doing. The Obama administration seems to keep finding major strategy shifts unexpectedly while rooting around in its pockets.

Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates have just concluded a successful visit to Australia during which they obtained agreements to significantly increase the use of Australian bases by the U.S. military. Now, I can attest that Townsville and Darwin, on Australia’s northern coast, are superb liberty ports. Working with our Australian allies is always a top-notch experience; count me a fan of having Oz on your “closest allies” list. But enlarging the U.S. military footprint anywhere is the kind of thing America does sparingly, for serious strategic reasons — and in the context of deliberate and announced policy. No such context is apparent with this move.

Speculation is rampant, however. The Australian media think we’re preparing for the likelihood that our major bases in Okinawa will have to close. The fate of the Marine Corps air forces stationed there does remain uncertain, but that difficult issue could be negotiated without sending a series of counterproductive signals during the process. There is no emergency demanding an immediate increase of U.S. forces in East Asia; under current conditions, shifting our basing scheme there can only be seen as a preemptive shift away from Japan.

Rumors like this one, about a supposed drawdown of U.S. F-16s from Hokkaido, abound throughout Japan right now. Some Japanese suspect the U.S. is trying to wrest concessions from Tokyo with such drawdown threats. But I fervently hope we aren’t: if anything, at this moment, we should be strengthening and talking up our alliance with Japan. China and Russia have both made power moves against Japan in the past two months — moves involving history’s most common casus belli, disputed territory. By affirming a united front with Japan, we could induce them to step back. But sending random and confusing signals about our strategic intentions and true priorities is merely an accelerant to instability.

It’s not a policy-neutral act to shift our locus of military logistics away from Japan and toward Australia, Singapore, and Guam. Besides the politics, the distances involved are huge and significant to military operations. South Korea can be forgiven for doubting our commitment if we seem to be playing games with our bases in Japan. China, on the other hand, is justified in wondering what we have in mind, with this talk of a “military build-up” in Australia and Singapore. Neither venue is well suited to supporting a defense of Taiwan. There is an unpleasantly imperial ring to the proposition that we should ensure we can keep lots of forces in the theater regardless of any specific requirement for them.

That implication is especially discordant when the U.S. administration seems to be giving short shrift to the intrinsic importance of alliances. From the standpoint of American security, the single most significant factor in East Asia is our alliance with Japan. It is crude, mechanistic, and shortsighted to suppose that military force by itself can do the work of a key alliance. An alliance, however, can obviate much military force and many needless threats.

Bases in East Asia have been a benefit for us, but the alliance with Japan is the prize we need to tend. It does great harm to send the signal that we can’t wait for a political resolution with this longstanding ally before adjusting our military basing arrangements. If there is some emergency erupting in Southeast Asia that justifies ill-timed action in this regard, it would be nice if the Obama administration would clarify for the American people what it is.

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The War Over COIN

In certain U.S. military circles, there has been a backlash against “COIN”– the acronym for counterinsurgency operations. This is a strategy for fighting guerrillas and terrorists, which has evolved over centuries and was last a focus of U.S. military study in the Vietnam War. Then in the 1970s it was discarded in a mental rubbish bin, only to be revived and updated midway through the Iraq War, when it became apparent that conventional, firepower-intensive ways of war were not going to defeat elusive insurgents. The key moment was the publication at the end of 2007 of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual — the first manual on the subject produced for the general forces in decades. Shortly after it came out, one of its authors, General David Petraeus, was dispatched to Iraq to oversee the surge. The rest, as they say, is history.

Iraq seems to have validated many of the tenets of COIN theory, and Petraeus is now applying them to Afghanistan. A good summary of current COIN thinking can be found in Petraeus’s “Counterinsurgency Guidance,” which advises his troopers, inter alia, to “secure and serve the population,” “live among the people,” and “consult and build relationships.” All this sounds like common sense except that it runs counter to conventional military thinking, which calls for large forces to sweep through insurgent areas, killing lots of bad guys in the hope of defeating the insurgency. COIN theory is centered not on merely killing bad guys but on identifying them, which can only be done with the help of the populace.

No matter how many times these lessons are validated in battle, they have their critics in the conventional military, who argue that today the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, in particular, have put too much emphasis on COIN and not enough on conventional missions such as armored warfare or amphibious landings. They fret that by getting ready for COIN — a particularly thankless and difficult task — the military will be asked to do more of it, and they don’t think that’s in our national interest.

Nadia Schadlow, a leading security scholar and a senior program officer at the Smith Richardson Foundation (which, full disclosure, has provided some funding for my work), has now penned a compelling critique of the anti-COIN arguments in the Armed Forces Journal. The whole essay is well worth reading.

Schadlow argues that guerrilla warfare and terrorism are “recurring” forms of warfare and to prepare for them is the best way to ensure that adversaries will be deterred from attacking us. She also counters the argument that the army has become too COIN-centric, writing that “the Army’s overall approach over the past several years has been to build and train a force capable of fighting across the full spectrum of operations.”

She concludes:

The current COIN doctrine emerged as a corrective to the American tendency to take an engineering or technological approach to war, one that divorces war from its enduring human, psychological and political nature. COIN doctrine, therefore, fills an important gap by identifying operational and tactical requirements that are a part of war — particularly those wars that involve insurgents who are fighting to undermine legitimate governments and establish control over populations or territory.

This is a debate well worth having; no military force should subscribe exclusively to one worldview or orthodoxy. But in the continuing debate over COIN doctrine, count me on Schadlow’s side — we’d better get ready for these types of conflicts because guerrillas and terrorists aren’t going away.

In certain U.S. military circles, there has been a backlash against “COIN”– the acronym for counterinsurgency operations. This is a strategy for fighting guerrillas and terrorists, which has evolved over centuries and was last a focus of U.S. military study in the Vietnam War. Then in the 1970s it was discarded in a mental rubbish bin, only to be revived and updated midway through the Iraq War, when it became apparent that conventional, firepower-intensive ways of war were not going to defeat elusive insurgents. The key moment was the publication at the end of 2007 of the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual — the first manual on the subject produced for the general forces in decades. Shortly after it came out, one of its authors, General David Petraeus, was dispatched to Iraq to oversee the surge. The rest, as they say, is history.

Iraq seems to have validated many of the tenets of COIN theory, and Petraeus is now applying them to Afghanistan. A good summary of current COIN thinking can be found in Petraeus’s “Counterinsurgency Guidance,” which advises his troopers, inter alia, to “secure and serve the population,” “live among the people,” and “consult and build relationships.” All this sounds like common sense except that it runs counter to conventional military thinking, which calls for large forces to sweep through insurgent areas, killing lots of bad guys in the hope of defeating the insurgency. COIN theory is centered not on merely killing bad guys but on identifying them, which can only be done with the help of the populace.

No matter how many times these lessons are validated in battle, they have their critics in the conventional military, who argue that today the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, in particular, have put too much emphasis on COIN and not enough on conventional missions such as armored warfare or amphibious landings. They fret that by getting ready for COIN — a particularly thankless and difficult task — the military will be asked to do more of it, and they don’t think that’s in our national interest.

Nadia Schadlow, a leading security scholar and a senior program officer at the Smith Richardson Foundation (which, full disclosure, has provided some funding for my work), has now penned a compelling critique of the anti-COIN arguments in the Armed Forces Journal. The whole essay is well worth reading.

Schadlow argues that guerrilla warfare and terrorism are “recurring” forms of warfare and to prepare for them is the best way to ensure that adversaries will be deterred from attacking us. She also counters the argument that the army has become too COIN-centric, writing that “the Army’s overall approach over the past several years has been to build and train a force capable of fighting across the full spectrum of operations.”

She concludes:

The current COIN doctrine emerged as a corrective to the American tendency to take an engineering or technological approach to war, one that divorces war from its enduring human, psychological and political nature. COIN doctrine, therefore, fills an important gap by identifying operational and tactical requirements that are a part of war — particularly those wars that involve insurgents who are fighting to undermine legitimate governments and establish control over populations or territory.

