LFTC readers reading this post should also see my 9/29 post on Israel versus Iran risks & my 9/28 post on the Iranian second uranium enrichment facility disclosed last week. Today's LFTC post, in effect, completes an LFTC Iran trilogy. First read a few articles of note and then check out the link to a major report on Iran's nuclear program and options for dealing with it, released by a major Washington group.
Time carries an article by Mideast reporter Robin Wright portraying a weakened Iranafter four months of internal strife. Washington Post pundit Anne Applebaum urges international pressure on Iran over human rights abuses, rather than via economic sanctions that can be circumvented, or by a risky strike that likely will not hit all facilities; better to try both, but she is on target re human rights being a key to undermining the regime. Soldier-author Robert Maginnis writes that Iran, anticipating stronger sanctions, now imports more than twice its 176,000 mbd oil consumption (of which some 40 percent must be imported). A New York Times front-pager discusses differences among Western intelligence agencies as to the state of Iran's warhead design program. Here is an update on Iran's latest tests of advanced ballistic missiles.
A Wall Street Journal editorial perceives (rightly) "French atomic pique" in President Sarkozy's acid now-public comments since disclosure of Iran's second uranium enrichment plant. Read the language in full, whose general thrust is that while 44 focuses on a utopian future of a nuclear-free world, North Korea & Iran are giving rise to a dystopian present of proliferating rogue nuclear states.
The Bipartisan Policy Center has issued a major report, Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iran's Nuclear Development (75 pages text + 11 pages of Appendices). The report bluntly states that Iran will likely cross the nuclear threshold in 2010, and that Israel is more willing than ever to consider a military strike. Unless severe sanctions are adopted, the President will have no choice but to honor his pledge to do whatever it takes to stop Iran. The full report is worth a close look. The authors summed up their position in a recent Washington Post op-ed.
Bottom Line. We are rapidly approaching a showdown for which Iran is assiduously preparing, while president Obama seems stuck in the clouds. Pressing America to led world disarmament instead of focusing on rogue proliferators and regional hegemons will accomplish nothing. America has shed 95 percent of its nuclear arsenal, which impresses Iran & North Korea only in showing unwillingness to confront present dangers. Whether our European allies, until now irresolute in the face of Iran's challenge, can rally President Obama to step up to the plate may well determine whether Israel decides to take matters into its own hands.
Below are my latest thoughts on the developing situation in the Mideast, between Israel & Iran. The two nations seem to be steering a collision course for a showdown early in 2010. On Monday Iran tested two more advanced versions of its medium-range ballistic missiles. These missiles now can be fired from mobile launchers and carry multiple warheads. Bush 43 official Eliot Cohen sees either a nuclear iran or an Isreali/US military strike within one year, as neither negotiations nor sanctions will induce the Iranians to surrender their nuclear option.
1. Last June Saudi Arabia reportedly gave the Israelis clearance to overfly Saudi airspace if they promise to keep quiet. This obviates the need to cross US-controlled airspace. This in turn prevents Obama from freezing the Israeli air option by warning that he would immediately alert Tehran if Israel traverses US-controlled airspace without US consent.2. Israel will not necessarily use air power alone. It has submarine-based missiles, land-based missiles & special forces.
3. Iran will not be so quick to blockade the Strait of Hormuz. Most of the 40 percent of the world's oil that passes through there goes not to America, but to Europe, Japan & China. America would face a price squeeze, with oil, in the short-term easily over $200. But the others would face not merely a price crisis but a supply crisis as well. The immense harm to the global economy would be blamed on Iran as well as on Israel--although America & Europe would share the blame for failing to push through strong sanctions outside the UN, 5 to 6 years ago, when Iran, still far from nuclear status, surely would have caved. Now that Iran is on the threshold of achieving nuclear status sanctions, even stronger than the UN would approve (where Russia can veto), are probably too late to stop Iran.
4. Obama would also be blamed domestically for his hostile stance towards Israel, leading the Israelis to realize that America would not give them real help against Iran, and leaving Israel to act alone if Iran is to be stopped. And as nearly everyone knows, much of the world would blame the US for clandestinely approving the Israeli strike, even though not true. Great Satan always will share any blame heaped upon Little Satan (not only in the Islamic world).5. $200-plus oil would spell the end of OPEC. The economic pain inflicted would force Western countries to implement every possible oil alternative, on an expedited basis. Iran would be a huge loser in the medium- and long-term. In the short-term its Navy would be destroyed, possibly even its ports. It simply is not credible for Iran to take on the entire world via such a destructive act. No matter how mad at Israel Europe would be they would have to wake up. Moscow would lose also in the long run, because Europe would be given a graphic demonstration of what dependence on adversarial powers for energy does to their security.
6. More likely, Iran would retaliate via its terror proxies, chiefly Hezbollah & Hamas. That could inflict real pain in the dozens of Western countries where thousands of inviting targets lie unprotected from car bombs, suicide bombers, etc. The intended punitive effect would be achieved, without crashing the global economy. Iran would begin to rebuild its nuclear capabilities, but European countries might think twice about helping the second time around. Closing the Straits would be in much of the world viewed as a CAPITAL OFFENSE, one that could lead to the destruction of the regime. Thus, closure is not worth the extreme risk to Iran. Terror is cheaper & easier, and carries far less risk of massive retaliation. Moreover, terror would not impose incentives to migrate away from Mideast oil once & for all.
7. Obama is at zero by now with PM Netanyahu. Which is what happens when you kick Israel around over a bunch of stupid settlements and play Pied Piper to the Palestinians, supinely suck up to the Iranians, Syrians, etc. Israel is in a far stronger position to ignore Obama than it was 18 years ago to ignore Bush 41. No longer an economic basket case, Israel has become an economic superstar--read George Gilder's The Israel Test (2009),, a brilliant book on this topic (which I reviewed for TAS). The Israeli public shows all of 4 percent (yes, that is a four) believing Obama a friend of Israel, so where is the political price Bibi pays for defying us? What Obama did to Poles & Czechs will not be missed in Israel either. Punishment after an Israeli strike on Iran? Blanket embargo of Israeli goods backfires for reasons Gilder sets out--Israel supplies too many essential parts of the Internet & other high-tech goodies to the world's advanced economies. They may sell fewer shofars, but that's about it.
Obama, I strongly suspect, has likely thought of little or none of this.
Bottom Line. Feckless diplomacy since Iran was caught cheating on nuclear energy nearly a decade ago, and tepid sanctions watered down to win Security Council approval, plus an administration catering to Iran while pressuring Israel, have all combined to make an Israeli strike the only plausible way to stop Iran from going nuclear soon. If struck, Iran surely will retaliate, but far more likely via unleashing terrorism than by taking the desperate all-or-nothing step of closing the Strait of Hormuz, lest the major powers be so damaged economically that their public insist their leaders take decisive action to end dependence on Mideast oil--and also end the regime in Iran.
Here is the Washington Post's Friday front-pager on Iran's revelation that it has a previously undisclosed second uranium-enrichment plant. A second WP report summarized initial Western responses to the disclosure. A Saturday NY Times piece recounted details of closed-door diplomacy last week between the Security Council powers. The Independent reports that with 3,000 centrifuges the facility can make a bomb or two per year. AP report that Iran will help Venezuela search for uranium deposits--anyone think Chavez wants to make luminous dial watches?
Iran decided to disclose the plant, located at Qom (the religious capital of the Shia clergy) upon becoming aware that the secret was out--the US knew of the facility but had decided to wait until proof positive of its purpose could be shown. The article also details how ambiguities in interpreting the Nonproliferation Treaty enable Iran to argue its concealment was technically lawful.
Washington Post pundit David Ignatius adopts nuclear expert Graham Allison's description of the Iran nuclear challenge as "a Cuban Missile Crisis in slow-motion". The WP editors state that discovery of the second uranium enrichment plant "changes the calculus" re Iran, and means severe sanctions must be adopted; perhaps more significantly, the WP editors call re a re-assessment of US intelligence on Iran. A Saturday WP front-pager adds two key points re Team Obama's Iran views: (1) Sanctions must not be seen as America alone--which effectively gives Russia & China the high cards in the 5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China & Germany)negotiations with Iran; (2) SecDef Robert Gates saying a week ago that "there is no military option" because a strike could only delay Iran's nuclear accession, and also because there likely are other secret facilities. Fox News pundit Stephen Hayes notes that Iran has been caught lying thrice in the past decade, and yet Obama says "the offer stands" for a path to peace. Such fecklessness can only earn the contempt of the mullahs yet again. Howard Berman, the California Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, calls for stopping Iran now. First HB wants negotiations through year-end, then if unsuccessful (as will be the case) imposing "crippling sanctions" by passing the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act (H.R 2194), now pending in Congress.
At NRO, Michael Ledeen notes (sadly, he is right) that Obama, Brown & Sarkozy knew about this, and kept silent until they no longer could, and thus their outrage is mere posturing, with the talks deadline now pushed back to December despite Iran's latest duplicity. Victor Davis Hanson offers additional evidence of the feckless western non-responses to Iran's nuclear quest.
Heritage Foundation scholar Peter Brookes notes that the reactor is located on a military base--a rather odd spot for a civilian reactor. National security maven Cliff May calls for immediate imposition of harsh sanctions. But the Financial Times reports that Chinese state companies are now supplying petrol to Iran, to the tune of 30,000 - 40,000 barrels per day, making up for other companies who cut back shipments. Iran imports 120,000 mbd via oil trading intermediaries, representing 0 percent of its refined oil needs.
Claudia Rosett sees a UN at odds with President Obama's view of common interests in human progress:
But also out of that alliance, the U.N. was created crooked from the start. It is a grand collective, immune to law, reporting to itself, largely unaccountable and most easily exploited and corrupted by its least principled members. If it is to be used at all, it is a vehicle best used sparingly and with great caution.
Outside the walls, barricades, motorcades and security nets cocooning the U.N. this week, there have been thousands of protesters from some of the countries with dignitaries speaking within. To name a few, I have come across demonstrators from Libya, Burma, China, Cameroon, and, in large numbers, coming in some cases from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, Iran. Most of them are calling for the same things: democracy, justice, freedom. As Obama's presidency unfolds, there are almost surely moments ahead in which, whatever the yen to define away differences and dismiss divides, Obama--and America--will have to choose: The tyrant on the U.N. stage, or those little folks across the street.
Michael Barone sees Obama clinging to a 1960s worldview of America as "the bad guy" in world affairs, and thus 44 is inclined to ditch allies in favor of appeasing enemies in diplomatic intercourse & geostrategy. The Wall Street Journal editors see the "disarmament illusion" in Team Obama's attempt to get Iran to give away the bomb at the negotiating table.\:
The Iranians have heard it all before, waltzing along in talks with the "E-3" and now the "P-5-plus-1" (the Security Council permanent members and Germany), all the while ignoring Security Council resolutions and its commitments as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Let's also not forget the boost Iran got in late 2007, when a U.S. national intelligence estimate concluded that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and kept it frozen. The U.S. spy agencies reached this dubious conclusion while apparently knowing about the site near Qom. The intelligence finding stole whatever urgency existed for the Bush Administration to act against Iran, militarily or otherwise, which perhaps was the intended goal. The Iranians got more time and cover.
In an interview with Time magazine this week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't sound overly concerned, saying that if the U.S. mentioned the previously secret facility, it "simply adds to the list of issues to which the United States owes the Iranian nation an apology over." Following the violent protests this summer in response to Iran's fraudulent presidential elections, Mr. Ahmadinejad has kept power but looks both weaker and more ruthless. He makes explicit threats against Israel and he engaged in more Holocaust denial at the U.N. this week.
Meantime, the U.S. and its allies dream. Mr. Obama used his global forum this week not to rally the world to stop today's nuclear rogues but to offer lovely visions of disarmament in some distant future. In the bitter decades of the Cold War, we learned the hard way that the only countries that abide by disarmament treaties are those that want to be disarmed. It's becoming increasingly, and dangerously, obvious that Mr. Obama wasn't paying attention.
Ralph Peters sees this mess headed for (a) a US default and (b) a partially successful Israeli strike that leads Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz and thus push oil sky-high.
Bottom Line. Iran's latest announcement brings to mind once again a quotation LFTC has oft offered: the late Russian dissident novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's warning, delivered in his 1978 Harvard address, that the West's illusions about Moscow would be "broken by the pitiless crowbar of events." Then the shock was the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The next shock increasingly looks like it will be a WMD shock.
The 575-page Goldstone Report, by Richard Goldstone (a South African Jew) and three others, was released last week. I read the Executive Summary (pp. 5-38) and the sections on Conclusions and Recommendations (pp. 520-554: Conclusions begin on page 520, and Recommendations on page 546). These paragraphs from the Conclusions section encapsulate how grotesque the report is (sorry for formatting problems--the excerpts are still readable):
1680. The Gaza military operations were, according to the Israeli Government, thoroughly and
extensively planned. While the Israeli Government has sought to portray its operations as
essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self defence, the Mission
considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza
as a whole.
