Commentary Magazine


Topic: United States Navy

RE: Judging Captain Honors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read Less

Iran: Calculus Changing for the “Force Option”?

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

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Ending Piracy: We Did It Before, We Must Do It Again

The news from the piracy front is all bad. The New York Times reports:

Last week, a band of [Somalian] pirates received what is widely believed to be a record ransom — around $10 million — for a hijacked South Korean supertanker, the Samho Dream. … Some of the bigger pirate bosses in this part of Somalia have been building mini armies from the millions they receive in ransoms, and it is widely believed that much of the money from the Samho Dream will go toward more weapons. At the same time, the Shabab, the powerful Islamist insurgent group that vows to enforce strict Islamic law across Somalia, seems to be getting more deeply involved in piracy.

This is more than a nuisance. It is a serious threat to global commerce, yet it is not getting a commensurate response. The U.S. and various other nations have sent naval vessels to patrol off the coast of Somalia but with extremely limited authority. They can only shoot at or detain pirates who are actually caught in the act of hijacking a ship — which doesn’t happen often. They are not allowed to blast suspected pirate vessels or raid pirate havens onshore. Even when pirates are actually caught, most of them are released. There had been hope that Kenya would try them, but as the Times notes, ”On Tuesday, a Kenyan court ordered the release of nine piracy suspects, saying the country could not prosecute them for crimes committed outside its territory.”

There is no secret about how to fight pirates. As I pointed out in this Foreign Affairs article, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy successfully eradicated piracy in the 18th and 19th centuries with a combination of measures ranging from quick executions of captured pirates to attacks on pirate safe havens. We don’t have to string up pirates from the yardarm today, but what we should do is bring them back for trial in the U.S., since piracy is the original crime of “universal jurisdiction.” Failing that, we will continue to see the problem metastasize and combine with the Islamist insurgency in Somalia to create a strategic and commercial nightmare.

The news from the piracy front is all bad. The New York Times reports:

Last week, a band of [Somalian] pirates received what is widely believed to be a record ransom — around $10 million — for a hijacked South Korean supertanker, the Samho Dream. … Some of the bigger pirate bosses in this part of Somalia have been building mini armies from the millions they receive in ransoms, and it is widely believed that much of the money from the Samho Dream will go toward more weapons. At the same time, the Shabab, the powerful Islamist insurgent group that vows to enforce strict Islamic law across Somalia, seems to be getting more deeply involved in piracy.

This is more than a nuisance. It is a serious threat to global commerce, yet it is not getting a commensurate response. The U.S. and various other nations have sent naval vessels to patrol off the coast of Somalia but with extremely limited authority. They can only shoot at or detain pirates who are actually caught in the act of hijacking a ship — which doesn’t happen often. They are not allowed to blast suspected pirate vessels or raid pirate havens onshore. Even when pirates are actually caught, most of them are released. There had been hope that Kenya would try them, but as the Times notes, ”On Tuesday, a Kenyan court ordered the release of nine piracy suspects, saying the country could not prosecute them for crimes committed outside its territory.”

There is no secret about how to fight pirates. As I pointed out in this Foreign Affairs article, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy successfully eradicated piracy in the 18th and 19th centuries with a combination of measures ranging from quick executions of captured pirates to attacks on pirate safe havens. We don’t have to string up pirates from the yardarm today, but what we should do is bring them back for trial in the U.S., since piracy is the original crime of “universal jurisdiction.” Failing that, we will continue to see the problem metastasize and combine with the Islamist insurgency in Somalia to create a strategic and commercial nightmare.

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A Voice of Moderation in the Fray

I second Peter Wehner’s point that Bill O’Reilly was in error to speak of “Muslims killing us on 9/11.” Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11. The ensuing protest walkout by two of The View’s co-hosts was unhelpful – surely the ladies understand that O’Reilly’s comment was a regrettable error of truncation, from which, if pressed, he would have properly retreated. Unfortunately, the ill-considered comment and the co-host walkout are emblematic of the escalatory mode of much public debate on the topics of Islam, Muslims in America, and the Park 51 mosque.

I’m convinced that neither disputant in this latest confrontation represents a monolithic opinion bloc. Simply restating O’Reilly’s proposition as “Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11” would have engaged the concurrence of the overwhelming majority of Americans. But the confrontational drama of the walkout, which cut off discussion and clarification, hardened attitudes and thus made reconciling the positions more unlikely.

The episode forms an irresistible counterpoint to this opinion piece on the Park 51 mosque, written in late September by a retired Saudi naval officer and translated this week by MEMRI. Published in Arabic in the Arab News, it was meant for Saudi consumption. Many Americans would be surprised by the simple friendliness of its sentiments. The retired commodore’s affection for America, where he underwent training and served as a liaison officer, comes through clearly. He speaks of his American friends from flight training and his tears on visiting the site of the World Trade Center in 2005. “The U.S.,” he says, “is the most tolerant country regarding building an Islamic center. But why [did] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf choose Ground Zero?”

He continues:

On Sept. 11, 2001, some terrorists not only hijacked four airplanes, but they hijacked Islam and the reputation of over one billion Muslims, and caused the total destruction of two Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq).

In terms of hortatory persuasiveness, this officer’s essay and the dust-up on The View land at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Saudi commodore’s views don’t surprise me; the experience of American officers with their Middle Eastern counterparts is usually more positive than the average American might think. There’s a level of liaison between militaries that is often more real, pragmatic, and fraternal than the contacts enjoyed by foreign-service diplomats or mainstream journalists. Warriors have the luxury of focusing on the practical requirements of their profession and leaving politics to the politicians. Their appreciation of each other’s individual personalities and cultures develops at what the U.S. Navy calls the “deck-plate level.”

And that is a level the ordinary American of any background is culturally predisposed to understand. Although people instinctively regard the little melodrama on The View as tiresome – and for good reason – I suspect that those who read the Saudi officer’s letter will find it striking a chord that resonates with them. Its direct simplicity does more good than a hundred stagy walkouts and a thousand elaborate exegeses.

I second Peter Wehner’s point that Bill O’Reilly was in error to speak of “Muslims killing us on 9/11.” Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11. The ensuing protest walkout by two of The View’s co-hosts was unhelpful – surely the ladies understand that O’Reilly’s comment was a regrettable error of truncation, from which, if pressed, he would have properly retreated. Unfortunately, the ill-considered comment and the co-host walkout are emblematic of the escalatory mode of much public debate on the topics of Islam, Muslims in America, and the Park 51 mosque.

I’m convinced that neither disputant in this latest confrontation represents a monolithic opinion bloc. Simply restating O’Reilly’s proposition as “Islamist extremists killed us on 9/11” would have engaged the concurrence of the overwhelming majority of Americans. But the confrontational drama of the walkout, which cut off discussion and clarification, hardened attitudes and thus made reconciling the positions more unlikely.

The episode forms an irresistible counterpoint to this opinion piece on the Park 51 mosque, written in late September by a retired Saudi naval officer and translated this week by MEMRI. Published in Arabic in the Arab News, it was meant for Saudi consumption. Many Americans would be surprised by the simple friendliness of its sentiments. The retired commodore’s affection for America, where he underwent training and served as a liaison officer, comes through clearly. He speaks of his American friends from flight training and his tears on visiting the site of the World Trade Center in 2005. “The U.S.,” he says, “is the most tolerant country regarding building an Islamic center. But why [did] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf choose Ground Zero?”

He continues:

On Sept. 11, 2001, some terrorists not only hijacked four airplanes, but they hijacked Islam and the reputation of over one billion Muslims, and caused the total destruction of two Muslim countries (Afghanistan and Iraq).

In terms of hortatory persuasiveness, this officer’s essay and the dust-up on The View land at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Saudi commodore’s views don’t surprise me; the experience of American officers with their Middle Eastern counterparts is usually more positive than the average American might think. There’s a level of liaison between militaries that is often more real, pragmatic, and fraternal than the contacts enjoyed by foreign-service diplomats or mainstream journalists. Warriors have the luxury of focusing on the practical requirements of their profession and leaving politics to the politicians. Their appreciation of each other’s individual personalities and cultures develops at what the U.S. Navy calls the “deck-plate level.”

And that is a level the ordinary American of any background is culturally predisposed to understand. Although people instinctively regard the little melodrama on The View as tiresome – and for good reason – I suspect that those who read the Saudi officer’s letter will find it striking a chord that resonates with them. Its direct simplicity does more good than a hundred stagy walkouts and a thousand elaborate exegeses.

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The Rising Dragon and “Smart” Diplomacy

For years we have been hearing about how effective Chinese diplomacy is — a supposed contrast with a ham-handed, distracted Uncle Sam who was letting the rising dragon take over East Asia while we weren’t paying attention. No one should underestimate the rising military challenge posed by China. As Robert Kaplan notes in this Washington Post op-ed:

China has the world’s second-largest naval service, after only the United States. Rather than purchase warships across the board, it is developing niche capacities in sub-surface warfare and missile technology designed to hit moving targets at sea. At some point, the U.S. Navy is likely to be denied unimpeded access to the waters off East Asia. China’s 66 submarines constitute roughly twice as many warships as the entire British Royal Navy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Chinese hegemony: its rise has alarmed pretty much all its neighbors, ranging from India and Australia to Japan and South Korea. The latest sign of how Chinese hectoring and bullying is souring other countries is the flap over a Chinese fishing trawler that collided with Japanese coast-guard vessels near a disputed island in the East China Sea that is claimed by both countries. The Japanese agreed to release the fishing captain on Friday after what the New York Times described as “a furious diplomatic assault from China,” which included the cut-off of “ministerial-level talks on issues like joint energy development, and curtailed visits to Japan by Chinese tourists.” In the short term, this is a victory for China. But for the long term, it leaves hard feelings behind and convinces many more Japanese — and other Asians — that China’s rise poses a threat to them.