This is a debate well worth having; no military force should subscribe exclusively to one worldview or orthodoxy. But in the continuing debate over COIN doctrine, count me on Schadlow’s side — we’d better get ready for these types of conflicts because guerrillas and terrorists aren’t going away.

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Marine Commandant: Obama Deadline Helps the Enemy

Obama’s timeline for the withdrawal of troops has been roundly criticized by conservatives as well as responsible Democrats like Sen. Diane Feinstein. Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have been prevailed upon to fall in line with the president. But not the Marine commandant. He has the luxury of speaking his mind, for he is on the verge of retirement:

[R]etiring General James Conway said he believed Marines would not be in a position to withdraw from the fight in Southern Afghanistan for years, even though he acknowledged that Americans were growing “tired” of the 9-year-old war.

Conway’s unusually blunt assessment is likely to fan criticism of Obama’s war strategy ahead of U.S. congressional elections in November, as public opinion of the conflict sours further and casualties rise.

“In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance,” Conway, the Marine Corps’ commandant, said of the July 2011 deadline.

“In fact we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.'” …

Conway, quoting one of his own commanders, told reporters: “We can either lose fast or win slow.”

If that is accurate — and we have no reason to doubt that it is — then the president has inexcusably endangered our troops, made the American war effort more difficult, and refused, despite available evidence, to reverse himself.

The error in strategy should have been corrected long ago, and it is important for congressional oversight committees to probe the evidence to which Conway refers. The president, however, can still do the right thing:

The timetable for withdrawal is certain to come under close scrutiny in a White House strategy review in December, which Obama called for last year when he announced the July 2011 deadline and 30,000 additional forces.

“We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011,” Conway told reporters at the Pentagon.

“Though I certainly believe that some American units somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghanistan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines.”

Conway is certainly accurate about the West Point rollout speech, in which Obama simultaneously tried to follow his military leaders’ advice about the deployment of more troops and to satisfy the left wing of his party (no “open-ended commitments” for them). That’s no way to win a war and a disservice to the troops who are risking life and limb. Obama is especially loath to admit error, but in this case there is no alternative if he intends to fulfill his responsibilities as commander in chief.

Obama’s timeline for the withdrawal of troops has been roundly criticized by conservatives as well as responsible Democrats like Sen. Diane Feinstein. Gen. David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have been prevailed upon to fall in line with the president. But not the Marine commandant. He has the luxury of speaking his mind, for he is on the verge of retirement:

[R]etiring General James Conway said he believed Marines would not be in a position to withdraw from the fight in Southern Afghanistan for years, even though he acknowledged that Americans were growing “tired” of the 9-year-old war.

Conway’s unusually blunt assessment is likely to fan criticism of Obama’s war strategy ahead of U.S. congressional elections in November, as public opinion of the conflict sours further and casualties rise.

“In some ways, we think right now it is probably giving our enemy sustenance,” Conway, the Marine Corps’ commandant, said of the July 2011 deadline.

“In fact we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only need to hold out for so long.'” …

Conway, quoting one of his own commanders, told reporters: “We can either lose fast or win slow.”

If that is accurate — and we have no reason to doubt that it is — then the president has inexcusably endangered our troops, made the American war effort more difficult, and refused, despite available evidence, to reverse himself.

The error in strategy should have been corrected long ago, and it is important for congressional oversight committees to probe the evidence to which Conway refers. The president, however, can still do the right thing:

The timetable for withdrawal is certain to come under close scrutiny in a White House strategy review in December, which Obama called for last year when he announced the July 2011 deadline and 30,000 additional forces.

“We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011,” Conway told reporters at the Pentagon.

“Though I certainly believe that some American units somewhere in Afghanistan will turn over responsibilities to Afghanistan security forces in 2011, I do not think they will be Marines.”

Conway is certainly accurate about the West Point rollout speech, in which Obama simultaneously tried to follow his military leaders’ advice about the deployment of more troops and to satisfy the left wing of his party (no “open-ended commitments” for them). That’s no way to win a war and a disservice to the troops who are risking life and limb. Obama is especially loath to admit error, but in this case there is no alternative if he intends to fulfill his responsibilities as commander in chief.

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Defending Our Afghanistan Policy

From the left and the right, this morning’s newspapers bring fundamental challenges to our Afghanistan policy.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the U.S. war effort is simply too costly. He suggests withdrawing troops and instead building schools. “That,” he argues, “would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.”

Over in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, Jack Devine, a former CIA officer who was involved in efforts to help the mujahideen in the 1980s, also argues for withdrawing U.S. soldiers. His preferred alternative is relying on his former employer, the CIA, to mobilize Afghan proxies on our behalf. He admits that after a troop withdrawal, which he envisions happening in 2012, “Afghanistan will likely enter a period of heightened instability,” including the possible collapse of the government, so he advises “we should figure out now which tribal leaders — and, under specially negotiated arrangements, which Taliban factions — we could establish productive relationships with.”

I’ve written a longer article based on my recent visit to Afghanistan for an upcoming issue of Commentary that explains why the policy we’re currently following offers our best chance of success and why there is no realistic Plan B on the horizon. But let me just point out a few of the more obvious problems with Kristof’s and Devine’s prescriptions.

Take Kristof first: he places an awful lot of faith in the power of education despite the fact that some types of education — like that provided in many madrassas — actually fuels extremism. Presumably, he has in mind secular schools that educate boys and girls. He might ask himself how long such schools would last under a Taliban regime — which would be the inevitable result of an American pullout.

Kristof takes comfort from the fact that some foreign-funded schools are able to operate today in dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the connivance of local tribes, but the Taliban today don’t exercise absolute control over most parts of Afghanistan. Even in areas of strength, they often must make compromises with local factions and avoid antagonizing the people because they know that if they do, the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies may take advantage of a popular backlash to push them out. If the U.S. actually left and the Taliban were able to consolidate their rule, it is safe to say they would exercise no such restraint. They certainly didn’t in the 1990s when few schools were operating, and practically none admitted girls.

More broadly, a Taliban takeover would be a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. How would women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, and other cherished liberal values fare under those conditions? Perhaps Kristof should ponder those questions a bit before suggesting the withdrawal of the most humane and liberal force in Afghanistan — the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

Devine’s argument appears, on the surface, to be more hardheaded, but actually, it is almost as unrealistic — and not incompatible with Kristof’s fantasy, as I bet Kristof imagines that his “schools for all” option could be supplemented by Special Operations and CIA actions to keep the Taliban in check. Such operations worked well in the past, as Devine notes, when the CIA was helping the mujahideen resist Soviet rule and then again in 2001, when it was helping the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban. But there is a fundamental disparity between those situations and the one we face today. It’s much easier for a covert force to overthrow a government, especially an unpopular government like the Soviet-backed regime or the Taliban. Altogether more difficult is imposing the rule of law, extending the authority of a new government, and stamping out a tenacious insurgency. Those are the challenges that we face today in Afghanistan, and they can’t be accomplished by a handful of special operators. They require large troop numbers, and because the Afghan National Army still lacks adequate capacity to police the country, its efforts must be supplemented for the short-term by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Devine’s prescription – making common cause with local strongmen — would make the problem worse, not better. Much of the reason the Taliban were able to stage a resurgence beginning around 2005 was that after 2001, we had not sent large troop numbers into Afghanistan. Instead, we relied on unsavory local allies who, with our help, built up vast networks of patronage and corruption that alienated the people and made some of them turn to the Taliban for succor. (For a profile of one of these unsavory characters, turn to the Washington Post today).  As Richard Holbrooke notes, “Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with their No. 1 recruiting tool.” Devine’s strategy of bolstering local strongmen would make the corruption problem even worse and would thereby make the Taliban even stronger.

POSTSCRIPT: An American working in Afghanistan points out another problem with Kristof’s argument that I should have noted: “How will Kristof’s schools get built if there’s no U.S. presence to make sure they’re done? How many billions have we already had stolen by the locals and local governments, right under our noses?” Good point. The deeper one delves, the more absurdities emerge with Kristof’s “schools rather than troops” daydream.