1681. In this respect, the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing
the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with
the intent of forcing a change in such support. The Mission considers this position to be firmly
based in fact, bearing in mind what it saw and heard on the ground, what it read in the accounts
of soldiers who served in the campaign, and what it heard and read from current and former
military officers and political leaders whom the Mission considers to be representative of the
thinking that informed the policy and strategy of the military operations.
Here is what the Conclusions section says of Palestinian rocket attacks:
E. Rocket and mortar attacks in Israel
1697. Palestinian armed groups have launched thousands of rockets and mortars into Israel
since April 2001. These have succeeded in causing terror within Israel’s civilian population, as
evidenced by the high rates of psychological trauma within the affected communities. The
attacks have also led to erosion of the social, cultural and economic lives of the communities in
southern Israel, and have affected the rights to education of the tens of thousands of children and
young adults who attend classes in the affected areas.
1698. Within the mandated period of the Mission, these attacks have left 4 people dead and
hundreds injured. That there have not been more casualties is due to a combination of luck and
measures taken by the Israeli government, including the fortification of public buildings,
construction of shelters and, in times of escalated hostilities, the cloure of schools.
1699. The Mission notes, with concern, that Israel has not provided the same level of protection
from rockets and mortars to affected Palestinian citizens as it has to Jewish citizens. In particular,
it has failed to provide public shelters or fortification of schools, for example, to the Palestinian
community living in the unrecognised villages and some of the recognised communities. It ought to go without saying that the thousands of Palestinian Israelis– including a significant number of
children – who live within the range of rocket fire, deserve the same protection as the Israeli
Government provides to its Jewish citizens.
Here are two more "rockets" paragraphs later in the section:
1747. In relation to the firing of rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by Palestinian armed
groups operating in the Gaza Strip, the Mission finds that the Palestinian armed groups fail to
distinguish between military targets and the civilian population and civilian objects in Southern
Israel. The launching of rockets and mortars which cannot be aimed with sufficient precisions at
military targets breaches the fundamental principle of distinction. Where there is no intended
military target and the rockets and mortars are launched into civilian areas, they constitute a
deliberate attack against the civilian population. These actions would constitute war crimes and
may amount to crimes against humanity.
1748. The Mission concludes that the rocket and mortars attacks, launched by Palestinian
armed groups operating from Gaza, have caused terror in the affected communities of southern
Israel. The attacks have caused loss of life and physical and mental injury to civilians as well as
damaging private houses, religious buildings and property and eroding the economic and cultural
life of the affected communities and severely affected economic and social rights of the
N.B. In para. 1747, "may" amount to war crimes.
Here from the Conclusions section is a paragraph exemplifying moral equivalence between Palestinian and Israeli suffering, plus false history--the 1967 Green Line marked ceasefire positions, not negotiated borders:
1705. Both the Palestinians and the Israelis are legitimately angered at the lives that they are
forced to lead: For the Palestinians, the anger about individual events – the civilian casualties,
injuries and destruction in Gaza following from military attacks, the blockade, the continued
construction of the Wall outside of the 1967 borders – feed into an underlying anger about the
continuing Israeli occupation, its daily humiliations and their as-yet-unfulfilled right to self-
determination. For the Israelis, the public statements of Palestinian armed groups celebrating
rocket and mortar attacks on civilians strengthen a deep-rooted concern that negotiation will
yield little and that their nation remains under existential threat from which only it can protect its
people. In this way, both the Israelis and the Palestinians share a secret fear – for some, a belief –
that each has no intention of accepting the other’s right to a country of their own. This anger and
fear are unfortunately ably represented by many politicians.
In other words, the serial atrocities of Palestinian terrorism over the past four decades are to be equated with Israel's "occupation"--much of which covers territory awarded to Israel by the UN's own 1947 Partition Plan and then illegally seized by the Jordanians in 1948. Nor is there any acknowledgment that Israel in 200o offered 98 percent of the West Bank to Yasser Arafat, plus 2 percent of Israel proper to compensate for the 2 percent of the WB Israel proposed to retain, and Arafat turned the offer down.
This paragraph later in the section:
1750. The Mission also examined whether the Palestinian armed groups complied with their
obligations under international humanitarian law to take constant care to minimize the risk of
harm to the civilian population in Gaza among whom the hostilities were being conducted. The
conduct of hostilities in built-up areas does not, of itself, constitute a violation of international
law. However, launching attacks - whether of rockets and mortars at the population of southern
Israel or at the Israeli armed forces inside Gaza - close to civilian or protected buildings constitutes a failure to take all feasible precautions. In cases where this occurred, the Palestinian armed groups would have unnecessarily exposed the civilian population of Gaza to the inherent dangers of the military operations taking place around them. The Mission found no evidence to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks. The Mission also found no evidence that members of Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat in civilian dress. Although in the one incident of an Israeli attack on a mosque it investigated the Mission found that there was no indication that that mosque was used for military purposes or to shield military activities, the Mission cannot exclude that this might have occurred in other cases.
The Mission "cannot exclude" that Hamas used civilians "in other cases" as shields? Hamas routinely does so.
Here are two paragraphs in the section on Gaza authorities, which do not, in the Mission's view, seems to be a Hamas dictatorship controlling armed groups, but simply unable to control all those nasty people:
1751. Although the Gaza authorities deny any control over armed groups and responsibility of
their acts, in the Mission’s view, if they failed to take necessary measures to prevent the
Palestinian armed groups from endangering the civilian population, the Gaza authorities would
bear responsibility for the damage arising to the civilians living in Gaza.
1752. The Mission finds that security services under the control of the Gaza authorities carried
out extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrest, detention and ill treatment of people, in particular
political opponents, which constitute serious violations of the human rights to life, to liberty and
security of the person, to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment, to be protected against arbitrary arrest and detention, to a fair and impartial legal
proceeding; and to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions
This paragraph from the Conclusions section is telling as to bias:
1711. After decades of sustained conflict, the level of threat to which both Palestinians and
Israelis are subjected has not abated, but if anything increased with continued escalations of
violence, death and suffering for the civilian population, of which the December-January
military operations in Gaza are only the most recent occurrence. The State of Israel is therefore
also failing to protect its own citizens by refusing to acknowledge the futility of resorting to
violent means and military power.
Israeli military action is only futile because Israel has never unleashed the full power of its military. Were Israel to unleash its full might on the Palestinians it could kill tens of thousands in days, and end resistance. Israel's civilized values prevent it from doing so. Israel, put simply, will not do what Syrian dictator Hafez Assad did in the city of Hamas in 1982: send in tanks to kills 20,000 in two days to quell an uprising.
Oh, and how come there is no comment in the UN's paragraph quoted above, as to the futility of resorting to terrorism? Because the UN, and surely the authors of this report, see terrorism as justified by Israel's "occupation." (The report goes on to praise all the good works of UN personnel in the Palestinian lands, ignoring how the UN has facilitated and abetted Palestinian terrorism and the spread of lies about Israel and the Jews, during those decades.)
Here, from the Executive Summary (pp. 5 - 38), are all of two paragraphs on the Palestinians and civilian casualties:
4. Obligation to take feasible precautions to protect civilian population and objects by
Palestinian armed groups in Gaza
35. The Mission examined whether and to what extent the Palestinian armed groups violated
their obligation to exercise care and take feasible precautions to protect the civilian population in
Gaza from the inherent dangers of the military operations (Chapter VIII). The Mission was faced
with a certain reluctance by the persons it interviewed in Gaza to discuss the activities of the
armed groups. On the basis of the information gathered, the Mission found that Palestinian
armed groups were present in urban areas during the military operations and launched rockets
from urban areas. It may be that the Palestinian combatants did not at all times adequately
distinguish themselves from the civilian population. The Mission found no evidence, however, to
suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being
launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks.
36. Although the situations investigated by the Mission did not establish the use of mosques for
military purposes or to shield military activities, it cannot exclude that this might have occurred in other cases. The Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital
facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military
activities and that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes.
On the basis of its own investigations and the statements by UN officials, the Mission excludes
that Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat activities from UN facilities that were used as
shelters during the military operations. The Mission cannot, however, discount the possibility
that Palestinian armed groups were active in the vicinity of such UN facilities and hospitals.
While the conduct of hostilities in built-up areas does not, of itself, constitute a violation of
international law, Palestinian armed groups, where they launched attacks close to civilian or
protected buildings, unnecessarily exposed the civilian population of Gaza to danger.
"Could not find any evidence" of the human shields policy that is the hallmark of how Hamas operates? Willful blindness is a kind appellation for such failure by the Mission.
In all, the Goldstone Mission found Palestinians guilty of minor war crimes, but accused Israel of major crimes, while ignoring much done by Hamas. The Recommendations, broadly, call for criminal prosecution and for pervasive monitoring, with Israel clearly the prime target. Here are the twin paragraphs from the Recommendations section that offer the prescription for the Palestinians to undertake:
1770. To Palestinian armed groups
• The Mission recommends that Palestinian armed groups undertake forthwith to respect
international humanitarian law, in particular by renouncing attacks on Israeli civilians and
civilian objects, and take all feasible precautionary measures to avoid harm to Palestinian
civilians during hostilities
• The Mission recommends that Palestinian armed groups who hold Israeli soldier Gilad
Shalit in detention release him on humanitarian grounds. Pending such release they
should recognize his status as prisoner of war, treat him as such, and allow him ICRC
1771. To responsible Palestinian authorities
• The Mission recommends that the Palestinian Authority issue clear instructions to
security forces under its command to abide by human rights norms as enshrined in the
Palestinian Basic Law and international instruments; ensure prompt and independent
investigation of all allegations of serious human rights violations by security forces under
its control; and end resort to military justice to deal with cases involving civilians.
• The Mission recommends that the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza authorities release
without delay all political detainees currently in their power and refrain from further
arrests on political grounds and in violation of international human rights law.
• The Mission recommends that the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza authorities
continue to enable the free and independent operation of Palestinian non-governmental
organizations, including human rights organizations, and of the Independent Commission
on Human Rights
Other Views. This Los Angeles Times op-ed summarizes the absurdity of the UN's latest Mideast atrocity: whitewashing Hamas & smearing Israel. This article excerpt captures the outrageous bias of Goldstone and Co.:
In an attempt to balance the report, the mission did conclude that Palestinian rocket fire into Israel constitutes war crimes. But this is largely irrelevant because the extent of the charges against Israel is so much greater and more damning.
The political bias of the mission was borne out in the report, which, despite its 575 pages, failed to find conclusive evidence of Hamas' extraordinary use of civilians and civilian infrastructure for military purposes.
For example, the report makes no mention of the recorded incidents of Palestinian rocket fire from school premises during the operation, despite video evidence.
The mission also failed to find evidence of Palestinian forces using mosques to store rockets and explosives and said so in the report. But the Israel Defense Forces made public many videos showing Israeli air force strikes on mosques in which huge secondary explosions can be seen following the initial attack, testifying to the presence of rocket stores in the mosques.
The report also fails to mention that the Palestinian forces recruited children to conduct combat-support operations. A Jan. 9 report in an Arabic-language paper in Israel included an interview with Khaled, a child from Gaza. He said: "We the children ... are fulfilling missions of support for the [Hamas] resistance fighters, by transmitting messages about the movements of the enemy forces or by bringing them ammunition and food."
The Palestinian forces utilized the civilian infrastructure of Gaza so completely that IDF soldiers and commanders could never be sure that people usually considered to be noncombatants were not participating in the hostilities, and that installations typically considered to be of a civilian nature were not being used to stage attacks on them. Without this crucial context, it is impossible to understand the dilemmas faced by the IDF during the operation or the reasons why injury to Gazan civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure were incurred.
On Commentary Blog, author Max Boot assesses the Goldstone product. MB notes that Goldstone & Co. refer to Gaza as "occupied territory"; MB concludes that had the UN done a similar report on World War II, Allied sins would have received more attention than the war crimes of of the Nazis. This one paragraph of Boot's crisp piece notes--read it in full--how the UN accepts the Palestinian position in toto:
The report also takes a swipe at Israeli restrictions on movement in the West Bank without any acknowledgment that this is done solely to prevent terrorism in Israel or any suggestion that this is related to the Gaza War. Israel is even castigated for “policies on the right to enter from abroad and the right of return for refugees,” meaning that the UN (or at least its Human Rights Commission) has endorsed the Palestinian bargaining position of the supposed “right to return,” which really amounts to the destruction of Israel by demographic means. But such pervasive anti-Israeli bias should not be surprising coming from a fact-finding mission that misses the elementary fact that the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip ended in 2005; the report still refers to Gaza as “Israeli occupied territory.”