Keep in mind that the Democrats, the current Japanese ruling party, came to power talking about weakening the U.S.-Japanese alliance and strengthening ties with China. If China were better behaved, that might have come to pass. But Chinese assertiveness is rubbing the Japanese the wrong way. The same is true with South Koreans, Australians, and other key Chinese trade partners. In those countries, too, hopes of a closer relationship with China have been frustrated; instead, they are drawing closer to the U.S.

The fundamental problem is that China’s ruling oligarchy has no Marxist legitimacy left; its only claim to power is to foster an aggressive Chinese nationalism. That may do wonders for support on the home front, but it is doomed to antagonize its neighbors and possibly bring into being a de facto coalition to contain Beijing. That, at least, should be the goal of American policy. Even as we continue to trade with China, we should make sure to curb its geo-political ambitions. That is a goal in which we should be able to get the cooperation of many of China’s neighbors — if we actually practice the sort of “smart power” diplomacy that the Obama-ites came into office promising.

For years we have been hearing about how effective Chinese diplomacy is — a supposed contrast with a ham-handed, distracted Uncle Sam who was letting the rising dragon take over East Asia while we weren’t paying attention. No one should underestimate the rising military challenge posed by China. As Robert Kaplan notes in this Washington Post op-ed:

China has the world’s second-largest naval service, after only the United States. Rather than purchase warships across the board, it is developing niche capacities in sub-surface warfare and missile technology designed to hit moving targets at sea. At some point, the U.S. Navy is likely to be denied unimpeded access to the waters off East Asia. China’s 66 submarines constitute roughly twice as many warships as the entire British Royal Navy.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Chinese hegemony: its rise has alarmed pretty much all its neighbors, ranging from India and Australia to Japan and South Korea. The latest sign of how Chinese hectoring and bullying is souring other countries is the flap over a Chinese fishing trawler that collided with Japanese coast-guard vessels near a disputed island in the East China Sea that is claimed by both countries. The Japanese agreed to release the fishing captain on Friday after what the New York Times described as “a furious diplomatic assault from China,” which included the cut-off of “ministerial-level talks on issues like joint energy development, and curtailed visits to Japan by Chinese tourists.” In the short term, this is a victory for China. But for the long term, it leaves hard feelings behind and convinces many more Japanese — and other Asians — that China’s rise poses a threat to them.

Keep in mind that the Democrats, the current Japanese ruling party, came to power talking about weakening the U.S.-Japanese alliance and strengthening ties with China. If China were better behaved, that might have come to pass. But Chinese assertiveness is rubbing the Japanese the wrong way. The same is true with South Koreans, Australians, and other key Chinese trade partners. In those countries, too, hopes of a closer relationship with China have been frustrated; instead, they are drawing closer to the U.S.

The fundamental problem is that China’s ruling oligarchy has no Marxist legitimacy left; its only claim to power is to foster an aggressive Chinese nationalism. That may do wonders for support on the home front, but it is doomed to antagonize its neighbors and possibly bring into being a de facto coalition to contain Beijing. That, at least, should be the goal of American policy. Even as we continue to trade with China, we should make sure to curb its geo-political ambitions. That is a goal in which we should be able to get the cooperation of many of China’s neighbors — if we actually practice the sort of “smart power” diplomacy that the Obama-ites came into office promising.

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Spy Talk Illustrates Unreality of Mideast Talks

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

The debate over how the Israeli government will deal with the expiration of its six-month settlement freeze in the West Bank got stranger yesterday when both the New York Times and Politico published stories alleging that Jerusalem had asked the United States whether it would free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for a freeze in settlements. According to the Times’s Isabel Kershner, such a deal would help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sell a renewal of the freeze to his coalition partners. Pollard’s fate was discussed in 1998 during the negotiations between Netanyahu and Bill Clinton over the Wye Plantation Agreement, one of the many interim agreements that stemmed from the failed Oslo peace process. At that time, the U.S. intelligence community revolted at the idea of freeing Pollard and wound up spiking the proposal.

The anonymous sources for the current reports don’t seem to be based on anything more than rumination inside the prime minister’s bureau, but Israel’s interest in springing Pollard, an American Jew who has spent the last 25 years in prison for spying for the Israelis while he served as a U.S. Navy analyst, is a longstanding issue. While Pollard was guilty of a very serious crime and deserved punishment, his sentence was extremely harsh when compared with the treatment of others who spied here on behalf of allies. Some American Jews have foolishly lionized Pollard’s espionage, which did great harm to Israel and its alliance with the United States. It’s not entirely clear whether the reason Pollard is still in jail is due to his own refusal to express contrition for his actions or the continued intransigence of the American intelligence community. Either way, Pollard’s chances for clemency have long been considered remote. Yet, despite the fact that the heavy-handed tactics of some of his supporters alienated many who might otherwise have been sympathetic to Pollard’s plight and further undermined the chances of successful appeals for his release, there is still considerable sympathy for Pollard in Israel, where he is seen as a man who was exploited and then abandoned by his handlers.

But injecting Pollard into the delicate negotiations with the Obama administration and the Palestinian Authority is a tactic of questionable utility for Netanyahu. Though the idea that Pollard appears to be destined to rot in jail forever while those who spied here for hostile nations receive light sentences or are exchanged after virtually no time in prison strikes many Israelis as unjust, buying his freedom with a costly policy concession cannot be considered wise statecraft. Nor is it clear that Pollard’s release would do much to comfort Israeli right-wingers who are upset about a settlement freeze.

If anything, the floating of Pollard’s name in connection with the peace talks illustrates the lack of seriousness of these negotiations. The reality of Palestinian politics and the strength of Hamas mean there is no chance that the Palestinian Authority will sign any peace agreement, and both Abbas and Netanyahu are merely trying to act in such a manner as to evade blame for the eventual failure of the talks. So instead of serious give and take about final-status issues, we are hearing about tangential topics such as Pollard or Palestinian threats to walk out over the failure of Israeli to concede its position in the territories even before the talks begin. Whether or not the spy-exchange proposal is genuine, the discussion of such an eventuality says a lot more about the futility of President Obama’s ill-considered push for talks at a time when progress is virtually impossible than it does about Pollard’s fate.

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Challenge at Sea

At the end of August, the Royal Navy gave the UK Telegraph a rare glimpse of what’s going on today in the arcane world of the submariner, under the Northern Atlantic’s restless surface. The report includes the nugget that “British submariners … are experiencing the highest number of ‘contacts’ with Russian submarines since 1987.”

It’s no surprise that Russian attack submarines are trying to trail British ballistic-missile submarines, as the Telegraph reports. But the reference to 1987 is informative. In the annals of the Cold War, 1987 was the last year the Soviet Navy maintained the very active global profile it assumed in the early 1970s. The Royal Navy’s disclosures last month indicate that the reversal of a two-decade trend is gathering steam — and more so than was evident when Russian submarines were reported off the U.S. east coast a year ago.

The Royal Navy had 38 submarines in 1987, compared with its 12 today. The U.S. force of attack submarines — “hunter-killer” submarines — has declined in the same period, from 98 to 53, with a target number of 48 being argued by budget cutters. But numbers are only one aspect of the issue. Equally important, as suggested by the Royal Navy’s recent encounters with Russian submarines, is how our would-be rivals are behaving on the seas.

In that regard, China’s profile constitutes a steadily expanding challenge, particularly to regional stability in the Far East. Tuesday morning, a Chinese fishing vessel was challenged by the Japanese coast guard in the waters of the Senkaku Islands, a chain disputed by Beijing and Tokyo. The Chinese vessel proceeded to collide with not one but two Japanese patrol ships — something that, given the Japanese military’s exemplary tradition of seamanship, had to be deliberate and was probably sanctioned by authorities in China.

China has operated through maritime provocation and bullying in recent years, but usually with smaller nations like Vietnam and the Philippines; very rarely in confrontations with Japan. In the wake of China’s most aggressive naval exercise ever, which penetrated the Japanese islands this past spring, as well as Beijing’s securing of rights to use a North Korean port on the Sea of Japan, the latest incident looks more like part of a trend than an isolated, strategically meaningless event.

This is how maritime dominance is lost: incrementally and off the public’s radar. The U.S. Navy, as an oceangoing sea-control force, has shrunk from 568 ships and submarines in 1987 to 285 today. Our NATO allies’ navies have shrunk significantly as well, some of them by greater percentages. Among our key allies, only Japan and Australia are investing in larger and more diverse naval forces. The U.S. military, under Defense Secretary Gates, is looking at reducing further the inventory of warships — aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines — that perform sea-control missions and maintain maritime dominance. Equally troubling, DoD proposes to eliminate entirely the two major U.S. commands most closely linked with NATO and maritime power in the Atlantic: Joint Forces Command and the U.S. Second Fleet. Events, on the other hand, continue to warn us against this irresponsible course. We can expect more of them.

At the end of August, the Royal Navy gave the UK Telegraph a rare glimpse of what’s going on today in the arcane world of the submariner, under the Northern Atlantic’s restless surface. The report includes the nugget that “British submariners … are experiencing the highest number of ‘contacts’ with Russian submarines since 1987.”

It’s no surprise that Russian attack submarines are trying to trail British ballistic-missile submarines, as the Telegraph reports. But the reference to 1987 is informative. In the annals of the Cold War, 1987 was the last year the Soviet Navy maintained the very active global profile it assumed in the early 1970s. The Royal Navy’s disclosures last month indicate that the reversal of a two-decade trend is gathering steam — and more so than was evident when Russian submarines were reported off the U.S. east coast a year ago.