From the left and the right, this morning’s newspapers bring fundamental challenges to our Afghanistan policy.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the U.S. war effort is simply too costly. He suggests withdrawing troops and instead building schools. “That,” he argues, “would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.”

Over in the Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, Jack Devine, a former CIA officer who was involved in efforts to help the mujahideen in the 1980s, also argues for withdrawing U.S. soldiers. His preferred alternative is relying on his former employer, the CIA, to mobilize Afghan proxies on our behalf. He admits that after a troop withdrawal, which he envisions happening in 2012, “Afghanistan will likely enter a period of heightened instability,” including the possible collapse of the government, so he advises “we should figure out now which tribal leaders — and, under specially negotiated arrangements, which Taliban factions — we could establish productive relationships with.”

I’ve written a longer article based on my recent visit to Afghanistan for an upcoming issue of Commentary that explains why the policy we’re currently following offers our best chance of success and why there is no realistic Plan B on the horizon. But let me just point out a few of the more obvious problems with Kristof’s and Devine’s prescriptions.

Take Kristof first: he places an awful lot of faith in the power of education despite the fact that some types of education — like that provided in many madrassas — actually fuels extremism. Presumably, he has in mind secular schools that educate boys and girls. He might ask himself how long such schools would last under a Taliban regime — which would be the inevitable result of an American pullout.

Kristof takes comfort from the fact that some foreign-funded schools are able to operate today in dangerous parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan with the connivance of local tribes, but the Taliban today don’t exercise absolute control over most parts of Afghanistan. Even in areas of strength, they often must make compromises with local factions and avoid antagonizing the people because they know that if they do, the government of Afghanistan and its foreign allies may take advantage of a popular backlash to push them out. If the U.S. actually left and the Taliban were able to consolidate their rule, it is safe to say they would exercise no such restraint. They certainly didn’t in the 1990s when few schools were operating, and practically none admitted girls.

More broadly, a Taliban takeover would be a nightmare for the people of Afghanistan. How would women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, freedom of speech, and other cherished liberal values fare under those conditions? Perhaps Kristof should ponder those questions a bit before suggesting the withdrawal of the most humane and liberal force in Afghanistan — the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.

Devine’s argument appears, on the surface, to be more hardheaded, but actually, it is almost as unrealistic — and not incompatible with Kristof’s fantasy, as I bet Kristof imagines that his “schools for all” option could be supplemented by Special Operations and CIA actions to keep the Taliban in check. Such operations worked well in the past, as Devine notes, when the CIA was helping the mujahideen resist Soviet rule and then again in 2001, when it was helping the Northern Alliance overthrow the Taliban. But there is a fundamental disparity between those situations and the one we face today. It’s much easier for a covert force to overthrow a government, especially an unpopular government like the Soviet-backed regime or the Taliban. Altogether more difficult is imposing the rule of law, extending the authority of a new government, and stamping out a tenacious insurgency. Those are the challenges that we face today in Afghanistan, and they can’t be accomplished by a handful of special operators. They require large troop numbers, and because the Afghan National Army still lacks adequate capacity to police the country, its efforts must be supplemented for the short-term by the U.S. and its NATO allies.

Devine’s prescription – making common cause with local strongmen — would make the problem worse, not better. Much of the reason the Taliban were able to stage a resurgence beginning around 2005 was that after 2001, we had not sent large troop numbers into Afghanistan. Instead, we relied on unsavory local allies who, with our help, built up vast networks of patronage and corruption that alienated the people and made some of them turn to the Taliban for succor. (For a profile of one of these unsavory characters, turn to the Washington Post today).  As Richard Holbrooke notes, “Rampant corruption in Afghanistan provides the Taliban with their No. 1 recruiting tool.” Devine’s strategy of bolstering local strongmen would make the corruption problem even worse and would thereby make the Taliban even stronger.

POSTSCRIPT: An American working in Afghanistan points out another problem with Kristof’s argument that I should have noted: “How will Kristof’s schools get built if there’s no U.S. presence to make sure they’re done? How many billions have we already had stolen by the locals and local governments, right under our noses?” Good point. The deeper one delves, the more absurdities emerge with Kristof’s “schools rather than troops” daydream.

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Hey, Democrats Wanted These Two Senate Candidates

The Democrats’ electoral problems keep piling up. First, after spending gobs of money and political capital to rescue Blanche Lincoln, the White House and Democratic Senate Campaign Committee may have to throw in the towel on her race:

Republican John Boozman now holds a near two-to-one lead over Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the state. Boozman earns 61% of the vote, while Lincoln, coming off her Democratic Primary runoff win last week, picks up 32% support.

Then in the Connecticut race, Richard Blumenthal’s problem with truth-telling continues. He made the mistake of talking to a local reporter and, once again, made stuff up:

At one point in the interview, Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat, said he joined the Marine Corps Reserve in April 1970 knowing that reservists could be activated for service in Vietnam. “I did not want to avoid service,” he said. “I did realize reservists could be called up, and that it was something that I wanted to do.”

But military experts said there was no expectation that reserve units would be activated at the time Mr. Blumenthal enlisted, particularly given how drastically public opinion had turned against the war. …

In the interview with The Connecticut Mirror this week, Mr. Blumenthal sought to play down the instances in which he inaccurately described his military service, saying it was a “very limited” number of occasions.

“Whatever the number, I regret the mistake,” he said.

Mr. Blumenthal, 64, has also in recent weeks sought to defend his record of service in the military.

In the interview, he discussed the number he received in the draft lottery in 1969, just a few months before he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, according to the article.

His number in the December 1969 draft lottery, according to the Selective Service, was 152. People with numbers as high as 195 in that lottery were eligible to be drafted.

Mr. Blumenthal, in the interview, said that he did not remember the number he got in the draft lottery but that it was probably high enough to keep him out of the draft, according to the article.

David Curry, a professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, who is an expert on the Vietnam draft, said Mr. Blumenthal’s lottery number would have been cause for worry for someone who did not want to be drafted.

I wonder which Democrats are going to come into the state to sing his praises. Not all that many, I suspect. (No one really wants a photo showing himself arm-in-arm with Blumenthal.) He is currently far ahead in the polls, but a few more of these blunders, some hard-hitting ads, and some debates may change voters’ minds.

The Democrats’ electoral problems keep piling up. First, after spending gobs of money and political capital to rescue Blanche Lincoln, the White House and Democratic Senate Campaign Committee may have to throw in the towel on her race:

Republican John Boozman now holds a near two-to-one lead over Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race, according to the latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the state. Boozman earns 61% of the vote, while Lincoln, coming off her Democratic Primary runoff win last week, picks up 32% support.

Then in the Connecticut race, Richard Blumenthal’s problem with truth-telling continues. He made the mistake of talking to a local reporter and, once again, made stuff up:

At one point in the interview, Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat, said he joined the Marine Corps Reserve in April 1970 knowing that reservists could be activated for service in Vietnam. “I did not want to avoid service,” he said. “I did realize reservists could be called up, and that it was something that I wanted to do.”

But military experts said there was no expectation that reserve units would be activated at the time Mr. Blumenthal enlisted, particularly given how drastically public opinion had turned against the war. …

In the interview with The Connecticut Mirror this week, Mr. Blumenthal sought to play down the instances in which he inaccurately described his military service, saying it was a “very limited” number of occasions.

“Whatever the number, I regret the mistake,” he said.

Mr. Blumenthal, 64, has also in recent weeks sought to defend his record of service in the military.

In the interview, he discussed the number he received in the draft lottery in 1969, just a few months before he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, according to the article.

His number in the December 1969 draft lottery, according to the Selective Service, was 152. People with numbers as high as 195 in that lottery were eligible to be drafted.

Mr. Blumenthal, in the interview, said that he did not remember the number he got in the draft lottery but that it was probably high enough to keep him out of the draft, according to the article.