Don't believe Boot? Try this paragraph from the Conclusions section:
1694. As the Mission focussed on investigating and analyzing the specific matters within its
mandate, Israel’s continuing occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank emerged as the
fundamental factor underlying violations of international humanitarian and human rights law
against the protected population and undermining prospects for development and peace. Israel’s
failure to acknowledge and exercise its responsibilities as the Occupying Power further
exacerbated the effects of occupation on the Palestinian people, and continue to do so.
Furthermore, the harsh and unlawful practices of occupation, far from quelling resistance, breed
it, including its violent manifestations. The Mission is of the view that ending occupation is a
prerequisite for the return of a dignified life for Palestinians, as well as development and a
peaceful solution to the conflict.
David Landau of Haaretz, in a Sunday New York Times op-ed, argued that Goldstone missed a chance for a needed debate by falsely accusing the IDF of intentionally targeting civilians:
When does negligence become recklessness, and when does recklessness slip into wanton callousness, and then into deliberate disregard for innocent human life?
But that is the point — and it should have been the focus of the investigation. Judge Goldstone’s real mandate was, or should have been, to bring Israel to confront this fundamental question, a question inherent in the waging of war by all civilized societies against irregular armed groups. Are widespread civilian casualties inevitable when a modern army pounds terrorist targets in a heavily populated area with purportedly smart ordnance? Are they acceptable? Does the enemy’s deployment in the heart of the civilian area shift the line between right and wrong, in morality and in law?
These were precisely the questions that Israeli politicians and generals wrestled with in Gaza, as others do today in Afghanistan.
It is possible, and certainly arguable, that the Israeli policymakers, or individual Israeli field commanders in isolated instances, pushed the line out too far.
But Judge Goldstone has thwarted any such honest debate — within Israel or concerning Israel. His fundamental premise, that the Israelis went after civilians, shut down the argument before it began.
Bottom Line. The Goldstone Mission produced the latest UN atrocity in the Mideast. Israel remains in the UN's gun-sights, while Hamas gets mostly a pass. US taxpayers helped pay the cost of this grotesquerie. In essence, what the Goldstone Report did was cast a blood-libel on Israel--knowingly level (intent is inferred from act, in evidence law) a maliciously false, deeply damning accusation.
Hudson Institute scholar Anne Bayevsky details how President Obama, in presiding over a UN Security Council session today, will harm American interests. As the first President to do so, he will confer more legitimacy on the UN, whose anti-Americanism is deep-seated and unchangeable. Also, 44 plans to discuss nuclear disarmament without naming violators like Iran & North Korea, and lump in reduction of American arsenals along with rogue proliferators. (Here is the text of President Obama's Sept. 23 address to the General Assembly; To his credit, 44 mentioned Iran & North Korea negatively, and comdemned "reflexive anti-Americanism"; the chamber was silent.)
Blindness to huge differences between disarming rogue proliferators and dealing with other nuclear problems can only provide succor to the rogues, who have not been moved one whit by America having already dismantled some 95 percent of its nuclear arsenal, a fact 44 never mentions (and may not even know).
UN maven Claudia Rosett, bane of the oli-for-food fraudsters, chimes in with a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed arguing that Obama will demean himself & his office by chairing the Security Council meeting. CR fears (rightly that Obama will make more unreciprocated arms control concessions and get only a photo op in return:
The United Nations holds votes, but it is not a democracy, and it does not cleave to its own lofty charter principles about upholding human dignity. If it did, quite a number of member states, including one of the major founders, Stalin's Soviet Union, would never have been enrolled, and others would have been kicked out years ago (that's never happened).
In practice, the United Nations is a messy, murky despot-infested collective - opaque, girdled in diplomatic immunities, and thus largely unaccountable for its actions. The biggest voting bloc in the General Assembly is the 130-member G-77, which this year picked for its chair - I'm not kidding - the genocidal government of Sudan (whose President Omar al-Bashir is under indictment by the International Criminal Court).
The Security Council isn't all that much better. Chairmanship rotates monthly through all 15 members, with no regard for what kind of regimes that might entail. The five permanent members are democratic France, Britain, and the United States, plus despotic Russia and China. The current roster of 10 rotating members includes not only Japan and Austria, but Vietnam and Libya. This month it is America's turn to preside; Obama will sit in the same chair occupied in March by an envoy of Moammar Gadhafi's Libya. With heads of state summoned for Thursday's historic occasion, it's likely history will record the spectacle of terror-drenched tyrant-for-life Gadhafi sharing the table.
In this setup, the most law-abiding of the 192 member states tend to get stuck with the results of whatever the Security Council agrees to. The most unscrupulous, which account to no electorates back home, feel free to lie as they please and do whatever they can get away with, which is plenty, because the United Nations leaves individual member states to police their own compliance with U.N. deals. From the oil-for-food scandal to the current sanctions-busting traffic with the likes of Iran and North Korea, it is common practice for some Security Council members to violate, with impunity, the same deals they vote for. That goes far to explain why a series of "binding" Security Council resolutions over the last three years imposing sanctions on North Korea and Iran have failed to stop the nuclear programs of Pyongyang or Tehran.
Sending an envoy to navigate this scene and report to the president has the great advantage of leaving room to maneuver, revise, rethink, defuse, and deny without showcasing the U.S. president as petitioning support from whatever despot has been exalted to swing vote of the season. Even Jimmy Carter was not foolish enough to try the stunt of subbing for his own ambassador at the Security Council.
In an AEI column last week, former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton also assessed the President's UN prospects at the UN. JB notes that 44 will get loud cheers, unlike Bush 43 (he got applause, but no fan cheers, ususally at the wrong moments). This is because unlike his predecessor 44 has sucked up to every dictator on the planet (Bolton is too diplomatic to put it this way). 43 called the UN a "wax museum" because he was given the silent treatment. That was, however unintentionally, an insult to Madame Tussaud's and the other wax museums on the planet.
While the stage was being set for this week's grand opening in NYC, what did the United Nations do recently? In Vienna, at a meeting of member nations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), sitting on secret data on Iran's program, the IAEA passed a resolution by a 49-45 vote, with 16 abstentions, condemning the nuclear activities of...Israel. Yes, Israel.
Bottom Line. While President Obama diddles at the UN, the UN continues its old ways of shafting Israel, and the clock runs on Israel's Day of Decision re Iran.
Charles Krauthammer dissects three Obama promises and finds not flat-out lies, but far more clever evasions. CK thinks this time they will fail. Read his entire column, and savor his Medicare deconstruction of 44:
Obama said he would largely solve the insoluble cost problem of Obamacare by eliminating "hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud" from Medicare.
That's not a lie. That's not even deception. That's just an insult to our intelligence. Waste, fraud and abuse -- Meg Greenfield once called this phrase "the dread big three" -- as the all-purpose piggy bank for budget savings has been a joke since Jimmy Carter first used it in 1977.
Moreover, if half a trillion is waiting to be squeezed painlessly out of Medicare, why wait for health care reform? If, as Obama repeatedly insists, Medicare overspending is breaking the budget, why hasn't he gotten started on the painless billions in "waste and fraud" savings?
Obama doesn't lie. He merely elides, gliding from one dubious assertion to another. This has been the story throughout his whole health care crusade. Its original premise was that our current financial crisis was rooted in neglect of three things -- energy, education and health care. That transparent attempt to exploit Emanuel's Law -- a crisis is a terrible thing to waste -- failed for health care because no one is stupid enough to believe that the 2008 financial collapse was caused by a lack of universal health care.
So on to the next gambit: selling health care reform as a cure for the deficit. When that was exploded by the Congressional Budget Office's demonstration of staggering Obamacare deficits, Obama tried a new tack: selling his plan as revenue-neutral insurance reform -- until the revenue neutrality is exposed as phony future cuts and chimerical waste and fraud.
Obama doesn't lie. He implies, he misdirects, he misleads -- so fluidly and incessantly that he risks transmuting eloquence into mere slickness.
Slickness wasn't fatal to "Slick Willie" Clinton because he possessed a winning, near irresistible charm. Obama's persona is more cool, distant, imperial. The charming scoundrel can get away with endless deception; the righteous redeemer cannot.
What the Wall Street Journal editors call Obama's Nontax Tax shows how slick 44 can be, in this instance, on mandating people to buy HC insurance not being truly a tax (which of course it is):
"That may be," Mr. Stephanopoulos responded, "but it's still a tax increase." (In fact, uncompensated care accounts for about only 2.2% of national health spending today, but that's another subject.)
Mr. Obama: "No. That's not true, George. The—for us to say that you've got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase. What it's saying is, is that we're not going to have other people carrying your burdens for you anymore . . ." In other words, like parents talking to their children, this levy—don't call it a tax—is for your own good.
Mr. Stephanopoulos tried again: "But it may be fair, it may be good public policy—"
Mr. Obama: "No, but—but, George, you—you can't just make up that language and decide that that's called a tax increase."
"I don't think I'm making it up," Mr. Stephanopoulos said. He then had the temerity to challenge the Philologist in Chief, with an assist from Merriam-Webster. He cited that dictionary's definition of "tax"—"a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes."
Mr. Obama: "George, the fact that you looked up Merriam's Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now. . . ."
So 44 is arguing with...a dictionary definition. Politics is wonderful, eh? Read the full exchange and enjoy. No wonder columnist Michael Goodwin sees 44 losing public trust; MG cites a recent, astonishing poll number from Quinnipiac: by a 68-26 percent margin Connecticut voters reject 44's assertion that ObamaCare will not add to the federal deficit. Connecticut is a liberal state, on balance.
Another area where 44 slips & slides around is ACORN's recent scandals. He had been an attorney for the group. Read this 3-page TAS ACORN history explaining its militant roots & criminal tactics. Another 44 gimmick, as Forbes's Terry Keenan details, is using respected public figures like Paul Volcker as window dressing.
Michael Barone adds that liberals--including 44--tend to deride opponents more & more, rather than acknowledge legitimate opposing arguments. This will, MB suggests, hurt them in the long run.
Bottom Line. If Obama keeps all this up, it will make one nostalgic for Slick Willei (Clinton) and Tricky Dick (Nixon).
The National Intelligence Strategy of the United States of America (August 2009, 18 pages) makes changes to the strategy of the Bush years. Wall Street Journal editor Gordon Crovitz sees less ambitious security goals in the changes made by Team Obama. Specifically, he cites three areas of Team 44 pullback:
For example, the new version of the document refers to the mission objective to "combat violent extremism" versus what the Bush administration's determination to "defeat terrorists at home and abroad." Combating is weaker than defeating.
Also, a mission that had been defined in 2005 as to "prevent and counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction" has been reduced to "counter WMD proliferation." Reducing prevention to countering seems like a move in the wrong direction as Iran grows closer to acquiring nuclear weapons.
Another change: the deletion of the Bush mission of "promoting the growth of freedom and democracy." From Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's deliberate downgrading of human rights in the U.S.-China relationship to President Barack Obama's choice of Egypt for regional outreach, the administration has intentionally downplayed the U.S. role in promoting human rights and democracy. This is a problem even from a realpolitik point of view in a world where information gaps are the biggest risks. Closed countries and terror groups are the greatest obstacles to the free flow of information, especially about the risks they pose.
Bottom Line. These sound like, respectively: (a) declare victory and get out (Vermont GOP Senator George Aiken's famous recipe for Vietnam); (b) no more preventive strikes; and (c) support your friendly thug (OK where democracy cannot take root) or not so friendly thug (only OK if alternatives are worse).
While President Obama remains silent on last Friday's mass Iranian demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters inside Iran who bravely defied their tyrannical rulers, Iran's rulers welcomed the President's decision to scrap the planned missile defense deployment in Eastern Europe, joining Tsar Vladimir Putin in the cheering section.
Oh, and Reuters reports that US intelligence believes Iran's Revolutionary Guards are providing the Afghan Taliban with training & weapons, to help kill Americans in Afghanistan:
Pentagon officials pointed to the seizure late last month in western
Afghanistan, near the border with Iran, of weapons and explosives
bearing markings indicating they were made in Iran.
The large weapons cache, the first seized in Afghanistan in nearly two years, included rockets, explosives, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as munitions known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, capable of piercing U.S. armor, Pentagon officials said.
U.S. officials said they believed the Iranian government was aware of the assistance but it was not clear to what extent its leaders were directly involved.
"To what extent its leaders were directly involved?" Do we need to intercept e-mails? Iran is not a place where improvised adventures into neighboring countries that can get America mad at you are likely to be undertaken without official sanction, lest the players risk their heads. But in legalist America today, that is not enough proof. Perhaps while in New York Ahmadinejad can be deposed at his attorney's office.
Bottom Line. While Iran's leaders bite the American hand that feeds them, Team Obama readies yet more concessions. See anything wrong with this picture?