The Royal Navy had 38 submarines in 1987, compared with its 12 today. The U.S. force of attack submarines — “hunter-killer” submarines — has declined in the same period, from 98 to 53, with a target number of 48 being argued by budget cutters. But numbers are only one aspect of the issue. Equally important, as suggested by the Royal Navy’s recent encounters with Russian submarines, is how our would-be rivals are behaving on the seas.

In that regard, China’s profile constitutes a steadily expanding challenge, particularly to regional stability in the Far East. Tuesday morning, a Chinese fishing vessel was challenged by the Japanese coast guard in the waters of the Senkaku Islands, a chain disputed by Beijing and Tokyo. The Chinese vessel proceeded to collide with not one but two Japanese patrol ships — something that, given the Japanese military’s exemplary tradition of seamanship, had to be deliberate and was probably sanctioned by authorities in China.

China has operated through maritime provocation and bullying in recent years, but usually with smaller nations like Vietnam and the Philippines; very rarely in confrontations with Japan. In the wake of China’s most aggressive naval exercise ever, which penetrated the Japanese islands this past spring, as well as Beijing’s securing of rights to use a North Korean port on the Sea of Japan, the latest incident looks more like part of a trend than an isolated, strategically meaningless event.

This is how maritime dominance is lost: incrementally and off the public’s radar. The U.S. Navy, as an oceangoing sea-control force, has shrunk from 568 ships and submarines in 1987 to 285 today. Our NATO allies’ navies have shrunk significantly as well, some of them by greater percentages. Among our key allies, only Japan and Australia are investing in larger and more diverse naval forces. The U.S. military, under Defense Secretary Gates, is looking at reducing further the inventory of warships — aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines — that perform sea-control missions and maintain maritime dominance. Equally troubling, DoD proposes to eliminate entirely the two major U.S. commands most closely linked with NATO and maritime power in the Atlantic: Joint Forces Command and the U.S. Second Fleet. Events, on the other hand, continue to warn us against this irresponsible course. We can expect more of them.

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Dismantling Our NATO-Linked Infrastructure

The recent cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is followed by a report this week according to which the U.S. Second Fleet staff and headquarters are on the chopping block. Second Fleet operates out of Norfolk, Virginia and exercises command and control of U.S. naval operations in the North Atlantic. During the Cold War its level of operational tasking was staggering; in 2010, its main focus shifted to fleet training. Its maritime cognizance of Latin America and the Caribbean was transferred to the resurrected Fourth Fleet in 2008. Meanwhile, Second Fleet has been used since 9/11 to command homeland-defense activities off the East coast. Its Pacific counterpart, Third Fleet in San Diego, performs similar functions on the West coast.

Like JFCOM, however, Second Fleet has a unique role in our obligations with NATO, one that confers on it the densely packed title “Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence.” Wearing this hat, Second Fleet labors to improve Alliance interoperability and doctrine in naval and expeditionary operations. It performs as a naval arm of the Allied mission to which JFCOM contributes through its liaison with the Norfolk-based NATO command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

It may be considered a sign of sclerosis in an alliance — possibly even of senility — when the tasks assigned to its agencies can no longer be conveyed in sensible language. NATO has big plans for ACT, however, and expressed strong endorsement of its mission in May of this year. That alone ought to warrant more careful reflection over eliminating JFCOM and Second Fleet. But the proposal to gut the U.S. Navy’s command infrastructure in the Atlantic carries existential implications for our core alliance with Western Europe. The fresh perspective needed here is strategic, not budgetary.

In terms of military planning, getting rid of Second Fleet means no longer seeing the Atlantic as a threat axis or potential maritime battle space for which dedicated tactical preparation is required. Other commands can take over some of the grab-bag of functions Second Fleet has been assigned in recent years, but a numbered fleet is uniquely organized for an integrated approach to naval warfare.

Dispensing with Second Fleet appears out of step with Russian developments since 2007, when Vladimir Putin declared that he would resume the Soviet-era posture of forward operation and surveillance. Today, Russian bombers again operate close to North America and Western Europe. Russian submarines ply the Arctic, where Moscow’s claims of mineral rights conflict with those of NATO allies America, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. A year ago, the Russian navy announced its resumption of a submarine presence off the U.S. East coast, deploying its most modern submarines equipped with long-range, land-attack cruise missiles. An ambitious naval building program makes it clear that Russian leaders want to reestablish their maritime profile in multiple directions.

Under President Obama, however, the U.S. military is becoming less organized in secure the East coast and the Atlantic. The shift is not yet comprehensive, by any means, but the proposals to eliminate JFCOM and Second Fleet make it a trend. Obama’s decision last fall to abandon Bush’s missile-defense plan in Europe will leave the Eastern half of North America vulnerable — in a way the Western half is not — to ICBMs from the Eastern hemisphere. Now Obama’s Defense Department seems to be playing down the importance of training and developing joint naval tactics with NATO, at the same time it proposes to eliminate, in the Atlantic, the unique military role of the numbered fleet.

Neither alliances nor security conditions maintain themselves. It may be true that Second Fleet has been organized out of a job over the past decade, but it’s not clear that today’s geopolitical reality validates the decisions behind that transformation. An insecure Atlantic has never been a harbinger of peace. We may well come to regret having been so shortsighted — and sooner than we think.

The recent cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is followed by a report this week according to which the U.S. Second Fleet staff and headquarters are on the chopping block. Second Fleet operates out of Norfolk, Virginia and exercises command and control of U.S. naval operations in the North Atlantic. During the Cold War its level of operational tasking was staggering; in 2010, its main focus shifted to fleet training. Its maritime cognizance of Latin America and the Caribbean was transferred to the resurrected Fourth Fleet in 2008. Meanwhile, Second Fleet has been used since 9/11 to command homeland-defense activities off the East coast. Its Pacific counterpart, Third Fleet in San Diego, performs similar functions on the West coast.

Like JFCOM, however, Second Fleet has a unique role in our obligations with NATO, one that confers on it the densely packed title “Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence.” Wearing this hat, Second Fleet labors to improve Alliance interoperability and doctrine in naval and expeditionary operations. It performs as a naval arm of the Allied mission to which JFCOM contributes through its liaison with the Norfolk-based NATO command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

It may be considered a sign of sclerosis in an alliance — possibly even of senility — when the tasks assigned to its agencies can no longer be conveyed in sensible language. NATO has big plans for ACT, however, and expressed strong endorsement of its mission in May of this year. That alone ought to warrant more careful reflection over eliminating JFCOM and Second Fleet. But the proposal to gut the U.S. Navy’s command infrastructure in the Atlantic carries existential implications for our core alliance with Western Europe. The fresh perspective needed here is strategic, not budgetary.

In terms of military planning, getting rid of Second Fleet means no longer seeing the Atlantic as a threat axis or potential maritime battle space for which dedicated tactical preparation is required. Other commands can take over some of the grab-bag of functions Second Fleet has been assigned in recent years, but a numbered fleet is uniquely organized for an integrated approach to naval warfare.

Dispensing with Second Fleet appears out of step with Russian developments since 2007, when Vladimir Putin declared that he would resume the Soviet-era posture of forward operation and surveillance. Today, Russian bombers again operate close to North America and Western Europe. Russian submarines ply the Arctic, where Moscow’s claims of mineral rights conflict with those of NATO allies America, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. A year ago, the Russian navy announced its resumption of a submarine presence off the U.S. East coast, deploying its most modern submarines equipped with long-range, land-attack cruise missiles. An ambitious naval building program makes it clear that Russian leaders want to reestablish their maritime profile in multiple directions.

Under President Obama, however, the U.S. military is becoming less organized in secure the East coast and the Atlantic. The shift is not yet comprehensive, by any means, but the proposals to eliminate JFCOM and Second Fleet make it a trend. Obama’s decision last fall to abandon Bush’s missile-defense plan in Europe will leave the Eastern half of North America vulnerable — in a way the Western half is not — to ICBMs from the Eastern hemisphere. Now Obama’s Defense Department seems to be playing down the importance of training and developing joint naval tactics with NATO, at the same time it proposes to eliminate, in the Atlantic, the unique military role of the numbered fleet.

Neither alliances nor security conditions maintain themselves. It may be true that Second Fleet has been organized out of a job over the past decade, but it’s not clear that today’s geopolitical reality validates the decisions behind that transformation. An insecure Atlantic has never been a harbinger of peace. We may well come to regret having been so shortsighted — and sooner than we think.

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Dowd vs. Obama

I admit it: I was looking forward to Maureen Dowd’s column today. Nothing quite gets her dander up and her claws out like a reminder that Obama is not merely a disappointment to the left but also an embarrassment. She  seethes:

When the president skittered back from his grandiose declaration at an iftar celebration at the White House Friday that Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in America and have the right to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan, he offered a Clintonesque parsing. …

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack.