David Curry, a professor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, who is an expert on the Vietnam draft, said Mr. Blumenthal’s lottery number would have been cause for worry for someone who did not want to be drafted.

I wonder which Democrats are going to come into the state to sing his praises. Not all that many, I suspect. (No one really wants a photo showing himself arm-in-arm with Blumenthal.) He is currently far ahead in the polls, but a few more of these blunders, some hard-hitting ads, and some debates may change voters’ minds.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Not any doubt where Obama’s priorities lie. And thankfully, not everyone is confused as to who’s responsible for the flotilla incident. “Turkey sends a thugs bunch of Jew-baiting Al-Qaeda friendly street-fighters on a floating lynch party and the one party chided by name is … Israel. Well, those pesky facts aren’t too hard to pin down Mr. President–the folks you’ve pinned your peace hopes on are laughing in your face and rolling you like a duck pin.”

Not a good sign when Iran’s assessment is saner than Obama’s: “Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said resolutions such as the one passed by the U.N. Security Council today ‘have no value … it is like a used handkerchief that should be thrown in the waste bin.'”

Not holding my breath: “The main issues inside the conference still include whether and how to meet the Obama administration’s demand for an exemption from new sanctions for countries that are deemed to be ‘cooperating’ with U.S. efforts. Republican lawmakers worry that the White House will use that to broadly exempt some of Iran closest business partners, such as Russia and China. ‘It is clear the president’s policy has failed. It is now time for the Congress to approve the Iran sanctions bill currently in conference committee, without watering it down or plugging it full of loopholes, and then the president should actually use it,’ said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ.”

Not even her Washington Post colleagues can stomach Katrina vanden Heuvel’s “Bush is a Nazi” rant: “Mengele and his cohorts performed grotesque operations that left his victims with permanent physical, emotional and psychological scars — if they were lucky enough to survive. Most did not. Sometimes death was the objective; he would at times kill his ‘patients’ so that he could get right to the business of dissecting the body. This is monstrous. This is evil incarnate. This is not what the Bush administration did.” Why would the Post editors allow someone who can’t grasp this to write for them? (Really, a single Nation is one too many. Her role in the persecution of a Soviet dissident was covered by COMMENTARY in June 1988.)

Not a day on which this headline is inapt: “Beinart Gets It Wrong Again.” Hard to believe he knows even less about U.S. politics than he does Israeli politics, isn’t it?

Not every Democrat has lost his moral compass: “A member of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s staff, himself a former major and judge advocate in the U.S. Marines, is calling Blumenthal a liar and disgrace to the Marine Corps for representing himself repeatedly as having served in Vietnam.”

Not a friend in sight: “As Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) pivots from her surprise primary victory on Tuesday night to her general election run against Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark), she finds herself deserted both by traditional allies and outside groups that helped her win the nomination.” ( h/t Ben Smith)

Not going to waste time or money on her: “It’s nice for Blanche Lincoln that she won the runoff in Arkansas last night but I hope that no groups that care about getting Democratic Senators elected spend another dollar in the state this year. That doesn’t have anything to do with her ideology — judging her worthwhileness there is not part of my job as a pollster — but there are just a boatload of races where Democrats have a better chance to win this fall and could use their resources more wisely.”

Not winning support: “Though the vast majority of voters remain confident that Elena Kagan will be confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. Supreme Court, the number who oppose her confirmation has risen to its highest level to date. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 33% think Kagan should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. But 41% do not think she should be confirmed.”

Not a class act: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday there have been no second thoughts over President Obama’s coarse language directed at oil giant BP earlier in the week. ‘No, I have not heard any regrets about the language,’ Gibbs told reporters in his daily White House briefing.”

Not only Andrew Sullivan is obsessed with Sarah Palin’s breasts.

Not rallying around this character: “Today, South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler asked Alvin Greene to withdraw from the race for US Senate. Greene, a resident of Manning S.C., was the apparent winner of the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in yesterday’s primary. Since the election, the Associated Press has revealed that Greene was recently charged with disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity after showing obscene photos to a University of South Carolina student.”

Not any doubt where Obama’s priorities lie. And thankfully, not everyone is confused as to who’s responsible for the flotilla incident. “Turkey sends a thugs bunch of Jew-baiting Al-Qaeda friendly street-fighters on a floating lynch party and the one party chided by name is … Israel. Well, those pesky facts aren’t too hard to pin down Mr. President–the folks you’ve pinned your peace hopes on are laughing in your face and rolling you like a duck pin.”

Not a good sign when Iran’s assessment is saner than Obama’s: “Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said resolutions such as the one passed by the U.N. Security Council today ‘have no value … it is like a used handkerchief that should be thrown in the waste bin.'”

Not holding my breath: “The main issues inside the conference still include whether and how to meet the Obama administration’s demand for an exemption from new sanctions for countries that are deemed to be ‘cooperating’ with U.S. efforts. Republican lawmakers worry that the White House will use that to broadly exempt some of Iran closest business partners, such as Russia and China. ‘It is clear the president’s policy has failed. It is now time for the Congress to approve the Iran sanctions bill currently in conference committee, without watering it down or plugging it full of loopholes, and then the president should actually use it,’ said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-AZ.”

Not even her Washington Post colleagues can stomach Katrina vanden Heuvel’s “Bush is a Nazi” rant: “Mengele and his cohorts performed grotesque operations that left his victims with permanent physical, emotional and psychological scars — if they were lucky enough to survive. Most did not. Sometimes death was the objective; he would at times kill his ‘patients’ so that he could get right to the business of dissecting the body. This is monstrous. This is evil incarnate. This is not what the Bush administration did.” Why would the Post editors allow someone who can’t grasp this to write for them? (Really, a single Nation is one too many. Her role in the persecution of a Soviet dissident was covered by COMMENTARY in June 1988.)

Not a day on which this headline is inapt: “Beinart Gets It Wrong Again.” Hard to believe he knows even less about U.S. politics than he does Israeli politics, isn’t it?

Not every Democrat has lost his moral compass: “A member of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s staff, himself a former major and judge advocate in the U.S. Marines, is calling Blumenthal a liar and disgrace to the Marine Corps for representing himself repeatedly as having served in Vietnam.”

Not a friend in sight: “As Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) pivots from her surprise primary victory on Tuesday night to her general election run against Rep. John Boozman (R-Ark), she finds herself deserted both by traditional allies and outside groups that helped her win the nomination.” ( h/t Ben Smith)

Not going to waste time or money on her: “It’s nice for Blanche Lincoln that she won the runoff in Arkansas last night but I hope that no groups that care about getting Democratic Senators elected spend another dollar in the state this year. That doesn’t have anything to do with her ideology — judging her worthwhileness there is not part of my job as a pollster — but there are just a boatload of races where Democrats have a better chance to win this fall and could use their resources more wisely.”

Not winning support: “Though the vast majority of voters remain confident that Elena Kagan will be confirmed by the Senate to the U.S. Supreme Court, the number who oppose her confirmation has risen to its highest level to date. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely Voters shows 33% think Kagan should be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. But 41% do not think she should be confirmed.”

Not a class act: “White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday there have been no second thoughts over President Obama’s coarse language directed at oil giant BP earlier in the week. ‘No, I have not heard any regrets about the language,’ Gibbs told reporters in his daily White House briefing.”

Not only Andrew Sullivan is obsessed with Sarah Palin’s breasts.

Not rallying around this character: “Today, South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Carol Fowler asked Alvin Greene to withdraw from the race for US Senate. Greene, a resident of Manning S.C., was the apparent winner of the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in yesterday’s primary. Since the election, the Associated Press has revealed that Greene was recently charged with disseminating, procuring or promoting obscenity after showing obscene photos to a University of South Carolina student.”

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Fear and Loathing in the Far East

Conspiracy theorists would imagine that the Americans engineered the sinking of South Korean ship Cheonan – and pinned it on North Korea — as a means of pressuring Japan to agree to relocate the disputed Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. But conspiracies don’t work that well; only the natural course of events produces such ironies.