George Will details how Bosnia is on the verge of collapse again, more than a decade after the ethnic war there was settled by the Dayton Accords, and after more than a decade of nation-building. Will then poses this disturbing but necessary query:
"With factions from all three ethnic groups now challenging the Dayton structure," McMahon and Western are emphatic: "First, a strong U.S. commitment is necessary." But this is not a propitious moment to propose that, with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq -- and North Korea, etc. -- on Washington's mind. So this question is apposite: If Bosnia -- situated in placid and prosperous Europe; recipient of abundant aid and attention from the United States, the European Union, NATO and the U.N. -- is so resistant to nation-building, what are sensible expectations for a similar project in remote, mountainous, tribal Afghanistan?
"It is human to hate," the late Samuel Huntington wrote. Communities, like individuals, crave clear identities, which sometimes are built on foundations of shared dislikes. This is true of the communities within Bosnia, and Afghanistan.
Tending to confirm Will's gloomy assessment is a classified report on Afghanistan leaked to the Washington Post, which reports that General Stanley McChrystal sees near-certain defeat unless we send more troops and recalibrate our strategy & execution. The WP article highlights excerpts from the document, showing three distinct enemy forces operating a well-organized insurgent campaign:
McChrystal identifies three main insurgent groups "in order of their threat to the mission" and provides significant details about their command structures and objectives.
The first is the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) headed by Mullah Omar, who fled Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and operates from the Pakistani city of Quetta.
"At the operational level, the Quetta Shura conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Omar announces his guidance and intent for the coming year," according to the assessment.
Mullah Omar's insurgency has established an elaborate alternative government known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, McChrystal writes, which is capitalizing on the Afghan government's weaknesses. "They appoint shadow governors for most provinces, review their performance, and replace them periodically. They established a body to receive complaints against their own 'officials' and to act on them. They install 'shari'a' [Islamic law] courts to deliver swift and enforced justice in contested and controlled areas. They levy taxes and conscript fighters and laborers. They claim to provide security against a corrupt government, ISAF forces, criminality, and local power brokers. They also claim to protect Afghan and Muslim identity against foreign encroachment."
"The QST has been working to control Kandahar and its approaches for several years and there are indications that their influence over the city and neighboring districts is significant and growing," McChrystal writes.
The second main insurgency group is the Haqqani network (HQN), which is active in southeastern Afghanistan and draws money and manpower "principally from Pakistan, Gulf Arab networks, and from its close association with al Qaeda and other Pakistan-based insurgent groups." At another point in the assessment, McChrystal says, "Al Qaeda's links with HQN have grown, suggesting that expanded HQN control could create a favorable environment" for associated extremist movements "to re-establish safe-havens in Afghanistan."
The third is the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin insurgency, which maintains bases in three Afghan provinces "as well as Pakistan," the assessment says. This network, led by the former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, "aims to negotiate a major role in a future Taliban government. He does not currently have geographical objectives as is the case with the other groups," though he "seeks control of mineral wealth and smuggling routes in the east."
The 2,500+ out of 14,500 Afghan prison inmates are radicalizing the others, and corruption is rife. Afghans are losing faith in the NATO force's ability to prevail. The situation is reversible but critical. Unless a turnaround happens within the year it will become too late. But Sunday on ABC President Obama questioned the need to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Prediction. Obama, however, reluctantly, will approve more troops, for a simple reason: Having called the Afghan War the "necessary war" he took ownership of it as President. And having already sent troops, he cannot throw the towel in yet. If he refuses his own commander's request, he not only owns the war, he will own the defeat as well.
Bottom Line. A realistic goal in Afghanistan may require jettisoning nation-building (of which Will was, as was I, once a proponent) in favor of some measure of containment.
Last Friday Irving Kristol, often called intellectual godfather of so-called neoconservatism--loosely defined as disaffected moderate Democrats who left an increasingly liberal Democratic Party to find a place in the GOP--passed away at age 89. (The Weekly Standard reprinted a 2003 article giving Kristol's explanation of the "neocon" label.) Invariably gracious, witty and incisive, Professor Kristol was a hugely influential figure in American--and global--politics. The American Spectator reprinted a May 1969 interview in which Kristol offered Bob Tyrrell his assessment of where liberalism was headed. Kristol's take was astonishingly prescient. Charles Krauthammer captures the essence of Kristol's monumental influence on American politics and culture. Myron Magnet of the Manhattan Institute writes that Kristol understood the centrality of culture in driving politics, and answered hostility by mainstream media publications by simply starting his own. Manhattan Institute republished Kristol's 1995 Wriston Lecture, The Culture Wars in Perspective.
John Podhoretz of Commentary offers another deeply knowledgeable assessment. His description of publications Kristol shaped, and his vast influence on student publications as well, merits a close read. (JP's is a Sept. 18 blog posting, and you may need to scroll down to find it.) At the end of JP's posting is a link to all of Kristol's print contributions to Commentary, about 45 over a 50-year stretch. JP notes that Kristol rarely wrote books, but his 1978 book Two Cheers for Capitalism was a gem, melding supply-side economics and the moral case for capitalism.
In a WSJ op-ed James Q. Wilson, who published seminal articles in Kristol's The Public Interest, paid tribute to the man whose political view encompassed appreciation of the limits of human beings & their institutions:
Irving Kristol smiled through all of this. He did not care what we were called and he gave to one of his published collections of essays the title, "Neoconservativism: the Autobiography of an Idea." He explained why that tendency differs from traditional conservatism: Neoconservatism is not an ideology, but a "persuasion." That is, it is a way of thinking about politics rather than a set of principles and rules. If neoconservatism does have any principle, it is this one: the law of unintended consequences. Launch a big project and you will almost surely discover that you have created many things you did not intend to create.
This is not an argument for doing nothing, but it is one, in my view, for doing things experimentally. Try your idea out in one place and see what happens before you inflict it on the whole country.
The American Enterprise Institute, where Kristol resided for decades as a scholar, posted his 1991 Lecture, The Capitalist Future; the Lecture, an annual Washington event, has since been named in Kristol's honor.
The Wall Street Journal collected some of his pithy sayings on various subjects, and published them last Friday. President Obama would do well to read them, and absorb the lessons they teach.
Seven former CIA Directors wrote a September 18 letter to President Obama, urging him to stop the planned re-opening by the Justice Department of CIA interrogations past. They counsel that a new investigation of matters already investigated would be unfair to officers who acted in reliance on rules adopted after legal review, would impair intelligence operations and would discourage foreign intelligence services from sharing information with us, for fear it might be made public later. Read their excellent, concise letter to 44.
The Washington Post reports that the Justice Department inquiry has been narrowed to a few cases, as criticism of A-G Holder's decision to re-open cases mounts. The WP story puts Holder's negligent review in perspective, and shows that serious reviews were conducted during the Bush 43 years:
Before his decision to reopen the cases, Holder did not read detailed memos that prosecutors drafted and placed in files to explain their decision to decline prosecutions. That issue has rankled GOP lawmakers and some career lawyers in the Justice Department, who question whether Holder's order was made based on the facts or on his political instincts.
But a government source asserted that Holder was briefed on some of the details by advisers and that the attorney general was troubled by the material he read. Authorities have not pointed publicly to new evidence or witnesses that would strengthen the cases under review.
"The professionals at DOJ looked with considerable care at the various serious cases," former CIA inspector general John L. Helgerson said. "I had no concern that they were making uninformed decisions or treating the cases casually. . . . My guess is that for reasons that varied from case to case, they simply did not feel they had a certain conviction in any of these."
Lawyers with experience in the area cast doubt on whether criminal prosecutions will result from Durham's inquiry.
"A lot of times cases look open-and-shut because a guy froze to death on a cold cement floor, but these cases are more complicated and involved than that," said a government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "You have to prove the cause of death. How do we know he froze to death? He may have died a natural death from clogged arteries. You have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he died as a result of the actions of the people who tied him to the floor naked. It may be a logical inference, but proving it beyond a reasonable doubt might be a different story."
Bottom Line. By re-opening investigations at all, Holder did serious damage to the CIA and, hence, to American national security. Even if the inquiry is narrow and ends quickly, that damage is irreparable.
Team Obama's Thursday tsunami that rocked Eastern Europe and elated Moscow continues to trigger aftershocks. (Defense Secretary Gates, in a Sunday Washington Post op-ed, argues otherwise.) Iran maven Ilan Berman notes that the Congressional Budget Office projects the new missile plan's Initial Operational Capability (IOC) as 2015, versus 2013 for the system just scrapped; Iran's ICBM IOC could come sooner than US intel thinks. Writing in the Weekly Standard on several slights Team Obama has inflicted on the Poles, Reuben Johnson gives us Lech Walesa's take:
"Americans have always cared only about their interests, and all other [countries] have been used for their purposes. This is another example," former Polish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Wałęsa told Polish TV. "[Poles] need to review our view of America, we must first of all take care of our business. . . . I could tell from what I saw, what kind of policies President Obama cultivates. . . . I simply don't like this policy, not because this shield was required [in Poland], but [because of] the way we were treated."
Hudson Institute scholar Jack David, an ex-arms control official, and the Wall Street Journal's Melanie Kirkpatrick see a new arms race ignited. They also point out that the proposed system was the only one capable of protecting the east coast of the continental United States from ICBMs; the other two bases are in Alaska & California. The new system will not protect against ICBM attacks. Bush 43 defense official Jamie Fly sums up the import of the decision and dredges up a telling quote from the President's senataorial days:
President Obama's decision to cancel plans for U.S. missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic is a knife in the back for those countries. The implications for U.S. security and the transatlantic relationship are profound. Critics rightly note that the sudden announcement Thursday sends a dangerous message to allies, both in Europe and elsewhere, who rely on U.S. security guarantees.
Even those who agree with the administration's approach concede that the rollout was clumsy--middle of the night phone calls and little prior consultation. In July 2007, Senator Obama criticized his predecessor for this very thing. The Bush administration, he said, had "done a poor job of consulting its NATO allies about the deployment of a missile defense system that has major implications for all of them."
Russia expert David Satter explains that Moscow's never feared the deployment, but wanted to gain--as it now has--a veto over NATO deployments in Eastern Europe. Specifically:
The missiles were never a threat to Russia. This has been acknowledged by Russia’s own experts. Russia’s ICBM force is designed to attack the U.S. over the North Pole and the missiles intended for deployment in Poland are too slow to catch them and designed for a totally different purpose. The constant anti-western propaganda around this issue was referred to in the Soviet Union as “information for fools.” It served to consolidate the support of the population around a corrupt leadership by directing its frustrations against an external foe.
Russia opposed the missile deployment for a completely different reason. Had they been deployed on the territory of the former Warsaw Pact they would have demonstrated that this region was once and for all part of the defense architecture of the West. By using propaganda to induce Obama to back down, Russia has divided the NATO alliance into those countries where Russia has a veto over deployments and those where it does not with serious negative implications for the cohesion of the West.
"The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed."
Here is another passage from the President's Prague address, telling in its recognition of the basis of NATO alliance ties--and of the wrongfulness of deciding issues without allies given a voice:
To provide for our common security, we must strengthen our alliance. NATO was founded 60 years ago, after Communism took over Czechoslovakia. That was when the free world learned too late that it could not afford division. So we came together to forge the strongest alliance that the world has ever known. And we should -- stood shoulder to shoulder -- year after year, decade after decade –- until an Iron Curtain was lifted, and freedom spread like flowing water.
This marks the 10th year of NATO membership for the Czech Republic. And I know that many times in the 20th century, decisions were made without you at the table. Great powers let you down, or determined your destiny without your voice being heard. I am here to say that the United States will never turn its back on the people of this nation. (Applause.) We are bound by shared values, shared history -- (applause.) We are bound by shared values and shared history and the enduring promise of our alliance. NATO's Article V states it clearly: An attack on one is an attack on all. That is a promise for our time, and for all time.
NRO's Rich Lowry skewers the President's betrayal of two staunch allies and sums up the President's attitude perfectly:
They say “nyet,” we say “da” — let’s call the whole thing off. As a political figure, Obama is famously aloof, cool, detached. In international diplomacy, there’s a cringing desperation to him.
We’re open to bilateral talks with the North Koreans (within the so-called six-party framework), even though their M.O. of serially selling the same notional concessions is long established; we’re going to sit down with the Iranians, even though they’ve indicated that their nuclear program can’t be the focus; we’re giving in to the Russians on missile defense, even though they are stiffing us on Iran. When the primary tools in your arsenal are talk and soothing gestures, everything looks like an occasion for a negotiation or concession.
This misunderstands the Russians (and most of the rest of the world). Increasingly aggressive and authoritarian, Moscow wasn’t belligerent because we planned to install missile-defense interceptors; it objected to the interceptors because it is belligerent. As Winston Churchill said in a different context: “Disarmament has nothing to do with peace. When you have peace, you will have disarmament.”