Well he can and did, but she’s fit to be tied about it — so much so that’s she’s praising George W. Bush for saying nice things about Muslims, championing AIDS prevention in Africa, and making a real effort on immigration reform. (I was not pleased with his excessive genuflecting on the first, but we’ve certainly entered the Twilight Zone of politics when she throws Bush in Obama’s face. Nothing like a woman scorned.) Anyway, she’s not done with the unflattering comparisons. Bill Clinton, at least, “never presented himself as a moral guide to the country,” so it’s all the more painful when Obama “flops around” on the mosque and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now this is Maureen Dowd — who is apparently so powerful that fact checkers and editors dare not raise their hands to caution her about lines like this: “By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.” Uh, not really. We’re yearning for a Muslim who specifically condemns Hamas as a terrorist group and doesn’t suggest that the U.S. is responsible for 9/11. We’re yearning for a Muslim who doesn’t use “hallowed ground” — where 3,000 Americans died at the hands of Islamist extremists — to build a “a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world.” (That from an American Muslim whose mother was incinerated on 9/11 by those who “believed that all non-Muslims are infidels and that the duty of Muslims is to renounce them.”) We’re yearning for a Muslim who is “desperate to reform his faith” and forthright in his assessment that the placement of the mosque at Ground Zero is based on “a belief that Islamic structures are a political statement and even Ground Zero should be looked upon through the lens of political Islam and not a solely American one.” (That from a Muslim and former U.S. Navy officer.)

So while her fury at the ever-shrinking Obama may be amusing, her analysis is about what you’d expect from someone who thinks women have it pretty good in Saudi Arabia. The most important insight to be gained from her rant-athon is this: if Democrats were depressed and faced a turnout problem before this incident, watch out. There might not be a poll model in use that accurately measures the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, nor, as a result, the extent of the electoral damage Obama is about to wreak on his party.

I admit it: I was looking forward to Maureen Dowd’s column today. Nothing quite gets her dander up and her claws out like a reminder that Obama is not merely a disappointment to the left but also an embarrassment. She  seethes:

When the president skittered back from his grandiose declaration at an iftar celebration at the White House Friday that Muslims enjoy freedom of religion in America and have the right to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan, he offered a Clintonesque parsing. …

Let me be perfectly clear, Mr. Perfectly Unclear President: You cannot take such a stand on a matter of first principle and then take it back the next morning when, lo and behold, Harry Reid goes craven and the Republicans attack.

Well he can and did, but she’s fit to be tied about it — so much so that’s she’s praising George W. Bush for saying nice things about Muslims, championing AIDS prevention in Africa, and making a real effort on immigration reform. (I was not pleased with his excessive genuflecting on the first, but we’ve certainly entered the Twilight Zone of politics when she throws Bush in Obama’s face. Nothing like a woman scorned.) Anyway, she’s not done with the unflattering comparisons. Bill Clinton, at least, “never presented himself as a moral guide to the country,” so it’s all the more painful when Obama “flops around” on the mosque and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Now this is Maureen Dowd — who is apparently so powerful that fact checkers and editors dare not raise their hands to caution her about lines like this: “By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.” Uh, not really. We’re yearning for a Muslim who specifically condemns Hamas as a terrorist group and doesn’t suggest that the U.S. is responsible for 9/11. We’re yearning for a Muslim who doesn’t use “hallowed ground” — where 3,000 Americans died at the hands of Islamist extremists — to build a “a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world.” (That from an American Muslim whose mother was incinerated on 9/11 by those who “believed that all non-Muslims are infidels and that the duty of Muslims is to renounce them.”) We’re yearning for a Muslim who is “desperate to reform his faith” and forthright in his assessment that the placement of the mosque at Ground Zero is based on “a belief that Islamic structures are a political statement and even Ground Zero should be looked upon through the lens of political Islam and not a solely American one.” (That from a Muslim and former U.S. Navy officer.)

So while her fury at the ever-shrinking Obama may be amusing, her analysis is about what you’d expect from someone who thinks women have it pretty good in Saudi Arabia. The most important insight to be gained from her rant-athon is this: if Democrats were depressed and faced a turnout problem before this incident, watch out. There might not be a poll model in use that accurately measures the enthusiasm gap between Democratic and Republican voters, nor, as a result, the extent of the electoral damage Obama is about to wreak on his party.

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New Report on China Leaves Out the Good Stuff

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

There’s something missing from the Defense Department’s new report to Congress on “Military and Security Developments” relating to China — and it’s something big. The 83-page report, which focuses on the Chinese military and Beijing’s concerns about Taiwan, makes no reference to the global outreach that extends across Asia and Africa and across the Pacific to Latin America. This outreach combines general trade and investment with arms sales and political patronage, threads that can sometimes be difficult to separate. But arms and politics very often are intertwined with “peaceful” commerce; detecting the junctures at which they become “security developments” is what analysis is for. An entire facet of China’s grand strategy has simply been left out of this report.

Search the document, and you will find no reference to China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of cultivating relationships — along with the potential for surveillance outposts and naval bases –across the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Not a word is uttered about China’s much-remarked courtship with Latin America, which encompasses extensive military-to-military exchanges and arms sales along with the commercial operations of companies linked to the Chinese military. The ties in question include an ongoing effort to bolster military cooperation with Cuba, with which China has agreements to use signals-monitoring facilities against the United States. They also include a very unusual visit by Chinese warships to Chile, Peru, and Ecuador in late 2009.

The Mediterranean saw such visits for the first time this summer, conducted by Chinese warships departing their anti-piracy station near Somalia. China appears to be contemplating a naval base in Djibouti, but that’s the least of its inroads in Africa. Besides arming the homicidal rulers of Sudan and Zimbabwe (here and here), China is pursuing the same policy it has executed in Latin America of promoting arms sales and military-to-military exchanges. As this summary indicates, moreover, Africa’s unique characteristics make it a special proving ground for China’s dual-purpose (commercial and military) industries.

Ignoring this Chinese pattern when considering “security developments” is quite peculiar. In fact, the report’s principal thematic shortcoming is that it evaluates only one security issue — the status of Taiwan — in terms of its geostrategic features and implications. China’s other security issues are grouped abstractly as “flashpoints” and generic interests, creating the impression that North Korea is basically the same kind of problem for China as Pakistan, Iran, or the Spratly Islands.

But China, a nation facing long armed borders and disputed archipelagos in every direction, lacks the latitude Americans have to cast its problems in terms of political abstractions. China’s approach is based firmly on geography and power relationships. North Korea, Pakistan, and Taiwan are all different types of security concerns for China, as are India, the waterways of the Middle East, and the U.S. Navy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese regularly accuse the U.S., which they see as China’s chief rival in virtually every dimension, of “hegemonism and power politics.” This is not an abstraction for them; when they say this, they have in mind the pillars of U.S. security in the Eastern hemisphere: alliances, military presence, and declared interests, from one spot on the map to the next. China’s frame of reference for all its security calculations is U.S. military power, a fact that has more explanatory value for Beijing’s military build-up than any other.

If these factors go unacknowledged, we are in danger of supposing that China is arming itself to the teeth because of the Taiwan issue. Accept at face value China’s own statements about “threats” to its trade, throw in a public-spirited aspiration to support UN peacekeeping operations, and you get a DoD report in which the analysis comes off as strikingly fatuous. Having almost no reference to geography, the perceived rivalry with the U.S., or the political and security dimensions of China’s global outreach, it ends up being misleading as well.

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Another Liberal with Radical Ties (Part One)

In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.

Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.) Read More

In 2008, Obama’s supporters and campaign flacks assured us that his association with a grab bag of radical leftists (e.g. Bill Ayers), a racist and anti-Semitic preacher (Rev. Wright), and a PLO spokesman (Rashid Khalidi), and a Senate voting record that rated him more liberal than Ted Kennedy were irrelevant to his candidacy. It turns out that all that was more revealing of his values and political inclinations than his campaign platitudes. If it weren’t for Obama, Rep. Joe Sestak’s associations (CAIR, J Street) and voting record (97.8 percent agreement with Nancy Pelosi) might not be of concern to Pennsylvania voters. But frankly, they and voters around the country now should sense what is truly enlightening and what is not about a candidate’s associations and allies.

Sestak has made much of his service in the U.S. Navy, which certainly is worthy of respect (although he’s refused to release records that would shed light on the reasons for his resignation). But that service should not obscure his very radical foreign policy associates. Much has already been written about his views on the Middle East and Israel, but practically unnoticed is his association with a group that goes by the name Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS), until recently known by the Orwellian name “the World Federalist Association.” Who are they, and why have they endorsed Sestak and raised $5,700 for him this year and $4,000 in previous years? (The numbers are not extraordinarily large, but Sestak is far and away the top beneficiaries of the group’s largess.)

CGS has some very radical ideas, which make Obama seem like a raging nationalist. Its history as a champion of world government, multinational institutions and treaties (which subsume the laws of nation-states), and devotion to the international redistribution of wealth is no secret:

Seeking to create a world in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone, Citizens for Global Solutions has a long, proud tradition of activism. Tracing its earliest roots back to the years prior to World War II, United World Federalists (later the World Federalist Association) was created in 1947 as a partnership between a number of like-minded organizations that united to achieve their commons goals.

CGS and its predecessor group, the World Federalist Association (WFA), haven’t been shy about their views. They have decried the “myth” of national sovereignty, supported expansion of international entities like the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, and even a standing UN army, all to be funded by the U.S. and new global taxes. (“The United States would benefit from an increased involvement in United Nations peacekeeping missions,” the group explains.) In 1999 in the Washington Times, the issues director for the WFA wrote in an op-ed: “This could bring into favor a global e-commerce tax that could be redistributed back to local, state, and national governments.” He explained the organization’s focus:

The crisis-filled future we face is primarily a result of policy-makers holding onto the myth of independence or national sovereignty and a reliance primarily on unilateral action for dealing with global problems. If Congress continues cutting foreign aid and undermining the vital work of the United Nations, we will have to give up either our personal freedoms or our security.