Shortly after Seoul announced its findings last week on the Cheonan sinking, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama publicly reversed his position on relocating the U.S. base. Vocal Okinawan activists have long wanted the U.S. Marine Corps out of their archipelagic prefecture entirely. Hatoyama promised during his 2009 campaign to revisit the previous government’s agreement to move the air base from its current position at Futenma to a new location in the Henoko district. And late last year he did just that, producing a months-long standoff with the U.S. over the fate of Marine Corps basing in Japan.

The Obama administration’s stance has been unyielding and less than cordial: December saw a painfully undiplomatic sequence in which President Obama refused a request for a sidebar with Hatoyama at the Copenhagen environmental summit; the Hatoyama government announced that it would not move on the basing matter at all until May 2010; and Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to lecture him on his government’s obligations under the previous agreement.

In spite of this unpromising history, however, the Hatoyama government has now agreed to continue with the plan to move the air base to Henoko. The move remains deeply unpopular in Okinawa, but Hatoyama is quite explicit about his reason: his concern for Japanese security in light of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

This is a pyrrhic victory for Obama’s diplomacy. The alliance with Japan is worth tending better; it might have been possible to achieve this or a similarly advantageous outcome without leaving Japan’s government and the Okinawans feeling cornered and resentful. But our “smart power” administration didn’t even try.

Events will not always yield blind luck and drive our allies to do what we want. With events likely to begin piling up faster than we can react to them, greater care is called for. Observing with our allies the basic norms of courtesy, access, negotiation, and compromise would go a long way toward cementing our commonality of purpose as the challenges to our global security arrangements accelerate.

Conspiracy theorists would imagine that the Americans engineered the sinking of South Korean ship Cheonan – and pinned it on North Korea — as a means of pressuring Japan to agree to relocate the disputed Marine Corps air base on Okinawa. But conspiracies don’t work that well; only the natural course of events produces such ironies.

Shortly after Seoul announced its findings last week on the Cheonan sinking, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama publicly reversed his position on relocating the U.S. base. Vocal Okinawan activists have long wanted the U.S. Marine Corps out of their archipelagic prefecture entirely. Hatoyama promised during his 2009 campaign to revisit the previous government’s agreement to move the air base from its current position at Futenma to a new location in the Henoko district. And late last year he did just that, producing a months-long standoff with the U.S. over the fate of Marine Corps basing in Japan.

The Obama administration’s stance has been unyielding and less than cordial: December saw a painfully undiplomatic sequence in which President Obama refused a request for a sidebar with Hatoyama at the Copenhagen environmental summit; the Hatoyama government announced that it would not move on the basing matter at all until May 2010; and Hillary Clinton summoned the Japanese ambassador to lecture him on his government’s obligations under the previous agreement.

In spite of this unpromising history, however, the Hatoyama government has now agreed to continue with the plan to move the air base to Henoko. The move remains deeply unpopular in Okinawa, but Hatoyama is quite explicit about his reason: his concern for Japanese security in light of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

This is a pyrrhic victory for Obama’s diplomacy. The alliance with Japan is worth tending better; it might have been possible to achieve this or a similarly advantageous outcome without leaving Japan’s government and the Okinawans feeling cornered and resentful. But our “smart power” administration didn’t even try.

Events will not always yield blind luck and drive our allies to do what we want. With events likely to begin piling up faster than we can react to them, greater care is called for. Observing with our allies the basic norms of courtesy, access, negotiation, and compromise would go a long way toward cementing our commonality of purpose as the challenges to our global security arrangements accelerate.

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A Military in Progress in Afghanistan

C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine officer turned New York Times correspondent, provides an update on how the Afghan National Army is doing in the Marjah offensive. It’s a mixed picture — pretty much what one would have expected. The Afghans are hardly leading and planning the mission, as suggested by some spinners in Kabul. Chivers writes:

In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

No surprise there, given how advanced the Marine Corps is and how relatively primitive the ANA remains. But the good news is that the ANA soldiers are not running away, either — as so many Iraqi soldiers did in the early years of the Iraq War. Chivers notes:

At the squad level [the ANA] has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform….

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant [Joseph G. Harms], who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

The main problem for the ANA is a lack of effective leadership. Chivers recounts an anecdote of an ANA captain taking away a Red Bull that one of his men had acquired in a trade with a marine; the captain and his officers and NCOs drank the entire beverage and didn’t let the poor soldier have a sip. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the Marine Corps, where officers are drilled to always take care of the men first and foremost. That ethic is alien to the ANA, as it is to most Third World militaries, and it will take time to inculcate it, however imperfectly.

It will take just as long to teach ANA officers to conduct complex operations. The task is actually more difficult than in Iraq because of the lower level of literacy and education in Afghanistan, but it’s not impossible. If the Taliban can field effective leadership, so can the ANA. Just don’t expect results overnight — and don’t write off the ANA as hopeless because they can’t perform up to USMC standards.

C.J. “Chris” Chivers, a former Marine officer turned New York Times correspondent, provides an update on how the Afghan National Army is doing in the Marjah offensive. It’s a mixed picture — pretty much what one would have expected. The Afghans are hardly leading and planning the mission, as suggested by some spinners in Kabul. Chivers writes:

In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line American Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by American officers and troops. They organized the forces for battle, transported them in American vehicles and helicopters from Western-run bases into Taliban-held ground, and have been the primary fighting force each day.

No surprise there, given how advanced the Marine Corps is and how relatively primitive the ANA remains. But the good news is that the ANA soldiers are not running away, either — as so many Iraqi soldiers did in the early years of the Iraq War. Chivers notes:

At the squad level [the ANA] has been a source of effective, if modestly skilled, manpower. Its soldiers have shown courage and a willingness to fight. Afghan soldiers have also proved, as they have for years, to be more proficient than Americans at searching Afghan homes and identifying potential Taliban members — two tasks difficult for outsiders to perform….

“They are a lot better than the Iraqis,” said the sergeant [Joseph G. Harms], who served a combat tour in Iraq. “They understand all of our formations, they understand how to move. They know how to flank and they can recognize the bad guys a lot better than we can.”

The main problem for the ANA is a lack of effective leadership. Chivers recounts an anecdote of an ANA captain taking away a Red Bull that one of his men had acquired in a trade with a marine; the captain and his officers and NCOs drank the entire beverage and didn’t let the poor soldier have a sip. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the Marine Corps, where officers are drilled to always take care of the men first and foremost. That ethic is alien to the ANA, as it is to most Third World militaries, and it will take time to inculcate it, however imperfectly.

It will take just as long to teach ANA officers to conduct complex operations. The task is actually more difficult than in Iraq because of the lower level of literacy and education in Afghanistan, but it’s not impossible. If the Taliban can field effective leadership, so can the ANA. Just don’t expect results overnight — and don’t write off the ANA as hopeless because they can’t perform up to USMC standards.

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The Need for Getting Good at Nation Building

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

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Obama’s Japan Fumble

President Barack Obama is losing ground on all three points of controversy in the Japan-U.S. security alliance, and his meeting today with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama did nothing to improve the U.S. position.

Japan is one of America’s most important allies, geopolitically essential for U.S.-East Asian policy and security efforts. The American presence in Japan has, among other things, been a deterrent to North Korea, a guarantor for Taiwan, and a balance for China, all of which stabilize East Asia. But this summer, Japan’s politics changed as the Democratic Party of Japan overturned the Liberal Democratic Party for the first time in 16 years. And while the new prime minister has called the U.S.-Japan alliance “the axis of Japan’s foreign policies,” his goals suggest the contrary. Up for debate is Japan’s refueling mission to Afghanistan, the status of a U.S. marine base in Okinawa, and — most important — a nearly 50-year-old security treaty between the two countries.

Let’s start with the latter, and most troubling, of these possible changes: the review of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The treaty establishes U.S. protection of Japan in exchange for an American military presence on Japanese soil. Revising that treaty to decrease U.S. military presence would diminish American influence, capability, and agility in the region.