Charles Krauthammer was acid in his condemnation last Thursday on Fox News, and warned of risk to Ukraine & Georgia as part of the fallout of America appeasing Moscow:
This is going to be an historic day in the life of Eastern Europe. We have now declared that Eastern Europe — which had assumed that after the Cold War, had joined the West indissolubly and would enjoy its protection — is now in many ways on its own, subject to Russian hegemony and pressure.
And imagine if the Poles and Czechs are upset about this, how the feeling is in Ukraine and Georgia. The Russians announced earlier in the week that if a Georgian ship is found in Abkhazian waters, which was a province of Georgia, it will be seized. So it has annexed part of Georgia and it has escalated the war of words on Ukraine.
It is interesting to contrast the administration’s “wise” diplomacy abroad with its willingness to go nuclear at home. If you go to a town-hall meeting and express misgivings about the effectiveness of the stimulus, you’re a “racist” “angry” “Nazi” “evilmonger” “right-wing domestic terrorist.” It’s perhaps no surprise that that doesn’t leave a lot left over in the rhetorical arsenal for Putin, Chávez, and Ahmadinejad. But you’ve got to figure that by now the world’s strongmen are getting the measure of the new Washington. Diplomacy used to be, as Canada’s Lester Pearson liked to say, the art of letting the other fellow have your way. Today, it’s more of a discreet cover for letting the other fellow have his way with you. The Europeans “negotiate” with Iran over its nukes for years, and in the end Iran gets the nukes and Europe gets to feel good about itself for having sat across the table talking to no good purpose for the best part of a decade. In Moscow, there was a palpable triumphalism in the news that the Russians had succeeded in letting the Obama fellow have their way. “This is a recognition by the Americans of the rightness of our arguments about the reality of the threat, or rather the lack of one,” said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Duma’s international-affairs committee. “Finally the Americans have agreed with us.”
Steyn captures Vladimir Putin's growing hold on Eastern Europe:
Vladimir Putin is no longer president but he is de facto tsar. And he thinks it’s past time to reconstitute the old empire — not formally (yet), but certainly as a sphere of influence from which the Yanks keep their distance. President Obama has just handed the Russians their biggest win since the collapse of the Iron Curtain. Indeed, in some ways it marks the restitching of the Iron Curtain. When the Czechs signed their end of the missile-defense deal in July, they found themselves afflicted by a sudden “technical difficulty” that halved their gas supply from Russia. The Europe Putin foresees will be one not only ever more energy-dependent on Moscow but security-dependent, too — in which every city is within range of missiles from Tehran and other crazies, and is in effect under the security umbrella of the new tsar. As to whether such a Continent will be amicable to American interests, well, good luck with that, hopeychangers.
Bottom Line. The wages of betrayal are ugly indeed. And worse, they are meager. Russia gave nothing and got a veto over US deployments in Eastern Europe. Our staunchest allies got slapped in their faces. No wonder Lech Walesa is unhappy and Vladimir Putin can barely contain his glee.
4 posts: (1) An American Hero Gives All--The Home Front; (2) Europe Missile Defense: Allies Betrayed; Alliance Endangered--Wobble Watch; (3) Lawfare Strikes Again; Time to Strike Back--9/11, 3/11 & N/11; (4) Green Giant Passes On, Will Kyoto Endure in Copenhagen?--"It's the Earth Stupid!".
President Obama's announcement on European missile defense yesterday fell, in a masterpiece of sickening symbolism to which his administration is absolutely tone-deaf, on the 70th anniversary of Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin's invasion of Poland (which came 16 days after Hitler invaded the country to begin World War II). More detail on the plan came from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, followed by a DoD briefing. The briefing, by General James Cartwright of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained the various missile defense systems being deployed and upgraded. The two technical arguments he makes are that Iran is acquiring a capability to overwhelm the originally planned system by sheer numbers, and that Iran's longer-range systems look to be farther off then previously thought by the American intelligence community.
The technical arguments are not frivolous, though our intel shift is a guess at best. Frivolity came during the Q&A, when a reporter asked about Russian concerns. Gen. Cartwright replied that Russia objected to deployment of omni-directional (360-degree) radar in the Czech Republic, which could not only see Iranian launches but also Russian launches. Second, that Russia feared the missiles (to be based in Poland) could be converted to offensive missiles like the 1980s Pershing II missile system, and rapidly strike Russia without warning.
There is, of course, nothing whatsoever wrong with our desire to be able to peer into Russia and monitor their missile launches. As for the Poles ever consenting to a nuclear first strike being launched at Russia from its soil, as sportscaster Warner Wolf used to say, "Gimme a break!"
Coincidentally, yesterday came an AP report that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on its latest Iran inspection has concluded that Iran already has the ability to make a nuclear bomb, and is on its way to perfecting a missile delivery system to carry a nuclear payload. The conclusion is reportedly contained in a "secret annex" that is being withheld at the behest of Muhammad el-Baradei, the IAEA chief inspector (& undeserving Nobel Peace Prize winner), who has in the past publicly said he sees no reason why third world countries cannot make nuclear weapons if the big powers have them. For its part, the IAEA denies the AP report. Meanwhile, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu called upon the world to back Israeli self-defense (fat chance).
As for the claim that new intel on Iran's missile program progress was a factor in the cancellation, a WSJ editorial notes that already, last February, the administration began making noises about scrapping the deployment, long before the alleged Iran intel shift. Another WSJ piece adds detail on distress in Eastern Europe. The WSJ editors add a recap of how Team Obama has shafted allies in its first eight months:
The European switcheroo continues Mr. Obama's trend of courting adversaries while smacking allies. His Administration has sought warmer ties with Iran, Burma, North Korea, Russia and even Venezuela. But it has picked trade fights with Canada and Mexico, sat on trade treaties with Colombia and South Korea, battled Israel over West Bank settlements, ignored Japan in deciding to talk with North Korea, and sanctioned Honduras for its sin of resisting the encroachments of Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.
Ralph Peters writes that in pressing the reset button with Russia 44 hit the delete key with Eastern Europe. Washington Times pundit Wesley Pruden sums it up even better: "Christmas arrives early" for Putin. National security maven Seth Cropsey sees "incalculable damage" to America's credibility with allies around the globe. According to the Daily Telegraph, the President's decision has Russia's leaders smiling and Eastern European leaders frowning. Der Speigel reports "euphoria in Moscow" and adds that Russia will give little if anything in return. The Economist sees a need for America to reassure allies of its alliance commitment.
Team Obama sees nothing wrong with this picture, and thus Jed Babbin concludes 44 is "slow-rolling" missile defense with no intention of ever deploying promised systems. The NRO editors note that five months ago President Obama, in Prague, praised the courage of the two countries in accepting systems Moscow opposed. Also at NRO, Rich Lowry talked to John Bolton, who sees the decision as "pre-emptive capitulation" to Moscow; JB also noted that Gates was weak on missile defense during his Bush 43 years. A New York Times front-pager sees Obama scrapping Ronald Reagan missile defense vision, too.
If the deal changing old for new missile defense technology plus accelerating deployment is so good, why are the Poles & Czechs unhappy? Presumably, Poles & Czechs would be delighted with a better system sooner. That they are not suggests that the deal is not as Team Obama casts it. Only if there is a secret protocol between America & Russia committing Russia to help stop Iran's nuclear program could this be justified. We should be so lucky.
Bottom Line. The clear inference--unavoidable in this case--is that America buckled to Moscow's campaign to stop missile defense deployment in Western Europe. The administration has unilaterally abrogated a solemn compact negotiated by the prior administration with the Czechs & Poles, whose governments braved strong domestic political pressure, driven by fear of antagonizing Moscow. In place of an ostensibly binding agreement, Eastern Europe now has an eminently revocable "commitment" by the current administration. Russia now has a de facto veto over American actions in Eastern Europe, whose countries have been staunch American allies since being liberated from domination by the former Soviet Union--far more faithful, sending soldiers to fight alongside us in foreign wars while our Western European continental allies kept their troops out of harm's way.
The Czech Republic and Poland were among the most ardent friends of America. They joined the NATO alliance for security in the face of Mother Russia, whose menacing shadow conjures up painful memories, such as the 1939 & 1944-45 rapes of Poland and the 1968 crushing of the Prague Spring. Of such cavalier treatment are alliances endangered. If this is how America treats its most faithful friends in Continental Europe, how will our fair-weather allies regard future American promises?
In the latest round of succumbing to lawfare follies, the Pentagon announced it will confer legal rights upon 600 detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Yet a contrary report in the Washington Times notes that Team Obama has filed an appeal contesting conferring such rights on Bagram detainees, and also asked for extension of Patriot Act provisions governing roving wiretaps, seizure of business records and monitoring of "lone wolf" terror suspects, all due to expire this year.
NRO legal ace Andy McCarthy, a former top terror prosecutor, calls for waging warfare against lawfare. McCarthy's vehicle: a new Declaration of Independence that frees national security from the shackles of lawfare. He is right, but Team Obama is tone-deaf here, as is the Democratic Congress.
Gregg Easterbrook salutes Norman Borlaug, the anonymous genius who is credited with saving over one billion lives via his "Green Revolution" that boosted agricultural yields sufficiently to forestall mass famines as the world's population bomb went off. Borlaug died last week, age 95. Here is Easterbrook's money paragraph on the results of Borlaug's work:
In 1950, as Borlaug began his work in earnest, the world produced 692 million tons of grain for 2.2 billion people. By 1992, with Borlaug's concepts common, production was 1.9 billion tons of grain for 5.6 billion men and women: 2.8 times the food for 2.2 times the people. Global grain yields more than doubled during the period, from half a ton per acre to 1.1 tons; yields of rice and other foodstuffs improved similarly. Hunger declined in sync: From 1965 to 2005, global per capita food consumption rose to 2,798 calories daily from 2,063, with most of the increase in developing nations. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization declared that malnutrition stands "at the lowest level in human history," despite the global population having trebled in a single century.
Leave it, then to (who else?) the Greens to oppose Borlaug bringing hybrid crops & new technology to Africa. Easterbrook offers detail plus Borlaug's tart response:
After his triumph in India and Pakistan and his Nobel Peace Prize, Borlaug turned to raising crop yields in other poor nations—especially in Africa, the one place in the world where population is rising faster than farm production and the last outpost of subsistence agriculture. At that point, Borlaug became the target of critics who denounced him because Green Revolution farming requires some pesticide and lots of fertilizer. Trendy environmentalism was catching on, and affluent environmentalists began to say it was "inappropriate" for Africans to have tractors or use modern farming techniques. Borlaug told me a decade ago that most Western environmentalists "have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for 50 years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists in wealthy nations were trying to deny them these things."
Environmentalist criticism of Borlaug and his work was puzzling on two fronts. First, absent high-yield agriculture, the world would by now be deforested. The 1950 global grain output of 692 million tons and the 2006 output of 2.3 billion tons came from about the same number of acres—three times as much food using little additional land.
"Without high-yield agriculture," Borlaug said, "increases in food output would have been realized through drastic expansion of acres under cultivation, losses of pristine land a hundred times greater than all losses to urban and suburban expansion." Environmentalist criticism was doubly puzzling because in almost every developing nation where high-yield agriculture has been introduced, population growth has slowed as education becomes more important to family success than muscle power.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Europeans are incensed that Team Obama plans to weaken the successor treaty to the expiring Kyoto Accords. Team Obama wishes to substitute its own carbon emissions reduction plan for the European proposal; it would be less stringent, but have a chance to pass the US Senate. Stay tuned.
Manhattan Institute scholar Peter Huber sees Team Obama with the right goal--carbon emission reduction--but the wrong strategy. Instead of relying on renewables to replace oil, 44 should, PH writes, make natural gas, of which America has plenty, the vehicle fuel of the future, supplemented by electric cars.
5 posts: (1) Sarko Nails Iran; Obama Nails Allies?--Wobble Watch; (2) Health Care Bounces--The Home Front; (3) Etiquette in Nancy's House--The Home Front; (4) ACORN Scorned--The Home Front; (5) Iran: An Expert's View--Us v. Them.
BELOW IS A POSTING FINISHED EARLY TODAY. SINCE THEN BOTH THE PRESIDENT AND SECRETARY OF DEFENSE HAVE CLARIFIED THE DECISIONS TAKEN. RATHER THAN EDIT THIS POST, I WILL POST A REVISED ASSESSMENT TOMORROW, AS MORE DETAILS EMERGE, I REMAIN, HOWEVER, HIGHLY SKEPTICAL OF THE ADMINISTRATION'S CALL. POSTED 10:40 AM THURSDAY SEPT. 18, 2009.
The Jerusalem Post reports that French President Nicholas Sarkozy told French lawmakers that every intelligence service in the world knows Iran is working on a nuclear weapons program. And no one is acting seriously to stop it.