Under its new name (World Federalist Association probably creeped out too many people), CGS has kept up the internationalist drumbeat and the preference for a slew of agreements that diminish U.S. sovereignty, from the Law of the Seas Treaty to global warming accords to the enhancement of the UN authority. The group thinks the UN Human Rights Council is swell:

Currently, the HRC is the primary global intergovernmental body able to address human rights issues and this is the first time the U.S. has been an active participant. Membership will help generate goodwill toward the U.S. and prove the United States’ commitment to multilateral diplomacy. The HRC is direct, resultant, and demands accountability in human rights from its members and the world. Through HRC actions, a strong basis in international action is created so countries can collectively come to the aid of any human rights crisis.

(Of course, it should also get an A+ in Israel-bashing.) Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the only instance in which CGS has demonstrated a marked anti-Israel bias. Its deputy director of government relations, Drew Asson, went after Israel in the Lebanon war, bellowing from his website: “When will this senseless onslaught by Israeli hawks end? When will the UN Security Council step up to the plate and condemn this vicious obviously disproportionate response by Israel?”

You get the picture. This isn’t the first time a politician’s association with CGS has landed him in hot water. In his 2006 Senate run (the same year CGS started giving Sestak money), Bob Casey was pressured to return campaign donations from the group.

Sestak’s relationship with CGS is indicative of a pattern — he solicits support and receives backing from groups whose agenda is at the far left of the political spectrum. (As such, his supporters and donors have a decidedly anti-Israel cast.) So there is reason for the voters to ask what he sees in these groups’ agendas and, more important, what do they see in him?

The answer may lie in his answers on the CGS questionnaire. It’s an eye-opener, to be discussed in Part Two.

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China’s Naval Posture: More Good News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wake-Up Call

I have confidence that Israel’s defense leadership will correct the tactical error in the May 31 boarding of M/V Mavi Marmara that allowed the situation to spiral out of control. No revision of tactics is, by itself, a silver bullet, but the change of one premise will enable the IDF to go in properly prepared. The definition of that premise is whether the activists participating in a blockade-busting attempt will resist the IDF with force or not.

The excellent debate unfolding here at CONTENTIONS has already highlighted the reason why Israeli planners weren’t expecting such resistance on Monday. Max Boot points out that Israel has previously stopped and searched aid ships and allowed them to continue to Gaza. It’s precisely because those vessels were boarded without resistance that the Israeli commandos anticipated none.

Should they have considered resistance likely? Yes. There’s no sugar-coating that operational truth. All the information was available beforehand to suggest resistance was probable, from the integral involvement of IHH and Hamas to the numerous prior statements of Islamist activists that the flotilla’s purpose was to break the blockade, incurring martyrdom if necessary. The weapons found on Mavi Marmara, which include homemade projectiles and incendiary devices (video here), are exactly what Hamas guerrillas have used for years in street confrontations with the IDF.

My criticism here is from a military professional perspective – and I can assure you of this: I can’t possibly beat up the IDF planners any more than they are beating up themselves at this moment. Faulty planning and lame execution get no mercy in military circles. The planners of the raid don’t expect any.

This flotilla incident is a wake-up call: a demonstration of operational intent on the part of Israel’s guerrilla enemies. Until this week, Israel thought of handling the Gaza maritime problem in terms of enforcing a blockade against activists who were unarmed and, at worst, rather silly. By the criteria of both naval operations and international custom, the Israelis have approached it straightforwardly. The maritime blockade of Gaza was declared in proper channels, via a “Notice to Mariners,” and the enforcement has always involved the minimum force necessary to achieve the objective. Intercepting ships when they are close to the blockaded area – not interfering with security and order in foreign ports – is a sound practice for keeping a blockade’s profile low and its consequences manageable.

The IHH-organized flotilla, with its eruption of armed resistance, changes the calculus of Israeli strategy for the whole maritime security problem. We can expect Israel’s leaders and IDF planners to adapt. They will do better than adapt, I predict: they will get ahead of the problem, planning for even more contingencies than Hamas has yet concocted.

But armchair naval commandos need to understand that this is a very tough problem. Going in with sufficient force to avert resistance from the outset works almost every time when a boarding involves criminals with mercenary motives: small-time pirates, drug-runners, or sanctions-breakers. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have long experience with that kind of maritime enforcement. If the standoff at sea involves activists seeking martyrdom, however, controlling them without killing them will often be even harder in a maritime situation than it is on land.

At some point, the Israelis may indeed have to choose interdicting arms shipments through kinetic action in foreign ports. But the real issue with the flotillas is the integrity of the blockade. As long as Hamas is getting foreign assistance, its operatives won’t stop trying to break the blockade with dramatic instances of confrontation and self-immolation at sea. Other nations in the region need to wake up and prevent their ships – and, if possible, their citizens – from being impressed into such service.

It’s not clear how far Turkey will go down this path; perhaps the 2011 elections can change the nation’s course. The Europeans, however, have no excuse for not correcting course now. The U.S. and the EU should endorse a policy that all NGO aid sent to Gaza by sea be offloaded in Israeli- or Egyptian-controlled ports, inspected, and convoyed over land. The West’s irresponsible cooperation with the Hamas narrative has gone far enough.

I have confidence that Israel’s defense leadership will correct the tactical error in the May 31 boarding of M/V Mavi Marmara that allowed the situation to spiral out of control. No revision of tactics is, by itself, a silver bullet, but the change of one premise will enable the IDF to go in properly prepared. The definition of that premise is whether the activists participating in a blockade-busting attempt will resist the IDF with force or not.

The excellent debate unfolding here at CONTENTIONS has already highlighted the reason why Israeli planners weren’t expecting such resistance on Monday. Max Boot points out that Israel has previously stopped and searched aid ships and allowed them to continue to Gaza. It’s precisely because those vessels were boarded without resistance that the Israeli commandos anticipated none.

Should they have considered resistance likely? Yes. There’s no sugar-coating that operational truth. All the information was available beforehand to suggest resistance was probable, from the integral involvement of IHH and Hamas to the numerous prior statements of Islamist activists that the flotilla’s purpose was to break the blockade, incurring martyrdom if necessary. The weapons found on Mavi Marmara, which include homemade projectiles and incendiary devices (video here), are exactly what Hamas guerrillas have used for years in street confrontations with the IDF.

My criticism here is from a military professional perspective – and I can assure you of this: I can’t possibly beat up the IDF planners any more than they are beating up themselves at this moment. Faulty planning and lame execution get no mercy in military circles. The planners of the raid don’t expect any.

This flotilla incident is a wake-up call: a demonstration of operational intent on the part of Israel’s guerrilla enemies. Until this week, Israel thought of handling the Gaza maritime problem in terms of enforcing a blockade against activists who were unarmed and, at worst, rather silly. By the criteria of both naval operations and international custom, the Israelis have approached it straightforwardly. The maritime blockade of Gaza was declared in proper channels, via a “Notice to Mariners,” and the enforcement has always involved the minimum force necessary to achieve the objective. Intercepting ships when they are close to the blockaded area – not interfering with security and order in foreign ports – is a sound practice for keeping a blockade’s profile low and its consequences manageable.

The IHH-organized flotilla, with its eruption of armed resistance, changes the calculus of Israeli strategy for the whole maritime security problem. We can expect Israel’s leaders and IDF planners to adapt. They will do better than adapt, I predict: they will get ahead of the problem, planning for even more contingencies than Hamas has yet concocted.

But armchair naval commandos need to understand that this is a very tough problem. Going in with sufficient force to avert resistance from the outset works almost every time when a boarding involves criminals with mercenary motives: small-time pirates, drug-runners, or sanctions-breakers. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard have long experience with that kind of maritime enforcement. If the standoff at sea involves activists seeking martyrdom, however, controlling them without killing them will often be even harder in a maritime situation than it is on land.

At some point, the Israelis may indeed have to choose interdicting arms shipments through kinetic action in foreign ports. But the real issue with the flotillas is the integrity of the blockade. As long as Hamas is getting foreign assistance, its operatives won’t stop trying to break the blockade with dramatic instances of confrontation and self-immolation at sea. Other nations in the region need to wake up and prevent their ships – and, if possible, their citizens – from being impressed into such service.

It’s not clear how far Turkey will go down this path; perhaps the 2011 elections can change the nation’s course. The Europeans, however, have no excuse for not correcting course now. The U.S. and the EU should endorse a policy that all NGO aid sent to Gaza by sea be offloaded in Israeli- or Egyptian-controlled ports, inspected, and convoyed over land. The West’s irresponsible cooperation with the Hamas narrative has gone far enough.

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Way to Go, Senator Feinstein!

Dennis Blair “resigned” — that is to say, was shoved overboard, finally. As the Wall Street Journal report points out, the shoving is long overdue:

From the outset, Mr. Blair, 63 years old, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, proved to be an uneasy fit for the job. He made a series of decisions and statements that angered the White House—from a controversial appointment for the nation’s top intelligence analyst to recent statements that a new terrorist interrogation team should have questioned the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

Yes, that appointment was Chas Freeman, who “immediately drew fire from critics who said he was too close to the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments. After that public-relations debacle, Mr. Blair maintained a much lower profile, speaking infrequently in public.” And that was some time ago, yet Obama continued to entrust our entire national-security apparatus to a man who wasn’t allowed to speak in public.

So what was the final straw? As Politico notes:

Word of Blair’s departure comes just two days after the release of a harshly-critical Senate report which identified 14 failures that preceded the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner outside Detroit. The report put particular blame for the failure to head off the attack on a coordination unit that is part of Blair’s office, the National Counterterrorism Center.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to know that when clear-eyed lawmakers (e.g., the Senate Intelligence Committee, the GOP senators blocking the nomination of  Obama’s ambassador to Syria) act with resolve, the White House can be forced to retreat. (Let’s hope John Brennan – who comes up with loony ideas like engaging Hezbollah and now refers to the eternal capital of the Jewish state as “Al Quds, Jerusalem” — isn’t the replacement.)  But someone should ask the president: given the two near-miss terror attacks, do you regret not canning Blair earlier?