And if the ruling party’s attitude toward the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Base in Okinawa is any indication, the American military presence in Japan could eventually encounter an even larger threat. The U.S. agreed in 2005 to relocate the Futenma base to a remote coastal area. But Prime Minister Hatoyama might want the base outside Japan altogether — hardly a surprise, considering that he campaigned partially on promises to reduce the U.S. military presence in Japan.

As Tokyo considers what it will do about Futenma, Obama has announced “ministerial-level meetings to discuss” the situation. But the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, said America’s “hope and expectation [is] that, at the end of that process [of review], the government will be comfortable with that [original] agreement.” He added, “The United States believes that the agreement is vital, that after considering all the alternatives this is the best agreement for the stability, the security and the strength of the alliance.”

That brings us to the Japanese Indian Ocean refueling mission, which is important more symbolically than logistically. The mission is primarily acknowledged as an act of Japanese support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and it has continued nearly uninterrupted since its inception in 2001, pausing only for three months when the DPJ won control of the upper house of parliament is 2008. But by all accounts, parliament will allow the mission to expire by January, despite urges to renew from Pakistan, Britain, and especially the United States. Instead, Japan will send money and vocational training to Afghanistan.

These security questions between the United States and Japan remain unresolved. So what of the Toyko meeting? Obama warned Asia against reliance on U.S. consumers and talked about nuclear disarmament and climate change. (Well, he did also get on a first-name basis with Yukio Hatoyama — duly lauded in the joint remarks.) But he accomplished nothing on the security front. East Asia remains a dangerous neighborhood, and the increasingly precarious security holdings there deserve more of Obama’s attention. This is yet another instance where American delay could really hurt.

President Barack Obama is losing ground on all three points of controversy in the Japan-U.S. security alliance, and his meeting today with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama did nothing to improve the U.S. position.

Japan is one of America’s most important allies, geopolitically essential for U.S.-East Asian policy and security efforts. The American presence in Japan has, among other things, been a deterrent to North Korea, a guarantor for Taiwan, and a balance for China, all of which stabilize East Asia. But this summer, Japan’s politics changed as the Democratic Party of Japan overturned the Liberal Democratic Party for the first time in 16 years. And while the new prime minister has called the U.S.-Japan alliance “the axis of Japan’s foreign policies,” his goals suggest the contrary. Up for debate is Japan’s refueling mission to Afghanistan, the status of a U.S. marine base in Okinawa, and — most important — a nearly 50-year-old security treaty between the two countries.

Let’s start with the latter, and most troubling, of these possible changes: the review of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The treaty establishes U.S. protection of Japan in exchange for an American military presence on Japanese soil. Revising that treaty to decrease U.S. military presence would diminish American influence, capability, and agility in the region.

And if the ruling party’s attitude toward the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Base in Okinawa is any indication, the American military presence in Japan could eventually encounter an even larger threat. The U.S. agreed in 2005 to relocate the Futenma base to a remote coastal area. But Prime Minister Hatoyama might want the base outside Japan altogether — hardly a surprise, considering that he campaigned partially on promises to reduce the U.S. military presence in Japan.

As Tokyo considers what it will do about Futenma, Obama has announced “ministerial-level meetings to discuss” the situation. But the U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, said America’s “hope and expectation [is] that, at the end of that process [of review], the government will be comfortable with that [original] agreement.” He added, “The United States believes that the agreement is vital, that after considering all the alternatives this is the best agreement for the stability, the security and the strength of the alliance.”

That brings us to the Japanese Indian Ocean refueling mission, which is important more symbolically than logistically. The mission is primarily acknowledged as an act of Japanese support for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, and it has continued nearly uninterrupted since its inception in 2001, pausing only for three months when the DPJ won control of the upper house of parliament is 2008. But by all accounts, parliament will allow the mission to expire by January, despite urges to renew from Pakistan, Britain, and especially the United States. Instead, Japan will send money and vocational training to Afghanistan.

These security questions between the United States and Japan remain unresolved. So what of the Toyko meeting? Obama warned Asia against reliance on U.S. consumers and talked about nuclear disarmament and climate change. (Well, he did also get on a first-name basis with Yukio Hatoyama — duly lauded in the joint remarks.) But he accomplished nothing on the security front. East Asia remains a dangerous neighborhood, and the increasingly precarious security holdings there deserve more of Obama’s attention. This is yet another instance where American delay could really hurt.

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Not An Illegitimate Question

As more of Reverend Wright’s pearls of wisdom come out (“We cannot see, however, what we are doing is the same thing al Qaeda is doing under a different colored flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem”) and he reappears for an interview with Bill Moyers, there are many of us who are perplexed by John McCain’s reticence to discuss the matter.

But now we have Barack Obama’s thoughts. In an interview with Chris Wallace he says:

I think that people were legitimately offended by some of the comments that he had made in the past. The fact that he is my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue….And so the question becomes, how do voters draw conclusions about my values? Do they talk about, do they look at the 20 years in which I’ve devoted my life to community service? Do they about the work I did as a community organizer working with Catholic parishes and churches to bring people together to set up job training programs for the unemployed and the poor? That’s a reflection of my values. Do they look at how I’ve raised my children and how I speak about my family? That’s a reflection of my values. I don’t think that the issue of Reverend Wright is illegitimate. I just think that the way it was reported was not I think a reflection of both that church that I attend and who I am.

Obama stumbles and mumbles a bit about when asked for particulars as to what he heard Wright say, and of course reverts to the “soundbite unfairness” mantra, but even he admits: This is fair game and he will need to explain how his devotion to Wright and choice of him as a “mentor” meshes with his post-racial rhetoric.

Now if he can say it, why can’t McCain? Well, perhaps looking for an excuse to get out of his political predicament (i.e. he can’t talk about a critical issue his likely opponent admits is a problem), McCain now seems to have walked through Obama’s open door. There was this exchange today at a press avail:

Question: Senator, the North Carolina GOP has continued to persist in this advertisement. I was wondering if you could talk about what steps, if any, you will continue to take?

McCain: I’ve stated my position very clearly that I don’t like the ad. I was interested that this morning Senator Obama said that it was a legitimate political issue. If he believes that, then it will probably be a political issue. I saw yesterday some additional comments that have been revealed by Pastor Wright, one of them comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our Savior. I mean being involved in that — it’s beyond belief. And then of course saying that Al Qaeda and the American Flag were the same flags. So I can understand — I can understand why the American people are upset about this. I can understand that Americans viewing these kinds of comments are angry and upset, just like they viewed Senator Obama’s statements about why people turn to their faith and their values. He believes that it’s out of economic concerns, when we all know that it’s out of fundamental belief, fundamental faith in this country and its values and its principles. Again, Senator Obama is out of touch. I can’t control and will not in the future control. I will voice my opinion and I will continue to think and to say that I think that ad should not be run. But I won’t continue to try to be the referee here.

And later:

Question: I just want to follow up on the Jeremiah Wright issue. you noted today that you saw that Obama said it’s a legitimate political issue, you’ve said previously it is not.

McCain: I have said that I will not have any comment on it and that because I thought and I believe that Senator Obama does not share those views. But Sen. Obama himself says it’s a legitimate political issue, so I would imagine that many other people will share that view, and it will be in the arena. But my position that Senator Obama doesn’t share those views remains the same.

Apparently all now agree: this is not an illegitimate issue.

As more of Reverend Wright’s pearls of wisdom come out (“We cannot see, however, what we are doing is the same thing al Qaeda is doing under a different colored flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem”) and he reappears for an interview with Bill Moyers, there are many of us who are perplexed by John McCain’s reticence to discuss the matter.