The Czech press is reporting that President Obama will scrap missile defense for the Czech Republic & Poland, to placate Vladimir Putin. NATO's Secretary-General praised the decision. A WSJ op-ed details more of the mess Obama is creating with his decision--eerily reminiscent of Jimmy Carter's 1978 decision to scrap the "neutron bomb" (a tactical weapon designed to kill personnel while minimizing collateral damage, and thus ideal for tank killing on the German plain) to placate Moscow. Carter's call enraged German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who had, like the Czechs & Poles today, taken political risks in accepting deployment. Moscow repaid Carter's unilateral concession by invading Afghanistan the following year and thus educating Carter about the wages of appeasement.
Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the systems we had promised to deploy knows that they were largely symbolic, and ZERO threat to Moscow. Moscow has systems that can easily bypass the low-level system we were to give the Czechs & Poles to ward off an Iranian mini-strike. Moscow knows this--indeed, told our mid-level State Department types during Bush 43's tenure. But they used it as a political football to cow a President who understands virtually nothing about arms control, and what little he knows is simply wrong.
Bottom Line. The West dithers as Iran approaches nuclear status, with only Israel willing to seriously consider stopping the mullahs. And America, once again shafts close allies, to placate an adversary that will coolly pocket this unilateral concession while giving nothing of real substance in return. Above all this is a slap in the face of the Poles, whose troops are fighting--and dying--alongside ours in both Iraq & Afghanistan. And Team Obama repays them by pulling out the rug, after the Poles took serious political risk of offending a revanhcist Moscow by agreeing to accept deployment in the first place. To borrow from the 19th century French diplomat Talleyrand of Concert of Vienna fame, it was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.
Begin with a YouTube ObamaCare video (3:46) made by a doctor, using Marvin Hamlisch's hit song "One" from "A Chorus Line." It is clever & hilarious. George Will is again at his acid best in styling the President as "CPR for the GOP"--and nailing Nancy Pelosi as well. Begin with his gem nailing Pelosi perfectly:
She is liberalism's Dolores Ibárruri, a.k.a. La Pasionaria—the Passion Flower. An anti-Franco orator during the Spanish Civil War, Ibárruri gave the Loyalists their battle cry, "¡Nopasarán!"—"They shall not pass!" Franco's forces did pass, but Pelosi has vowed that a reform plan lacking a public option shall not pass the House. But Montana Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, says a public option cannot pass the Senate.
After noting Obama being in America's face all the time, and noting 44's serial hypocrisies (amusing to read, sad to contemplate) Will divines ominous signs for The One and his Faithful:
McConnell of the Mona Lisa smile says Congress will pass something because Obama will sign anything. McConnell notes, however, that never in his 25 Senate years have Republicans polled close to Democrats when the question is: Which party do you trust most to deal with health care? Until now. Last week's polling: Democratic Party, 41; Republican Party, 39—a statistical dead heat. On a generic ballot question—which party do you intend to vote for?—the GOP has gone from down 12 points to dead even since November. Independents defected in droves from the GOP in 2006 and 2008, but today only one third of them view Obama's handling of health care favorably.
The latest Rasmussen poll shows that the positive bounce President Obama got from last week's health care address has already evaporated. Gallup's Sept. 16 poll shows 50-38 against ObamaCare; those in favor cite above all the need to help the uninsured, while those against cite fears about bigger government involvement in HC. Polls also show most doctors opposed to ObamaCare, and nearly half willing to consider leaving their practice if ObamaCare passes.
Michael Barone explains how & why the base of the Democrats is far harder line than the base for the GOP, which will affect the politics of health care. Thomas Sowell looks at ObamaCare and sees in 44 a "Charlatan-in-Chief" selling snake oil. Two health care mavens weigh in on President Obama's HC speech proposals. A WSJ editorial details how Team Obama distorts insurance costs to make a public option look better. Team Obama ignores the fact that Demcorats do not give self-employed the same tax break employees get when enrolled in company plans, which distorts true relative HC costs.
Virginia GOP Congressman Eric Cantor offers five reasons not to like ObamaCare: public option, jeopardy to private plans, government rationing of care, illegals covered & total cost; read all his expertly detailed comments. Here is his specific take on how private insurers would be put in peril by fine print slipped into the innards of ObamaCare:
Keeping the plan you have if you like it: Is it true, as the president insists, that all Americans will be able to keep the health insurance they already have? On page 15, as part of Section 101, the government gives itself the power to declare what qualifies as acceptable health insurance. While Democrats highlight a provision in the next section titled “PROTECTING THE CHOICE TO KEEP CURRENT COVERAGE,” when you read the fine print a different story emerges. Subparagraph (a)(1) says that, for you to keep your insurance, your insurer can’t enroll anyone new into your plan. Meanwhile, subparagraph (a)(2) says the insurer can’t change the terms, conditions, or benefits of your plan. But if you have employer-based insurance, subsection (b) of this section says that, in reality, you only get to keep your current plan for, at most, five years if it fails to conform to all the new federal requirements.
Offering proponents of ObamaCare plans due process, here is a health care op-ed by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), whose cost estimates, to his credit, were accepted by the Congressional Budget Office.
House Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter (D-LA) released an updated House Rules of Decorum, to clarify what Members may and may not say about the president. Unlike the Senate, which follows the Cole Porter rule"Anything Goes," the House prohibits certain unkind references--to the President only. There is, of course, a way around the House rule: toss the epithets at the President's entire administration.
This Biggovenment.comn website (set up by online newsie Andrew Breitbart) has the videos & more on ACORN workers getting caught in several instances agreeing to abet commission of various felonies like mortgage fraud and tax evasion--and including, NOT making this up, child prostitution (a sting set up by two kids--watch the video--with the pseudo-offer of Salvadoran girls, ages 12 - 15). Thus the Senate voted 83-7 to defund ACORN. ACORN is now out of the 2010 Census taking project. California's Governator Arnold is calling for a full investigation of ACORN's Golden State activities. The White House is distancing itself from what is now a politically toxic group (formerly best pals of 44).
NRO editor Rich Lowry adds sordid (but valuable) detail, and still more ACORN background comes from the NRO editors. WSJ ace pundit John Fund details how ACORN has "[run] off the rails" at long last, but cautions in the embedded video clip (4:02) that ACORN is a hydra-headed organization with about 200 entities, so shifting funds from ACORN to like-minded affiliates will circumvent efforts to rein ACORN in. A WSJ editorial notes that Democrats still fund ACORN and that the Justice Department has lots of investigative work to do. GOP Members of Congress plan to pursue matters, but with Nancy Pelosi running the House & Eric Holder as A-G, I would not look for much to happen unless public anger inflicts major political damage in the polls.
John Fund lists "the ACORN 7": Democratic senators Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Roland Burris (IL), Dick Durbin (IL), Patrick Leahy (VT) and Bob Casey (PA); plus Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent. Mainstream media (MSM) outlets largely ignored the story and condemned--when they no longer could entirely ignore it--the "entrapment" of ACORN employees. Michelle Malkin skewers MSM hypocrisy by chronicling some well-known media "sting" operations aimed at targets MSM likes to see take torpedoes under the waterline. In answer to those defending ACORN as a group aiding low-income folks, Manhattan Institute scholar Steven Malanga recounts ACORN's pivotal role as muscle in enforcing the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 against recalcitrant banks, staging sit-ins at banks and harassing employees until the banks caved on mortgage loans to the financially unqualified.
On September 15 Stratfor's George Friedman published an updated assessment of the situation with Iran. As always, his work merits a read. It is republished with permission from Stratfor.
Misreading the Iranian Situation
By George Friedman
The Iranians have now agreed to talks with the P-5+1, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) plus Germany. These six countries decided in late April to enter into negotiations with Iran over the suspected Iranian nuclear weapons program by Sept. 24, the date of the next U.N. General Assembly meeting. If Iran refused to engage in negotiations by that date, the Western powers in the P-5+1 made clear that they would seriously consider imposing much tougher sanctions on Iran than those that were currently in place. The term “crippling” was mentioned several times.
Obviously, negotiations are not to begin prior to the U.N. General Assembly meeting as previously had been stipulated. The talks are now expected to begin Oct. 1, a week later. This gives the Iranians their first (symbolic) victory: They have defied the P-5+1 on the demand that talks be under way by the time the General Assembly meets. Inevitably, the Iranians would delay, and the P-5+1 would not make a big deal of it.
Now, we get down to the heart of the matter: The Iranians have officially indicated that they are prepared to discuss a range of strategic and economic issues but are not prepared to discuss the nuclear program — which, of course, is the reason for the talks in the first place. On Sept. 14, they hinted that they might consider talking about the nuclear program if progress were made on other issues, but made no guarantees.
So far, the Iranians are playing their traditional hand. They are making the question of whether there would be talks about nuclear weapons the center of diplomacy. Where the West wanted a commitment to end uranium enrichment, the Iranians are trying to shift the discussions to whether they will talk at all. After spending many rounds of discussions on this subject, they expect everyone to go away exhausted. If pressure is coming down on them, they will agree to discussions, acting as if the mere act of talking represents a massive concession. The members of the P-5+1 that don’t want a confrontation with Iran will use Tehran’s agreement merely to talk (absent any guarantees of an outcome) to get themselves off the hook on which they found themselves back in April — namely, of having to impose sanctions if the Iranians don’t change their position on their nuclear program.
Russia, one of the main members of the P-5+1, already has made clear it opposes sanctions under any circumstances. The Russians have no intention of helping solve the American problem with Iran while the United States maintains its stance on NATO expansion and bilateral relations with Ukraine and Georgia. Russia regards the latter two countries as falling within the Russian sphere of influence, a place where the United States has no business meddling.
To this end, Russia is pleased to do anything that keeps the United States bogged down in the Middle East, since this prevents Washington from deploying forces in Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltics, Georgia or Ukraine. A conflict with Iran not only would bog down the United States even further, it would divide Europe and drive the former Soviet Union and Central Europe into viewing Russia as a source of aid and stability. The Russians thus see Iran as a major thorn in Washington’s side. Obtaining Moscow’s cooperation on removing the thorn would require major U.S. concessions — beyond merely bringing a plastic “reset” button to Moscow. At this point, the Russians have no intention of helping remove the thorn. They like it right where it is.
In discussing crippling sanctions, the sole obvious move would be blocking gasoline exports to Iran. Iran must import 40 percent of its gasoline needs. The United States and others have discussed a plan for preventing major energy companies, shippers and insurers from supplying that gasoline. The subject, of course, becomes moot if Russia (and China) refuses to participate or blocks sanctions. Moscow and Beijing can deliver all the gasoline Tehran wants. The Russians could even deliver gasoline by rail in the event that Iranian ports are blocked. Therefore, if the Russians aren’t participating, the impact of gasoline sanctions is severely diminished, something the Iranians know well.
Tehran and Moscow therefore are of the opinion that this round of threats will end where other rounds ended. The United States, the United Kingdom and France will be on one side; Russia and China will be on the other; and Germany will vacillate, not wanting to be caught on the wrong side of the Russians. In either case, whatever sanctions are announced would lose their punch, and life would go on as before.
There is, however, a dimension that indicates that this crisis might take a different course.
After the last round of meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, the Israelis announced that the United States had agreed that in the event of a failure in negotiations, the United States would demand — and get — crippling sanctions against Iran, code for a gasoline cutoff. In return, the Israelis indicated that any plans for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be put off. The Israelis specifically said that the Americans had agreed on the September U.N. talks as the hard deadline for a decision on — and implementation of — sanctions.
Our view always has been that the Iranians are far from acquiring nuclear weapons. This is, we believe, the Israeli point of view. But the Israeli point of view also is that, however distant, the Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons represents a mortal danger to Israel — and that, therefore, Israel would have to use military force if diplomacy and sanctions don’t work.
For Israel, the Obama guarantee on sanctions represented the best chance at a nonmilitary settlement. If it fails, it is not clear what could possibly work. Given that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has gotten his regime back in line, that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad apparently has emerged from the recent Iranian election crisis with expanded clout over Iran’s foreign policy, and that the Iranian nuclear program appears to be popular among Iranian nationalists (of whom there are many), there seems no internal impediment to the program. And given the current state of U.S.-Russian relations and that Washington is unlikely to yield Moscow hegemony in the former Soviet Union in return for help on Iran, a crippling sanctions regime is unlikely.
Obama’s assurances notwithstanding, there accordingly is no evidence of any force or process that would cause the Iranians to change their minds about their nuclear program. With that, the advantage to Israel of delaying a military strike evaporates.
And the question of the quality of intelligence must always be taken into account: The Iranians may be closer to a weapon than is believed. The value of risking delays disappears if nothing is likely to happen in the intervening period that would make a strike unnecessary.