As for Feinstein, could she now do a report on the Justice Department? (At 36 percent, Eric Holder has the lowest approval of anyone in the administration, so maybe the White House would welcome an excuse to shove him overboard as well.) Then State? And while she’s at it, could she do an assessment of the phony UN sanctions?

Dennis Blair “resigned” — that is to say, was shoved overboard, finally. As the Wall Street Journal report points out, the shoving is long overdue:

From the outset, Mr. Blair, 63 years old, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, proved to be an uneasy fit for the job. He made a series of decisions and statements that angered the White House—from a controversial appointment for the nation’s top intelligence analyst to recent statements that a new terrorist interrogation team should have questioned the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

Yes, that appointment was Chas Freeman, who “immediately drew fire from critics who said he was too close to the Saudi Arabian and Chinese governments. After that public-relations debacle, Mr. Blair maintained a much lower profile, speaking infrequently in public.” And that was some time ago, yet Obama continued to entrust our entire national-security apparatus to a man who wasn’t allowed to speak in public.

So what was the final straw? As Politico notes:

Word of Blair’s departure comes just two days after the release of a harshly-critical Senate report which identified 14 failures that preceded the Christmas Day incident in which Nigerian Omar Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner outside Detroit. The report put particular blame for the failure to head off the attack on a coordination unit that is part of Blair’s office, the National Counterterrorism Center.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it’s nice to know that when clear-eyed lawmakers (e.g., the Senate Intelligence Committee, the GOP senators blocking the nomination of  Obama’s ambassador to Syria) act with resolve, the White House can be forced to retreat. (Let’s hope John Brennan – who comes up with loony ideas like engaging Hezbollah and now refers to the eternal capital of the Jewish state as “Al Quds, Jerusalem” — isn’t the replacement.)  But someone should ask the president: given the two near-miss terror attacks, do you regret not canning Blair earlier?

As for Feinstein, could she now do a report on the Justice Department? (At 36 percent, Eric Holder has the lowest approval of anyone in the administration, so maybe the White House would welcome an excuse to shove him overboard as well.) Then State? And while she’s at it, could she do an assessment of the phony UN sanctions?

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Millions for Defense, Not One Cent for Tribute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Justice, Prudence, and North Korea

Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s tough-as-nails president, is in an uncomfortable position as it looks more and more like North Korea is to blame for the sinking of one of its ships, and Barack Obama’s softie stance toward tyrannical regimes isn’t helping.

Christian Whiton writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s reluctance to blame North Korea for sinking the corvette ROKS Cheonan on March 26 reflects his political quandary. The center-right government finds itself potentially warred upon by its belligerent neighbor to the north, with little backup from an indifferent population and its American ally. The greater danger is not an immediate war, but an even stronger signal to Pyongyang and the region’s other belligerents that force can be applied without consequence.

The likelihood that North Korea is to blame for the attack increased dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, South Korea’s defense minister blamed the ship’s demise on a torpedo. While he stopped short of fingering North Korea directly, this seemed to rule out hope that the deaths of at least 40 sailors was something other than an intentional act of war. This is far more serious than the usual affrays North Korea is known to instigate.

Mr. Lee has a history of taking a hard line with North Korea, but in this instance, his options are limited.

In just-war theory, there are two criteria that must be considered by any head of state who contemplates how to counter an aggressor. First, he must decide whether military action is justified. If, in fact, Kim Jong-il’s army did deliberately sink the South Korean ship, then that would constitute an attack — a valid justification for South Korean retaliation.

Mr. Lee’s hesitation, then, has more to do with the second criterion: whether retaliation is prudent, regardless of whether or not it is justified. In this, Mr. Lee is at a disadvantage. As noted earlier, because North Korea was allowed to attain nuclear status, Seoul and its allies must tread with caution.

But Mr. Lee’s tough stance is further undermined by Obama’s consistently soft foreign policy and by his trend of pandering to enemies instead of our allies. South Korea can hardly be confident of Washington’s support, regardless of how justified its cause may be. So Mr. Lee can’t be blamed for wondering whether singlehandedly staring down a nuclear-armed, irrational aggressor is really the prudent course for South Korea to take.

However, as Mr. Whiton suggests, the biggest risk isn’t an all-out war with North Korea. At stake is Mr. Lee’s plausibility — but also the plausibility of any nation that claims it will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on a peaceful country. North Korea will almost certainly take the absence of the threat of deterrence as further encouragement to behave badly.

So what to do? Whiton writes:

The alternative need not necessarily be a military strike against North Korea in retaliation, but a realigned security strategy that reacts to the threats posed by Pyongyang. A start could be a naval and aviation show of force that goes right up to North Korea’s territory and reasserts freedom of navigation throughout the region.

But Obama has issued only vague “support and condolences” and an offer for the U.S. Navy’s “assistance to South Korea’s ongoing search and recovery effort.”

It has been said often that Obama’s foreign policy emboldens international troublemakers. But to go a step further, one of the gravest consequences of Obama’s appeasement strategy has been to make it strategically imprudent for a country to justly act in defense of its citizens.

Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s tough-as-nails president, is in an uncomfortable position as it looks more and more like North Korea is to blame for the sinking of one of its ships, and Barack Obama’s softie stance toward tyrannical regimes isn’t helping.

Christian Whiton writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s reluctance to blame North Korea for sinking the corvette ROKS Cheonan on March 26 reflects his political quandary. The center-right government finds itself potentially warred upon by its belligerent neighbor to the north, with little backup from an indifferent population and its American ally. The greater danger is not an immediate war, but an even stronger signal to Pyongyang and the region’s other belligerents that force can be applied without consequence.

The likelihood that North Korea is to blame for the attack increased dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, South Korea’s defense minister blamed the ship’s demise on a torpedo. While he stopped short of fingering North Korea directly, this seemed to rule out hope that the deaths of at least 40 sailors was something other than an intentional act of war. This is far more serious than the usual affrays North Korea is known to instigate.

Mr. Lee has a history of taking a hard line with North Korea, but in this instance, his options are limited.

In just-war theory, there are two criteria that must be considered by any head of state who contemplates how to counter an aggressor. First, he must decide whether military action is justified. If, in fact, Kim Jong-il’s army did deliberately sink the South Korean ship, then that would constitute an attack — a valid justification for South Korean retaliation.

Mr. Lee’s hesitation, then, has more to do with the second criterion: whether retaliation is prudent, regardless of whether or not it is justified. In this, Mr. Lee is at a disadvantage. As noted earlier, because North Korea was allowed to attain nuclear status, Seoul and its allies must tread with caution.

But Mr. Lee’s tough stance is further undermined by Obama’s consistently soft foreign policy and by his trend of pandering to enemies instead of our allies. South Korea can hardly be confident of Washington’s support, regardless of how justified its cause may be. So Mr. Lee can’t be blamed for wondering whether singlehandedly staring down a nuclear-armed, irrational aggressor is really the prudent course for South Korea to take.

However, as Mr. Whiton suggests, the biggest risk isn’t an all-out war with North Korea. At stake is Mr. Lee’s plausibility — but also the plausibility of any nation that claims it will not tolerate an unprovoked attack on a peaceful country. North Korea will almost certainly take the absence of the threat of deterrence as further encouragement to behave badly.

So what to do? Whiton writes:

The alternative need not necessarily be a military strike against North Korea in retaliation, but a realigned security strategy that reacts to the threats posed by Pyongyang. A start could be a naval and aviation show of force that goes right up to North Korea’s territory and reasserts freedom of navigation throughout the region.

But Obama has issued only vague “support and condolences” and an offer for the U.S. Navy’s “assistance to South Korea’s ongoing search and recovery effort.”

It has been said often that Obama’s foreign policy emboldens international troublemakers. But to go a step further, one of the gravest consequences of Obama’s appeasement strategy has been to make it strategically imprudent for a country to justly act in defense of its citizens.

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A New Sheriff in the Strait

In the flurry of mildly interesting disclosures from the Iranian military exercise this week, one is likely to be overlooked. Iranian state media report that on Friday, April 23, the Revolutionary Guard’s naval arm stopped two ships for inspection in the Strait of Hormuz. The ships, according to Iran’s Press TV, were French and Italian. The photo accompanying the story depicts a Kaman-class guided-missile patrol boat on which the boxy, Chinese-designed C802 anti-ship-missile launchers can be seen amidships. The stated purpose of the inspections was to verify “environmental compliance.”

The names of the foreign ships were not provided; sketchy details make it difficult to be certain exactly where in the strait they were stopped. But European ships — even private yachts — rarely venture outside the recognized navigation corridors in the Strait of Hormuz. If this news report is valid, it almost certainly means that Iran detained ships that were transiting those corridors.

That, as our vice president might say, is a big effing deal. That’s not because Iran has committed an act of war by intercepting these ships, as some in the blogosphere are speculating. The intercepts were not acts of war. The purpose of verifying environmental compliance is one Iran can theoretically invoke on the basis of its maritime claims lodged with the UN in 1993. Ironically, however, Iran has never signed the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), the instrument by which the terms of its claims are defined. Many nations, of course, have yet to either sign or ratify UNCLOS, America being among them. In the meantime, world shipping has operated in the Strait of Hormuz for decades on the basis of UNCLOS’s definition of “transit passage,” which has customarily immunized ships in routine transit through straits against random intercept by the littoral navies (e.g., Iran’s or Oman’s).