But now we have Barack Obama’s thoughts. In an interview with Chris Wallace he says:

I think that people were legitimately offended by some of the comments that he had made in the past. The fact that he is my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue….And so the question becomes, how do voters draw conclusions about my values? Do they talk about, do they look at the 20 years in which I’ve devoted my life to community service? Do they about the work I did as a community organizer working with Catholic parishes and churches to bring people together to set up job training programs for the unemployed and the poor? That’s a reflection of my values. Do they look at how I’ve raised my children and how I speak about my family? That’s a reflection of my values. I don’t think that the issue of Reverend Wright is illegitimate. I just think that the way it was reported was not I think a reflection of both that church that I attend and who I am.

Obama stumbles and mumbles a bit about when asked for particulars as to what he heard Wright say, and of course reverts to the “soundbite unfairness” mantra, but even he admits: This is fair game and he will need to explain how his devotion to Wright and choice of him as a “mentor” meshes with his post-racial rhetoric.

Now if he can say it, why can’t McCain? Well, perhaps looking for an excuse to get out of his political predicament (i.e. he can’t talk about a critical issue his likely opponent admits is a problem), McCain now seems to have walked through Obama’s open door. There was this exchange today at a press avail:

Question: Senator, the North Carolina GOP has continued to persist in this advertisement. I was wondering if you could talk about what steps, if any, you will continue to take?

McCain: I’ve stated my position very clearly that I don’t like the ad. I was interested that this morning Senator Obama said that it was a legitimate political issue. If he believes that, then it will probably be a political issue. I saw yesterday some additional comments that have been revealed by Pastor Wright, one of them comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our Savior. I mean being involved in that — it’s beyond belief. And then of course saying that Al Qaeda and the American Flag were the same flags. So I can understand — I can understand why the American people are upset about this. I can understand that Americans viewing these kinds of comments are angry and upset, just like they viewed Senator Obama’s statements about why people turn to their faith and their values. He believes that it’s out of economic concerns, when we all know that it’s out of fundamental belief, fundamental faith in this country and its values and its principles. Again, Senator Obama is out of touch. I can’t control and will not in the future control. I will voice my opinion and I will continue to think and to say that I think that ad should not be run. But I won’t continue to try to be the referee here.

And later:

Question: I just want to follow up on the Jeremiah Wright issue. you noted today that you saw that Obama said it’s a legitimate political issue, you’ve said previously it is not.

McCain: I have said that I will not have any comment on it and that because I thought and I believe that Senator Obama does not share those views. But Sen. Obama himself says it’s a legitimate political issue, so I would imagine that many other people will share that view, and it will be in the arena. But my position that Senator Obama doesn’t share those views remains the same.

Apparently all now agree: this is not an illegitimate issue.

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Why No Museum to Honor Soldiers?

Ralph Peters raises an excellent point in the New York Post today: Why is there a new museum in Washington to honor journalists (called the Newseum) but not one to honor the armed forces? There is, of course, some focus on military history at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History. But there is nothing in Washington like London’s Imperial War Museum or Canberra’s Australian War Memorial—both enthralling institutions that I have been lucky enough to wander through in the past year or so. They provide a perspective that neither documentaries nor history books can offer by allowing visitors to see the actual equipment used by combatants and even to experience reenactments of actual battles.

The closest that Washington has is the new National Museum of the Marine Corps. But it’s located at Quantico, Virginia, and while it is a first-rate piece of work (as good in its own way as the Imperial War Museum), it is devoted to only one of the military services. It is well past time for there to be an American Military Museum—or better still (because less politically correct) an American War Museum—in our nation’s capital.

Ralph Peters raises an excellent point in the New York Post today: Why is there a new museum in Washington to honor journalists (called the Newseum) but not one to honor the armed forces? There is, of course, some focus on military history at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History. But there is nothing in Washington like London’s Imperial War Museum or Canberra’s Australian War Memorial—both enthralling institutions that I have been lucky enough to wander through in the past year or so. They provide a perspective that neither documentaries nor history books can offer by allowing visitors to see the actual equipment used by combatants and even to experience reenactments of actual battles.

The closest that Washington has is the new National Museum of the Marine Corps. But it’s located at Quantico, Virginia, and while it is a first-rate piece of work (as good in its own way as the Imperial War Museum), it is devoted to only one of the military services. It is well past time for there to be an American Military Museum—or better still (because less politically correct) an American War Museum—in our nation’s capital.

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Freedom Fighter Called “Terrorist” by INS

Karen DeYoung published a story in the Washington Post that ought to embarrass anyone making decisions about who deserves permanent residence in the U.S.

Saman Kareem Ahmad is an Iraqi Kurd who worked as a translator with the Marines in Iraq’s Anbar Province. He was one of the few selected translators who was granted asylum in the U.S. because he and his family were singled out for destruction by insurgents for “collaboration.” He wants to return to Iraq as an American citizen and a Marine, and has already been awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter and General David Petraeus wrote notes for his file and recommended he be given a Green Card, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) declined his application and called him a “terrorist.”

The INS says Ahmad “conducted full-scale armed attacks and helped incite rebellions against Hussein’s regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom” while a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The KDP is one of two mainstream Kurdish political parties in Iraq. Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani is a member of the KDP. The KDP fought alongside the United States military as an ally during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After Operation Desert Storm the KDP fought the Saddam regime after President George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to do so. During the Iran-Iraq War, the KDP fought the Ba’athists because they were actively resisting genocide in the Kurdish region where Saddam used chemical weapons, artillery, air strikes, and napalm to exterminate them. And he’s a terrorist?

The Kurds in Iraq–unlike the Kurds in Turkey and the ever-popular Palestinians– did not use terrorism as a tactic in their struggle for liberation. They fought honorably against Saddam’s soldiers, not against Arab civilians in south and central Iraq.

The INS revealingly refers to the KDP as an “undesignated” terrorist organization. Which suggests it’s aware that the KDP isn’t a terrorist organization but has unilaterally labeled it as one regardless. The blogger Callimachus thinks it may be because the Patriot Act defines terrorism as “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place it was committed.” He correctly points out that Jews in Hitler’s Warsaw Ghetto were “terrorists” according to this brainless definition.

This is an absurd inversion of the already absurd “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” slogan. Usually this sophomoric claim is made by terrorists or by leftists who make excuses for terrorists. This time, the INS is calling an actual freedom fighter a terrorist.

Somebody should tell Vice President Dick Cheney. He met with the KDP’s Barzani himself just a few days ago. “That was a unique and interesting opportunity,” he said, “to go look at what’s happened in a part of Iraq that was obviously freed of Saddam Hussein’s influence when the U.S. went in there and established the Operation Provide Comfort at the end of the Gulf War, and then set up the ‘no fly zones,’ and so forth.” Someone might also want to inform President George W. Bush, who invited Ahmad to the White House in 2007.

It’s worth comparing this case with two others.

Sayyed Rahmatullah Hashemi was a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan, yet he was admitted to Yale University in 2006, though he wasn’t given a green card, as far as I can tell. And just a few days ago, drug-trafficking prostitute and Brazilian national Andreia Schwartz was offered a green card if she would reveal what she knows about former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. But Saman Ahmad faces deportation to a country where actual terrorists threaten to kill him? The law (to say nothing of the INS) truly is “a ass,” as Mr. Bumble once observed.

Karen DeYoung published a story in the Washington Post that ought to embarrass anyone making decisions about who deserves permanent residence in the U.S.

Saman Kareem Ahmad is an Iraqi Kurd who worked as a translator with the Marines in Iraq’s Anbar Province. He was one of the few selected translators who was granted asylum in the U.S. because he and his family were singled out for destruction by insurgents for “collaboration.” He wants to return to Iraq as an American citizen and a Marine, and has already been awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter and General David Petraeus wrote notes for his file and recommended he be given a Green Card, but the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) declined his application and called him a “terrorist.”

The INS says Ahmad “conducted full-scale armed attacks and helped incite rebellions against Hussein’s regime, most notably during the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom” while a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

The KDP is one of two mainstream Kurdish political parties in Iraq. Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani is a member of the KDP. The KDP fought alongside the United States military as an ally during Operation Iraqi Freedom. After Operation Desert Storm the KDP fought the Saddam regime after President George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to do so. During the Iran-Iraq War, the KDP fought the Ba’athists because they were actively resisting genocide in the Kurdish region where Saddam used chemical weapons, artillery, air strikes, and napalm to exterminate them. And he’s a terrorist?