Moreover, the Israelis have Obama in a box. Obama promised them that if Israel did not take a military route, he would deliver them crippling sanctions against Iran. Why Obama made this promise — and he has never denied the Israeli claim that he did — is not fully clear. It did buy him some time, and perhaps he felt he could manage the Russians better than he has. Whatever Obama’s motivations, having failed to deliver, the Israelis can say that they have cooperated with the United States fully, so now they are free by the terms of their understanding with Washington to carry out strikes — something that would necessarily involve the United States.
The calm assumptions in major capitals that this is merely another round in interminable talks with Iran on its weapons revolves around the belief that the Israelis are locked into place by the Americans. From where we sit, the Israelis have more room to maneuver now than they had in the past, or than they might have in the future. If that’s true, then the current crisis is more dangerous than it appears.
Netanyahu appears to have made a secret trip to Moscow (though it didn’t stay secret very long) to meet with the Russian leadership. Based on our own intelligence and this analysis, it is reasonable to assume that Netanyahu was trying to drive home to the Russians the seriousness of the situation and Israel’s intent. Russian-Israeli relations have deteriorated on a number of issues, particularly over Israeli military and intelligence aid to Ukraine and Georgia. Undoubtedly, the Russians demanded that Israel abandon this aid.
As mentioned, the chances of the Russians imposing effective sanctions on Iran are nil. This would get them nothing. And if not cooperating on sanctions triggers an Israeli airstrike, so much the better. This would degrade and potentially even effectively eliminate Iran’s nuclear capability, which in the final analysis is not in Russia’s interest. It would further enrage the Islamic world at Israel. It would put the United States in the even more difficult position of having to support Israel in the face of this hostility. And from the Russian point of view, it would all come for free. (That said, in such a scenario the Russians would lose much of the leverage the Iran card offers Moscow in negotiations with the United States.)
An Israeli airstrike would involve the United States in two ways. First, it would have to pass through Iraqi airspace controlled by the United States, at which point no one would believe that the Americans weren’t complicit. Second, the likely Iranian response to an Israeli airstrike would be to mine the Strait of Hormuz and other key points in the Persian Gulf — something the Iranians have said they would do, and something they have the ability to do.
Some have pointed out that the Iranians would be hurting themselves as much as the West, as this would cripple their energy exports. And it must be remembered that 40 percent of globally traded oil exports pass through Hormuz. The effect of mining the Persian Gulf would be devastating to oil prices and to the global economy at a time when the global economy doesn’t need more grief. But the economic pain Iran would experience from such a move could prove tolerable relative to the pain that would be experienced by the world’s major energy importers. Meanwhile, the Russians would be free to export oil at extraordinarily high prices.
Given the foregoing, the United States would immediately get involved in such a conflict by engaging the Iranian navy, which in this case would consist of small boats with outboard motors dumping mines overboard. Such a conflict would be asymmetric warfare, naval style. Indeed, given that the Iranians would rapidly respond — and that the best way to stop them would be to destroy their vessels no matter how small before they have deployed — the only rational military process would be to strike Iranian boats and ships prior to an Israeli airstrike. Since Israel doesn’t have the ability to do that, the United States would be involved in any such conflict from the beginning. Given that, the United States might as well do the attacking. This would increase the probability of success dramatically, and paradoxically would dampen the regional reaction compared to a unilateral Israeli strike.
When we speak to people in Tehran, Washington and Moscow, we get the sense that they are unaware that the current situation might spin out of control. In Moscow, the scenario is dismissed because the general view is that Obama is weak and inexperienced and is frightened of military confrontation; the assumption is that he will find a way to bring the Israelis under control.
It isn’t clear that Obama can do that, however. The Israelis don’t trust him, and Iran is a core issue for them. The more Obama presses them on settlements the more they are convinced that Washington no longer cares about Israeli interests. And that means they are on their own, but free to act.
It should also be remembered that Obama reads intelligence reports from Moscow, Tehran and Berlin. He knows the consensus about him among foreign leaders, who don’t hold him in high regard. That consensus causes foreign leaders to take risks; it also causes Obama to have an interest in demonstrating that they have misread him.
We are reminded of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis only in this sense: We get the sense that everyone is misreading everyone else. In the run-up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Americans didn’t believe the Soviets would take the risks they did and the Soviets didn’t believe the Americans would react as they did. In this case, the Iranians believe the United States will play its old game and control the Israelis. Washington doesn’t really understand that Netanyahu may see this as the decisive moment. And the Russians believe Netanyahu will be controlled by an Obama afraid of an even broader conflict than he already has on his hands.
The current situation is not as dangerous as the Cuban Missile Crisis was, but it has this in common: Everyone thinks we are on a known roadmap, when in reality, one of the players — Israel — has the ability and interest to redraw the roadmap. Netanyahu has been signaling in many ways that he intends to do just this. Everyone seems to believe he won’t. We aren’t so sure.
Here are a passel of articles well worth sharing on national security matters, as Team Obama wanders about increasingly in dreamland, with rare exceptions.
Soldier-author Ralph Peters offers a laundry list of American post-9/11 retreat;Manhattan Institute scholar Judy Miller offers three fresh reminders--a major British terror trial conviction, the latest on KSM & Iran's intransigence--of the peril we remain in since 9/11; a Senate panel recommends that Lockheed Martin & the Air Force develop an export model of the F-22 Raptor, so that 3 nations--Australia, Japan & Israel--can purchase it.
Author & Mideast reporter Robin Wright argues for a creative new approach to Iran, to leverage the changes inside Iran over the summer; a German Marshall Fund poll shows that 80 percent of Europeans oppose a military strike against Iran, even if talks fail; Christopher Hitchens describes engaging Iran as "like having sex with someone who hates you" (no shrinking violet, he), and elegantly eviscerates the administration's supine diplomacy. WSJ columnist Bret Stephens sees Obama's anti-Israel tilt pushing Israel towards striking Iran.
Two national security mavens warn of dire consequences if Team Obama sells out Western Europe on Iranian missile defense, with Russia the big gainer; Breitbart reports that Eastern Europeans are growing angry at Team Obama's slights directed at them. A Weekly Standard piece recounts the stirring history of Polish soldiers & airmen dying while fighting on our side, from the Battle of Britain to Iraq & Afghanistan, which makes the imminent betrayal of Poland all the more infuriating.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Syria may have more nuclear sites than previously thought. John Bolton wonders if Team Obama simply did not care much if the Libyan intelligence agent released by the Scots would enrage PanAm 103 families. American special forces killed a top al-Qaeda terrorist leader in Somalia. A New York Times front-pager reports that a "Lebanese Bernie Madoff" with ties to Hezbollah has been snared in a billion-dollar pyramid scheme; Hezbollah's ties (so much for religious piety) prevent locals from complaining too much--wonder where the money went....
Gordon Chang assesses, with a gimlet eye, North Korea's recent charm offensive.
Bottom Line. Team Obama is committed to fighting on in Afghanistan & seeing that Iraq does not disintegrate. But otherwise, they are a 21st century Carter administration: placate your enemies in hope they come around; spite your friends, in hope that they will make the concessions to enemies that will presumably produce peace. If this has worked in 10 millennia of human history, I missed it.
Former British Army officer Tim Wilson explores how a combination of reportorial carelessness & stupidity, a newspaper's arrogance and political meddling led to the probably unnecessary death of a British soldier in Afghanistan. It is a sad, sobering tale, well told. The picture of the soldier who gave his life in the line of fire shows the character of a man whose memory deserves everlasting honor--more than can be said for the reporter whose life he saved.
The Los Angeles Times reports that health care is one reason, but not the only one, that has caused President Obama to lose the support of white voters--including Independents & Democrats. 44 is down since his 100-day mark (end-April) 11 with white Democrats, 9 with Independents & whites over 50 and 12 with white women. Besides HC, a notable factor was 44 injecting himself into the mid-July racial controversy involving a white cop & 44's black Harvard professor friend. White House flaps like last weeks; slow-mo easing out of Van Jones, the "green jobs" racialist crackpot have not helped either. Perhaps worse is that 44 seems bizarrely unaware of this, pushing ahead with absurdities like trying to get schoolkids to pledge fealty to his program, as Mark Steyn notes in NRO.
WSJ pundit Dan Henninger notes that worldwide electorates have lost confidence in parties governing them, which makes comprehensive government initiatives far harder to sell. DH sees rising debt as driving voter rebellions:
What accounts for the global electorate's growing disgust with the political overclass? Try this: No matter the ideological cast of these governments, they all hold in common one policy: the inexorable upward march of national indebtedness. It has arrived at the edge of the cliff.
Japan's gross debt is currently estimated at some 180% of its gross domestic product, the highest among the world's theoretically serious economies. Look elsewhere and one sees the same fiscal obesity.
As measured by the OECD, the growth in gross debt as a percentage of GDP since the dawn of the new century is stunning. The data isn't exactly comparable across individual countries, but the trend line is unmistakable.
In the U.S., debt as a percentage of GDP rose to 87% in 2009 from 55% in 2000. In the U.K., to 75% from 45%; Germany, to 78% from 60%; France, 86% from 66%. There are exceptions to this trend, such as Canada, New Zealand and notably Australia, whose debt has fallen to 16% of GDP from 25%. But for all the countries in the OECD's basket the claim of indebtedness on GDP grew to 92% from 69% the past nine years.
In short, the lumpen electorate works, and the lumpen bureaucratariat spends. They get away with it because they have perfected the illusion that no human hand causes these commitments. The payroll tax just happens. Entitlements are "off-budget," presumably in the hands of God. This is government without the responsibility of governance.
Unable to identify who or what has put them in hock to the horizon, national electorates are attempting accountability by voting whole parties out of power. Rasmussen recently found that 57% of voters would throw out Congress en masse if they could. Gerrymandered districts ensure that they can't.
Matthew Continetti sees a political elite in DC that is "deaf, dumb & blind" to rising popular discontent with runaway deficits & grandiose HC plans. Charles Krauthammer, in a top-class column that should be read in full, sees a President Obama stripped of his magical aura and transformed back into a mere mortal:
The conventional wisdom is that Obama made a tactical mistake by farming out his agenda to Congress and allowing himself to be pulled left by the doctrinaire liberals of the Democratic congressional leadership. But the idea of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi pulling Obama left is quite ridiculous. Where do you think he came from, this friend of Chávista ex-terrorist William Ayers, of PLO apologist Rashid Khalidi, of racialist inciter Jeremiah Wright?
But forget the character witnesses. Just look at Obama's behavior as president, beginning with his first address to Congress. Unbidden, unforced and unpushed by the congressional leadership, Obama gave his most deeply felt vision of America, delivering the boldest social democratic manifesto ever issued by a U.S. president. In American politics, you can't get more left than that speech and still be on the playing field.
In a center-right country, that was problem enough. Obama then compounded it by vastly misreading his mandate. He assumed it was personal. This, after winning by a mere seven points in a year of true economic catastrophe, of an extraordinarily unpopular Republican incumbent, and of a politically weak and unsteady opponent. Nonetheless, Obama imagined that, as Fouad Ajami so brilliantly observed, he had won the kind of banana-republic plebiscite that grants caudillo-like authority to remake everything in one's own image.....
Bottom Line. Thus the political elite classes spend money and entrench themselves, while the masses begin to stir. Stay tuned.
Hudson Institute regulatory economist Irwin Stelzer offers 5 crisp pages on whether to regulate executive pay. Highlights of an article that should be read in full:
The rationale for government intervention on the widest possible scale is simple and, to some, persuasive. Compensation systems that encourage excessive risk-taking by firms that are too big to fail are not in the public interest--they contain the seeds of systemic collapse, as almost occurred at the start of the present crisis. So the government must have a say in the structure of bonuses of all banks to prevent excessive risk-taking.
Note that this argument applies to the risk-inducing nature of bonuses, hence the government's relaxed attitude towards bonuses in the form of restricted shares, which cannot be sold for several years, giving employees a stake in the long-term health and performance of their firms. Note, too, that the level of compensation is not supposed to affect whether the government approves any particular scheme, a distinction that might get lost in the hurly-burly of congressional hearings and White House press conferences.
Nor is the government certain to be deterred, in the end, by the presence of contracts setting compensation. After all, contracts that contravene public policy--think of agreements to fix prices, or a mob contract to "hit" a member no longer considered trustworthy--have long been held to be unenforceable. It is not a great stretch for the government to argue that contracts embodying compensation plans that encourage behavior so risky as to create systemic risk are null and void. After all, the government had no compunction about negating the contractual right of Chrysler's creditors to preferential treatment when it went bankrupt, in effect transferring such preference to vote-delivering trade unions. All in the public interest, of course.