Iran would be breaking with that custom by stopping ships for inspection in the recognized transit corridors. But this venue for a newly assertive Iranian profile is chosen well: stopping foreign ships that are conducting transit passage is uncollegial and inconvenient for commerce, but it is not clearly in breach of international law.

What it is, however, is an incipient challenge to the maritime regime enforced by the U.S., which includes the quiescent transit-passage custom on which global commerce relies. Mariners take care to observe the law as it is written, regardless of their nationality or national position on UNCLOS; but the guarantee of their unhindered passage isn’t international law, it’s the U.S. Navy. Demonstrations of force are required only rarely. Reagan put down revolutionary Iran’s only serious challenge to international maritime order back in 1988, in the final months of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, Iran has refrained from unilateral action against shipping in the recognized transit corridors of the strait.

It’s ingenious to use environmental inspection as a pretext for establishing a new regime of unilateral Iranian prerogative. Iran is probing the U.S. and the West with this move. Fortunately, for the time being, diplomacy is the ideal tool for making it clear to Iran that the U.S. won’t tolerate capricious interference with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. This initiative of Tehran’s must be nipped in the bud promptly, however. It can only escalate — and without pushback, it will.

In the flurry of mildly interesting disclosures from the Iranian military exercise this week, one is likely to be overlooked. Iranian state media report that on Friday, April 23, the Revolutionary Guard’s naval arm stopped two ships for inspection in the Strait of Hormuz. The ships, according to Iran’s Press TV, were French and Italian. The photo accompanying the story depicts a Kaman-class guided-missile patrol boat on which the boxy, Chinese-designed C802 anti-ship-missile launchers can be seen amidships. The stated purpose of the inspections was to verify “environmental compliance.”

The names of the foreign ships were not provided; sketchy details make it difficult to be certain exactly where in the strait they were stopped. But European ships — even private yachts — rarely venture outside the recognized navigation corridors in the Strait of Hormuz. If this news report is valid, it almost certainly means that Iran detained ships that were transiting those corridors.

That, as our vice president might say, is a big effing deal. That’s not because Iran has committed an act of war by intercepting these ships, as some in the blogosphere are speculating. The intercepts were not acts of war. The purpose of verifying environmental compliance is one Iran can theoretically invoke on the basis of its maritime claims lodged with the UN in 1993. Ironically, however, Iran has never signed the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS), the instrument by which the terms of its claims are defined. Many nations, of course, have yet to either sign or ratify UNCLOS, America being among them. In the meantime, world shipping has operated in the Strait of Hormuz for decades on the basis of UNCLOS’s definition of “transit passage,” which has customarily immunized ships in routine transit through straits against random intercept by the littoral navies (e.g., Iran’s or Oman’s).

Iran would be breaking with that custom by stopping ships for inspection in the recognized transit corridors. But this venue for a newly assertive Iranian profile is chosen well: stopping foreign ships that are conducting transit passage is uncollegial and inconvenient for commerce, but it is not clearly in breach of international law.

What it is, however, is an incipient challenge to the maritime regime enforced by the U.S., which includes the quiescent transit-passage custom on which global commerce relies. Mariners take care to observe the law as it is written, regardless of their nationality or national position on UNCLOS; but the guarantee of their unhindered passage isn’t international law, it’s the U.S. Navy. Demonstrations of force are required only rarely. Reagan put down revolutionary Iran’s only serious challenge to international maritime order back in 1988, in the final months of the Iran-Iraq War. Since then, Iran has refrained from unilateral action against shipping in the recognized transit corridors of the strait.

It’s ingenious to use environmental inspection as a pretext for establishing a new regime of unilateral Iranian prerogative. Iran is probing the U.S. and the West with this move. Fortunately, for the time being, diplomacy is the ideal tool for making it clear to Iran that the U.S. won’t tolerate capricious interference with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. This initiative of Tehran’s must be nipped in the bud promptly, however. It can only escalate — and without pushback, it will.

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Peace in Our Time: A Tale of Two Port Cities

There is a certain sense of melancholy in watching the “Syrian Missile Crisis” unfold this month. For the first time in two decades, U.S. and Russian warships have conducted — during the crisis itself — what we might call competing port visits to the principal nations involved. The Russian port visit was not related to Syria’s deployment of Scud missiles with Hezbollah, but its timing was certainly emblematic of the trend in Russian policy in the region.

The Russian nuclear-powered cruiser RFS Pyotr Veliky, flagship of the Northern Fleet, pulled into Tartus, Syria, on April 13. Pyotr Veliky is the warship that visited Venezuela and operated in the Caribbean in late 2008. Russia’s navy continues to struggle in rebuilding its once-aggressive profile on the high seas; port visits like this one have yet to become routine again, although Russia still keeps the small logistic detachment in Tartus that has been there for decades. The Tartus port visit this month was attended by ceremony, high-level meetings, and pointed statements from Russia’s ambassador in Damascus.

The day of Pyotr Veliky’s arrival, Shimon Peres announced Israel’s information on the transfer of Syrian Scuds to Hezbollah. The warship’s presence is not, of course, evidence of Russian involvement in that joint action by Syria and Iran, but it unquestionably symbolizes Russia’s regional links at an informative time. The media furor over the Scud transfer has produced very little reaction from Russia; it apparently interfered in no way with the fraternal amity of the port visit, which Russian media covered extensively. Pyotr Veliky left Tartus and headed south through the Suez Canal on April 16.

The visit to Haifa of USS Ramage (DDG-61), an Aegis destroyer, has presented an interesting contrast. The lack of even the usual low-level fanfare about the port visit may be due to Ramage’s peculiar capabilities: the destroyer is one of the U.S. Navy’s few Atlantic-based warships outfitted with the ballistic-missile defense (BMD) package. Ramage deployed to the Mediterranean in January specifically to provide a BMD contingency presence, a relatively new mission. The ship arrived in Haifa on the 18th, five days after the Peres disclosure was picked up by U.S. media.

Ramage’s quiet dispatch to Israel is thought-provoking, in light of Russia’s lack of embarrassment at favoring Syria with a flagship port call just when word was getting out about Syrian missiles being proliferated to the terrorist group Hezbollah. It reminds me that the Obama administration has not affirmed a commitment to Israel’s national integrity in the wake of the Scud story. Its spokesmen have emphasized instead that giving Scuds to Hezbollah could “destabilize the region” and “put Lebanon at risk.”

Perhaps Ramage has been sent to Israel’s coast solely as a counter to “regional” destabilization — and making a stop in Haifa is a mere convenience given Israel’s long history of logistic accommodation in that regard. But to make such disingenuous assertions, the Obama administration would have to be talking deliberately about defense commitments in the first place. It does not do so, however, nor does it occur to today’s U.S. media to ask it to. Russia, Iran, and Syria, by contrast, suffer from no such reticence.

There is a certain sense of melancholy in watching the “Syrian Missile Crisis” unfold this month. For the first time in two decades, U.S. and Russian warships have conducted — during the crisis itself — what we might call competing port visits to the principal nations involved. The Russian port visit was not related to Syria’s deployment of Scud missiles with Hezbollah, but its timing was certainly emblematic of the trend in Russian policy in the region.

The Russian nuclear-powered cruiser RFS Pyotr Veliky, flagship of the Northern Fleet, pulled into Tartus, Syria, on April 13. Pyotr Veliky is the warship that visited Venezuela and operated in the Caribbean in late 2008. Russia’s navy continues to struggle in rebuilding its once-aggressive profile on the high seas; port visits like this one have yet to become routine again, although Russia still keeps the small logistic detachment in Tartus that has been there for decades. The Tartus port visit this month was attended by ceremony, high-level meetings, and pointed statements from Russia’s ambassador in Damascus.

The day of Pyotr Veliky’s arrival, Shimon Peres announced Israel’s information on the transfer of Syrian Scuds to Hezbollah. The warship’s presence is not, of course, evidence of Russian involvement in that joint action by Syria and Iran, but it unquestionably symbolizes Russia’s regional links at an informative time. The media furor over the Scud transfer has produced very little reaction from Russia; it apparently interfered in no way with the fraternal amity of the port visit, which Russian media covered extensively. Pyotr Veliky left Tartus and headed south through the Suez Canal on April 16.

The visit to Haifa of USS Ramage (DDG-61), an Aegis destroyer, has presented an interesting contrast. The lack of even the usual low-level fanfare about the port visit may be due to Ramage’s peculiar capabilities: the destroyer is one of the U.S. Navy’s few Atlantic-based warships outfitted with the ballistic-missile defense (BMD) package. Ramage deployed to the Mediterranean in January specifically to provide a BMD contingency presence, a relatively new mission. The ship arrived in Haifa on the 18th, five days after the Peres disclosure was picked up by U.S. media.

Ramage’s quiet dispatch to Israel is thought-provoking, in light of Russia’s lack of embarrassment at favoring Syria with a flagship port call just when word was getting out about Syrian missiles being proliferated to the terrorist group Hezbollah. It reminds me that the Obama administration has not affirmed a commitment to Israel’s national integrity in the wake of the Scud story. Its spokesmen have emphasized instead that giving Scuds to Hezbollah could “destabilize the region” and “put Lebanon at risk.”

Perhaps Ramage has been sent to Israel’s coast solely as a counter to “regional” destabilization — and making a stop in Haifa is a mere convenience given Israel’s long history of logistic accommodation in that regard. But to make such disingenuous assertions, the Obama administration would have to be talking deliberately about defense commitments in the first place. It does not do so, however, nor does it occur to today’s U.S. media to ask it to. Russia, Iran, and Syria, by contrast, suffer from no such reticence.