The Kurds in Iraq–unlike the Kurds in Turkey and the ever-popular Palestinians– did not use terrorism as a tactic in their struggle for liberation. They fought honorably against Saddam’s soldiers, not against Arab civilians in south and central Iraq.

The INS revealingly refers to the KDP as an “undesignated” terrorist organization. Which suggests it’s aware that the KDP isn’t a terrorist organization but has unilaterally labeled it as one regardless. The blogger Callimachus thinks it may be because the Patriot Act defines terrorism as “any activity which is unlawful under the laws of the place it was committed.” He correctly points out that Jews in Hitler’s Warsaw Ghetto were “terrorists” according to this brainless definition.

This is an absurd inversion of the already absurd “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” slogan. Usually this sophomoric claim is made by terrorists or by leftists who make excuses for terrorists. This time, the INS is calling an actual freedom fighter a terrorist.

Somebody should tell Vice President Dick Cheney. He met with the KDP’s Barzani himself just a few days ago. “That was a unique and interesting opportunity,” he said, “to go look at what’s happened in a part of Iraq that was obviously freed of Saddam Hussein’s influence when the U.S. went in there and established the Operation Provide Comfort at the end of the Gulf War, and then set up the ‘no fly zones,’ and so forth.” Someone might also want to inform President George W. Bush, who invited Ahmad to the White House in 2007.

It’s worth comparing this case with two others.

Sayyed Rahmatullah Hashemi was a spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan, yet he was admitted to Yale University in 2006, though he wasn’t given a green card, as far as I can tell. And just a few days ago, drug-trafficking prostitute and Brazilian national Andreia Schwartz was offered a green card if she would reveal what she knows about former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. But Saman Ahmad faces deportation to a country where actual terrorists threaten to kill him? The law (to say nothing of the INS) truly is “a ass,” as Mr. Bumble once observed.

Read Less

The Plight of Iraqi Translators

Owen West is a commodities trader at Goldman Sachs who happily left behind his plush existence on Wall Street to serve two combat tours as a Marine in Iraq. He has a harrowing tale to tell in this New York Post article—not about the dangers that he and his men suffered (he’s too modest go on about that) but about the danger that confronts his Iraqi translators.

These men have been marked for death because they have worked for the Americans. Yet the State Department bureaucracy makes it virtually impossible for these heroes to get American visas. Two of the “terps” who worked with West are anxious to join the Marine Corps, and they have proved their loyalty a thousand times over by risking their lives to serve alongside the Marines. Their reward from our government? Endless paperwork hassles and delays that make it increasingly likely they will be killed. This is a national scandal that should be rectified at the highest levels. As West writes:

President Bush has a duty to intervene. The honorable remedy is to trust the US military: Let a returning brigade that wants to bring some of its interpreters home simply fill out the visa paperwork on base, then carry them along on the aircraft.

The sooner the better.

Owen West is a commodities trader at Goldman Sachs who happily left behind his plush existence on Wall Street to serve two combat tours as a Marine in Iraq. He has a harrowing tale to tell in this New York Post article—not about the dangers that he and his men suffered (he’s too modest go on about that) but about the danger that confronts his Iraqi translators.

These men have been marked for death because they have worked for the Americans. Yet the State Department bureaucracy makes it virtually impossible for these heroes to get American visas. Two of the “terps” who worked with West are anxious to join the Marine Corps, and they have proved their loyalty a thousand times over by risking their lives to serve alongside the Marines. Their reward from our government? Endless paperwork hassles and delays that make it increasingly likely they will be killed. This is a national scandal that should be rectified at the highest levels. As West writes:

President Bush has a duty to intervene. The honorable remedy is to trust the US military: Let a returning brigade that wants to bring some of its interpreters home simply fill out the visa paperwork on base, then carry them along on the aircraft.

The sooner the better.

Read Less

Bring Back Observers

A young army officer of my acquaintance has recently made a terrific suggestion on the Warlord Loop (an online forum for the discussion of military affairs), which he has agreed to let me pass along to a wider audience. He proposes to resurrect the practice of sending American officers to observe other conflicts around the world first hand.

This used to be quite common. For instance, a young Jack Pershing traveled with the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. And in the 1930s and early 1940s the U.S. Marine Corps sent officers to China to observe the fighting against Japan; they spent time with both Nationalist and Communist forces and learned some valuable lessons that were applied in the island-hopping campaign. But the U.S. military no longer sends its officers to watch foreign conflicts; too many of them are stuck instead in paper-pushing jobs at the Pentagon or on other staffs around the world.

This young officer writes:

I firmly believe that a cadre of mid-level and senior leaders who had, among other things, witnessed first hand Africa’s world war and other conflicts of the 1990s would have avoided many of the missteps of both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Military observers have as long and storied (and, admittedly, troubled) history as military advisors.  Perhaps serving as a military observer as a senior NCO or field grade would be a good pre-requisite for ongoing service in a MAAG [Military Assistance Advisory Group] or its newfangled equivalent.

A contemporary military observer might not only be limited to observing for one armed force or another.  A number of inter-governmental organizations (particularly the UN) and possibly NGOs if done out of uniform could possibly be a platform (I realize how sticky, although certainly not impossible, the latter might be). The peace-keeping mission by the AU [African Union] in Darfur also might present opportunities to observe from a “neutral status.”

Classical country intelligence and relationship building would be an adjunct to two other key results of reinstating military observers:

1) increasing the breadth of experience of field grade officers
2) increasing understanding throughout the military of the evolving nature of conflict through their contributions to journals, etc.

While I think we do an excellent job with the FAO [Foreign Area Officer] program, we also commit FAOs to that line of work almost indefinitely.  Military observers should return to jobs as infantrymen, in intelligence, civil affairs, information operations, armor, etc. rather than remain in a FAO field.

I heartily agree.

A young army officer of my acquaintance has recently made a terrific suggestion on the Warlord Loop (an online forum for the discussion of military affairs), which he has agreed to let me pass along to a wider audience. He proposes to resurrect the practice of sending American officers to observe other conflicts around the world first hand.

This used to be quite common. For instance, a young Jack Pershing traveled with the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. And in the 1930s and early 1940s the U.S. Marine Corps sent officers to China to observe the fighting against Japan; they spent time with both Nationalist and Communist forces and learned some valuable lessons that were applied in the island-hopping campaign. But the U.S. military no longer sends its officers to watch foreign conflicts; too many of them are stuck instead in paper-pushing jobs at the Pentagon or on other staffs around the world.

This young officer writes:

I firmly believe that a cadre of mid-level and senior leaders who had, among other things, witnessed first hand Africa’s world war and other conflicts of the 1990s would have avoided many of the missteps of both Afghanistan and Iraq.  Military observers have as long and storied (and, admittedly, troubled) history as military advisors.  Perhaps serving as a military observer as a senior NCO or field grade would be a good pre-requisite for ongoing service in a MAAG [Military Assistance Advisory Group] or its newfangled equivalent.

A contemporary military observer might not only be limited to observing for one armed force or another.  A number of inter-governmental organizations (particularly the UN) and possibly NGOs if done out of uniform could possibly be a platform (I realize how sticky, although certainly not impossible, the latter might be). The peace-keeping mission by the AU [African Union] in Darfur also might present opportunities to observe from a “neutral status.”

Classical country intelligence and relationship building would be an adjunct to two other key results of reinstating military observers:

1) increasing the breadth of experience of field grade officers
2) increasing understanding throughout the military of the evolving nature of conflict through their contributions to journals, etc.

While I think we do an excellent job with the FAO [Foreign Area Officer] program, we also commit FAOs to that line of work almost indefinitely.  Military observers should return to jobs as infantrymen, in intelligence, civil affairs, information operations, armor, etc. rather than remain in a FAO field.

I heartily agree.

Read Less




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