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Extreme Opinions Regarding the Future of Our Military

Mark Helprin, meet John Arquilla. Helprin is a gifted novelist who, in his spare time, offers strategic commentary. Arquilla is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School who coined the term “net war” and has become an influential strategist. They have just published articles with diametrically opposing — and equally wrong-headed — messages.

Helprin in the Wall Street Journal bemoans our having “recalibrated the armed forces to deal with perhaps a division’s worth of fluid irregulars worldwide, thus granting China, Russia, and Iran military holidays in which to redirect the balance of power.” He thinks we are losing conventional-combat power and warns of dire consequences: “This year, the Air Force will keep 150 fighters in all of Europe, as at one time, while it declined but before it burned, Rome kept only a shadow of legions upon the Rhine and Danube.” Really? The U.S. will fall like the Roman Empire did because we don’t have enough fighter aircraft in Europe? Helprin thinks so, and demands that the F-22 production line be restarted, even though we have another ultra-modern aircraft, the F-35, in the pipeline. The large picture he misses is that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined; our edge can’t be taken for granted but it won’t disappear soon either.

Arquilla, by contrast, thinks the U.S. military remains too conventional. His preferred analogy is not to Rome but rather to World War I: “When militaries don’t keep up with the pace of change, countries suffer. In World War I, the failure to grasp the implications of mass production led not only to senseless slaughter, but also to the end of great empires and the bankruptcy of others.” Today, he argues in Foreign Policy, the U.S. Navy is spending too much on surface warfare ships “whose aluminum superstructures will likely burn to the waterline if hit by a single missile”; the Army, on “a grab bag of new weapons, vehicles, and communications gadgets now seen by its own proponents as almost completely unworkable for the kind of military operations that land forces will be undertaking in the years ahead”; and the Air Force, on “extremely advanced and extremely expensive fighter aircraft — despite losing only one fighter plane to an enemy fighter in nearly 40 years.”

His solution is a radical one: cut defense spending by 10 percent a year, declare “a moratorium … on all legacy-like systems (think aircraft carriers, other big ships, advanced fighters, tanks, etc.),” and cut military manpower (more than 2 million serve today) by two thirds. “The model for military intervention,” he writes, “would be the 200 Special Forces ‘horse soldiers’ who beat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan late in 2001. Such teams would deploy quickly and lethally, with ample reserves for relieving ‘first waves’ and dealing with other crises.”

Give Arquilla props for “out of the box” thinking — as well as for demonstrating why it usually makes sense to stay in the box. The “Afghan model” he cites has been found wanting since 2001 — a few Special Forces troopers could help overthrow the Taliban but couldn’t keep them down. That requires dispatching lots of more troops, which is what President Obama is wisely doing today. Likewise, the projection of U.S. power around the world requires more, not fewer, soldiers. And I wouldn’t be so quick to junk the “legacy weapons system,” which for years to come will give us an invaluable edge over potential adversaries. Helprin goes too far in the other direction, however, by focusing exclusively on the F-22 and its ilk while ignoring developments in robotics (more advanced unmanned aircraft) and the need for effective counterinsurgency forces.

As usual, between the two extremes they represent — extreme unconventionality and extreme conventionality — the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Mark Helprin, meet John Arquilla. Helprin is a gifted novelist who, in his spare time, offers strategic commentary. Arquilla is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School who coined the term “net war” and has become an influential strategist. They have just published articles with diametrically opposing — and equally wrong-headed — messages.

Helprin in the Wall Street Journal bemoans our having “recalibrated the armed forces to deal with perhaps a division’s worth of fluid irregulars worldwide, thus granting China, Russia, and Iran military holidays in which to redirect the balance of power.” He thinks we are losing conventional-combat power and warns of dire consequences: “This year, the Air Force will keep 150 fighters in all of Europe, as at one time, while it declined but before it burned, Rome kept only a shadow of legions upon the Rhine and Danube.” Really? The U.S. will fall like the Roman Empire did because we don’t have enough fighter aircraft in Europe? Helprin thinks so, and demands that the F-22 production line be restarted, even though we have another ultra-modern aircraft, the F-35, in the pipeline. The large picture he misses is that we spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined; our edge can’t be taken for granted but it won’t disappear soon either.

Arquilla, by contrast, thinks the U.S. military remains too conventional. His preferred analogy is not to Rome but rather to World War I: “When militaries don’t keep up with the pace of change, countries suffer. In World War I, the failure to grasp the implications of mass production led not only to senseless slaughter, but also to the end of great empires and the bankruptcy of others.” Today, he argues in Foreign Policy, the U.S. Navy is spending too much on surface warfare ships “whose aluminum superstructures will likely burn to the waterline if hit by a single missile”; the Army, on “a grab bag of new weapons, vehicles, and communications gadgets now seen by its own proponents as almost completely unworkable for the kind of military operations that land forces will be undertaking in the years ahead”; and the Air Force, on “extremely advanced and extremely expensive fighter aircraft — despite losing only one fighter plane to an enemy fighter in nearly 40 years.”

His solution is a radical one: cut defense spending by 10 percent a year, declare “a moratorium … on all legacy-like systems (think aircraft carriers, other big ships, advanced fighters, tanks, etc.),” and cut military manpower (more than 2 million serve today) by two thirds. “The model for military intervention,” he writes, “would be the 200 Special Forces ‘horse soldiers’ who beat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan late in 2001. Such teams would deploy quickly and lethally, with ample reserves for relieving ‘first waves’ and dealing with other crises.”

Give Arquilla props for “out of the box” thinking — as well as for demonstrating why it usually makes sense to stay in the box. The “Afghan model” he cites has been found wanting since 2001 — a few Special Forces troopers could help overthrow the Taliban but couldn’t keep them down. That requires dispatching lots of more troops, which is what President Obama is wisely doing today. Likewise, the projection of U.S. power around the world requires more, not fewer, soldiers. And I wouldn’t be so quick to junk the “legacy weapons system,” which for years to come will give us an invaluable edge over potential adversaries. Helprin goes too far in the other direction, however, by focusing exclusively on the F-22 and its ilk while ignoring developments in robotics (more advanced unmanned aircraft) and the need for effective counterinsurgency forces.

As usual, between the two extremes they represent — extreme unconventionality and extreme conventionality — the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Read Less

A Balanced China Policy

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

George Gilder has been one of our most interesting and important public intellectuals since the 1970s, so his pro-China commentary today in the Wall Street Journal deserves a more serious response than, say, the mindless boosterism of the average Tom Friedman column. In fact, I agree with him that it is hardly worth wasting American diplomatic capital with China on the issues of global warming and the value of the Chinese currency.

I am surprised, however, to see Gilder — who has been an Internet visionary — so blithely suggest that the U.S. government has no stake in Google’s battle with China over Internet censorship and hacking. “Protecting information on the Internet is a responsibility of U.S. corporations and their security tools, not the State Department,” he writes. That is like saying that protecting downtown New York is the responsibility of the corporations headquartered there, not the FBI and NYPD. Cyber infrastructure is fast becoming even more important than physical infrastructure to the functioning of the U.S. economy. Accordingly, it is, indeed, an issue for the State Department — and not only the State Department but also the Defense Department, the Justice Department, and other government agencies.

I am even more surprised to see Gilder — known as a relentless defender of Israel — seemingly write off another embattled democracy: Taiwan. His stance here is a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he writes: “Yes, the Chinese are needlessly aggressive in missile deployments against Taiwan, but there is absolutely no prospect of a successful U.S. defense of that country.” On the other hand: “China, like the U.S., is so heavily dependent on Taiwanese manufacturing skills and so intertwined with Taiwan’s industry that China’s military threat to the island is mostly theater.” Those propositions would seem to be at odds: is China a threat to Taiwan or not? In any case, neither proposition is terribly convincing.

Conquering Taiwan would require China to oversee the biggest amphibious operation since Inchon. Stopping such a cross-Strait attack would not be terribly difficult as long as Taiwan has reasonably strong air and naval forces — and can call on assistance from the U.S. Navy and Air Force. Taiwan doesn’t need the capability to march on Beijing, merely the capability to prevent the People’s Liberation Army from marching on Taipei. It would be harder to prevent China from doing tremendous damage to Taiwan via missile strikes but by no means impossible, given the advancement of ballistic-missile defenses and given our own ability to pinpoint Chinese launch sites. Moreover, giving Taiwan the means to defend itself is the surest guarantee that it won’t have to. Only if Taiwan looks vulnerable is China likely to launch a war.

The notion that such a conflict is out of the question because of the economic links between Taiwan and the mainland is about as convincing as the notion — widely held before World War I — that the major states of Europe were so economically dependent on one another and so enlightened that they would never risk a conflict. If the statesmen who ran Austria and Germany and Russia and France and Britain were, in fact, primarily interested in economic wellbeing, they would never have gone to war. But other considerations — national honor and prestige and security — trumped economics back then and could easily do so again, especially because the legitimacy of the Chinese regime is increasingly based on catering to an extreme nationalist viewpoint.

That doesn’t mean we should engage in needless and self-destructive confrontations with China over global warming and currency, but that also doesn’t mean we should mindlessly kowtow to China’s every whim. As I argued in this Weekly Standard article in 2005, we should pursue a balanced approach to China, tough on security and human-rights issues but accommodating on trade and currency policy. In other words, we should make clear to China that we are prepared to accept it as a responsible member of the international community but that we will not overlook its transgressions, like its complicity in upholding rogue regimes (Sudan, Iran, North Korea) and threatening democratic ones (South Korea, Taiwan).

Read Less




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