The reasonableness of the government's claim for a seat at the compensation committee table doesn't mean that the government will do a good job of setting executive compensation. Populist and egalitarian pressures emanating from the Hill and the Oval Office will undoubtedly mount when Congress returns, and considers--if that is the right word--its reaction to the multimillion-dollar payouts planned not only by highly profitable firms such as Goldman Sachs, but by money-losers such as Citigroup, a bank that has received $45 billion in government aid in exchange for a 34 percent share in the company. Feinberg already has approved an $8.5 million pay packet, largely in the form of stock grants, to AIG's new president. He also is likely to approve plans such as those recently adopted by Wells Fargo--increase base pay and cut bonuses that might provide incentives to reckless lending and trading. And he must consider the impact of any decision on the ability of the firm involved to retain its top guns--although if his writ runs as widely as observers believe it will, unhappy bankers might have nowhere else to go--except perhaps to the new boutique advisory firms that are already wooing away bankers eager to find a niche below the government's radar.
Stelzer notes Pay Czar Kenneth Feinberg's problem with a zillionaire Citi trader:
Because Feinberg has refused to acknowledge that the provision protecting contracts signed before February 11 of this year puts them beyond his reach--the rules provide for a claw back of "any bonus based on materially inaccurate performance criteria"--he now has to deal with Citigroup's One Hundred Million Dollar Man.
Actually, Andrew Hall, the trader with Citigroup subsidiary Phibro, is entitled under his pre-February 11 contract only to $98 million, but a mere $2 million shouldn't be allowed to come between a fact and a good headline. Hall earned many times $100 million for Phibro and hence its parent, Citigroup, so his payout--Citigroup refers to it as a share of profits--is clearly performance-related, one of the stated goals of pay structure reformers. Absent Feinberg's ability to find some way around that contract, or a willingness by Hall to adjust his bonus (there is a rumor that he might be prepared to spread receipt over several years), Hall should whistle a happy tune en route to the bank while Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner hopes the congressional hearing at which he will be called upon to explain this provision of the law--something about constitutional protection against ex post facto legislation--does not last too long.
The sums involved aside, it is not unusual for loss-making banks such as Citi to feel it necessary to pay substantial bonuses to employees working in profitable divisions such as Phibro. None of this all-for-one-and-one-for-all stuff for traders, who seem to have learned their lesson from the town beggar in that great musical Fiddler on the Roof. When offered one kopek by the town butcher, the beggar demanded his usual two kopeks. On being advised by the butcher that he had a bad week, the beggar responded, "So you had a bad week--why should I suffer?"
Stelzer says incentives must align, and often do not in CEO pay, and that if taxpayers are saddled with risk they are entitled to a voice in how much executives are paid:
The argument that incentives and inclinations exist that lead to excessive risk-taking is not a moral argument, or a political one, or an argument in favor of a more equal distribution of income and wealth. It is solely an economic argument: Compensation structured as it has been in the financial sector results in an uneconomically excessive amount of risk-taking, just as a failure to make a polluter internalize the costs of pollution provides an incentive for him to produce more than if he had to pay all the costs he imposes on society.
Mortgage brokers have an incentive to write NINJA mortgages--no income, no job or assets--because they are paid up front, and then pass the risk on to banks. Banks immediately wrap these risky mortgages into securities, and sell them to investors who are reassured by the triple A ratings conferred by the rating agencies--who earn a fee only if the deal gets done. Everyone has an incentive to do the wrong thing--no surprise that they do just that. Not because they are law-breakers, not because they are antisocial, not because they can't wait to see the undeserving evicted from their homes. Simply because they are following the incentives embedded in the compensation packages that do not reflect the costs to society of their errors.
Until now, economists held that the fear of "reputational consequences" would deter such behavior. But most of these transactions that originate with a broker paid up-front are one-off--the same customer is unlikely to return, or learn soon enough the consequences of his brokers' behavior to warn others. Executives who bring down their institutions leave with golden goodbyes and access to talk shows on which they unashamedly--shame being in short supply these days--justify their actions en route to a game of golf at a country club, dues paid by the company from which they departed but at which an office and staff support are still available to make their transition to a new life friction-free.
I exaggerate: Not all cases fit that description. But almost all have one characteristic in common: The cost of the pursuit of the incentives contained in a compensation package, when that pursuit leads to major loss, has not been borne by the pursuer, but by thousands of people he has never met.
Since society bears the cost, society, as represented by its elected officials and their appointees, must have something to say about how to eliminate or at least mitigate incentives that are causing such woe to the innocent.
Bottom Line. In principle Stelzer's argument is, so to speak, beyond argument: He is right. If taxpayers are socializing corporate risk they should have a say in, among other matters, how much corporate managers & stars--even superstars--are paid. In practice, as Stelzer understands full well, it means that Members of Congress like Rep. Barney Frank (Dinosaur-MA) & Chris Dodd (Dipper-CT) will stick their fingers into the pie--these same folks who excoriated private Wall Street firms for leveraging 30:1 to 40:1, whilst protecting from those seeking to apply adult supervision to Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, our financial Fric & Frac who were leveraged 75:1.
In all, it is enough to make one volunteer for the first Moon Colony mission.
Eight years after the atrocities of September 11, 2001 launched militant Islam's third crusade against the West (the second having ended September 11, 1683 at the gates of Vienna), Americans (and their allies) are growing increasingly restive. The combination of the lack of a major terror attack since 9/11 on America's homeland, plus extended multi-tour troop commitments in remote places with uncertain ultimate prospects for victory--and even uncertainty as to what victory means in practical terms--raises again the familiar theme of whether Western publics can sustain a long-term war effort. Partly this is due to news media shortcomings: Robert Kaplan, vastly traveled and a wise voice, writes that al-Jazeera's reporting is not much different than the coverage offered by CNN or the BBC.
Afghanistan is the prime concern today, though Iraq is far from tranquil. Frederick Kagan explains why the status of Pakistan is inseparable from that of the tribal areas in Afghanistan:
Critics of the war have suggested we should draw down our troops and force Pakistan to play a larger role in eliminating radical extremists. American concerns about al Qaeda and Taliban operating from Pakistani bases have led to the conventional wisdom that Pakistan matters to the U.S. because of what it could do to help—or hurt—in Afghanistan. The conventional wisdom is wrong as usual.
Pakistan is important because it is a country of 180 million Muslims with nuclear weapons and multiple terrorist groups engaged in a mini-arms race and periodic military encounters with India—the world's most populous state and one of America's most important economic and strategic partners. Pakistan has made remarkable progress over the last year in its efforts against Islamist insurgent groups that threatened to destroy it. But the fight against those groups takes place on both sides of the border. The debate over whether to commit the resources necessary to succeed in Afghanistan must recognize the extreme danger that a withdrawal or failure in Afghanistan would pose to the stability of Pakistan.
Read his excellent piece in full.
Not all is bleak, thankfully. Ralph Peters, soldier-author extraordinaire and a deep skeptic of our continuing efforts inside Afghanistan (he thinks the tribal and religious atavisms too strong too overcome), reports on what he calls a "wildly successful" new Army training program:
Consider a project that's proven wildly successful: At Ft. Leavenworth's National Simulation Center, a team of soldiers and civilians got a $10 million budget to explore the use of computer-game technology to train soldiers.
Ten million's less than a major contractor would bill the Army for hotel rooms. But our "geeks with muscles" developed sophisticated applications that teach soldiers and officers crucial decision-making, planning and even cultural skills. The interactive training scenarios range from complex ambushes to sitting down with a wary tribal chieftain without triggering a range war.
Under Marco Conners, the deputy dog at the Futures and Integration Directorate, the Army's team not only designed those state-of-the-art training programs, but fielded both the software and supporting hardware to every major military installation -- for half of their budget.
The remaining funds then went for a license that enables our military to use cutting-edge technologies from the civilian gaming world -- potentially saving the taxpayer tens of millions in future rights negotiations and development costs.
Of course, video training isn't going to replace pushups or marksmanship. It's not supposed to. This expands training possibilities -- thrusting soldiers and officers alike into complex situations based on authentic battlefield scenarios.
And the training works. As a dinosaur among dinosaurs, I'm always skeptical around techno-zealots. But the training has been so successful that commanders throughout the Army are begging for more, and the computers in the field are reserved for months in advance. (More are on the way.)
Older commanders seem bemused. One recurring comment is, "I don't know why it works so well, but it just does." Young soldiers love it.
Read the rest of RP's column for more solid, uplifting detail and leadership training.
WSJ pundit Bret Stephens assesses Afghanistan succinctly, and warns of four bad consequences--he calls them "notions" that would take root in the jihadist mind-- if we decamp the country without victory:
Notion One: Attacks on the scale of 9/11 are by no means fatal to the cause of radical Islam. On the contrary, despite the huge losses the movement has suffered over the past eight years, it would emerge from a U.S. defeat in Afghanistan with something it was denied in Iraq: a monumental political and ideological victory from which it could recruit a new field of avid jihadists. Ergo, further attacks on the U.S. homeland could yield similar long-term benefits.
Notion Two: The U.S. has no stomach for long-term counterinsurgency. Ergo, surrender or political accommodation to apparent U.S. military success is pointless; if you hold out long enough, they leave and you win.
Notion Three: The U.S. is not prepared to stand by its clients in the Third World if it believes those clients are morally tainted. That happened to South Vietnam's Nguyen Van Thieu, it happened to the Shah of Iran and, if the U.S. leaves Afghanistan, it will happen to the lamentable Hamid Karzai. Ergo, other shaky or dubious U.S. allies in the Muslim world—Algeria, for instance, or, yes, Saudi Arabia—are prime targets for renewed assault.
Notion Four: A U.S. that doesn't have the stomach for a relatively easy fight like Afghanistan, where even now casualties are a fraction of what they were in Iraq during the worst of the fighting, will have even less stomach for much tougher fights. Ergo, maximum efforts should go into destabilizing and, not implausibly, taking over Pakistan, a country that, as Mr. Will says, "actually matters."
Iran. A New York Times front=pager today reports that US intelligence has concluded Iran now can quickly make an atomic bomb:
American intelligence agencies have concluded in recent months that Iran has created enough nuclear fuel to make a rapid, if risky, sprint for a nuclear weapon. But new intelligence reports delivered to the White House say that the country has deliberately stopped short of the critical last steps to make a bomb.
In the first public acknowledgment of the intelligence findings, the American ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency declared on Wednesday that Iran now had what he called a “possible breakout capacity” if it decided to enrich its stockpile of uranium, converting it to bomb-grade material.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that Muhammad el-Baradei, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector told his UN superiors that a "stalemate" exists with Iran: the regime will neither stop its uranium enrichment program nor negotiate about doing so. New York City DA Robert Morgenthau, a paragon of the old school, reveals the emerging Iran-Venezuelan axis:Iranian military technology for Venezuelan refined oil. Here is his Sept. 8 Brookings Address text. UN maven Claudia Rosett adds perspective on Chavez's UN visit & implications of the Iran-Venezuelan relationship for US diplomacy (ominous).
North Korea. The WSJ editors discuss Kim's uranium enrichment move. The hawks were right.
Air Power. If all the above is not enough, AEI scholar Tom Donnelly argues (rightly) that we are giving away our unchallenged aerial pre-eminence, which augurs ill for our future national security position.
Bottom Line. The West must resolve morally ambiguous issues with sufficient clarity to enable pursuit of its war aims. Given the difficulty of promoting liberal democracy in remote areas culturally inhospitable to the liberal variety, we may have to settle for pacification that curtails use of remote areas as command bases from which terrorists can launch global operations.
Aussie pundit Greg Sheridan astutely assesses the geostrategic issues facing Japan after its election change of power, and suggests how Japan will draw increasingly on America & Australia to buttress its strategic position in Asia, and to face possible crises with China & North Korea. GS quotes an ex-Bush 43 Asian security staffer's view of a coming showdown with North Korea:
Mike Green, the former Asia head of the US National Security Council under Bush, predicts a crisis in North Korea within a couple of years. South Korean intelligence believes that North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong-il, survived a stroke but now has pancreatic cancer, which would certainly accord with his haggard look in recent public appearances.
The best estimate is that he will die within two years. He has planned a succession for his third son, Kim Jong-un. But in a newly published analysis, Green argues that the favoured son, still in his 20s, is in a much weaker position to assume power than was his father, who inherited the mantle of leadership after a lifetime's grooming.
Green forecasts a three-stage crisis of intense danger. First, North Korea, armed with nuclear weapons, brandishes its arsenal not to gain aid but to alter the security structure of northeast Asia. Second, the regime begins to collapse. And finally there is the prospect of settling terms for a unified Korea.
Green reveals a meeting in 2004 at which the North Koreans told the US they would demonstrate their nuclear deterrent, expand that deterrent and transfer it. Given North Korea's recent nuclear tests, the nuclear reactor it helped to build for Syria (which the Israelis bombed) and the troubling reports of at least incipient nuclear trade between North Korea and Burma, Pyongyang has fulfilled all three promises.
Fears of North Korea have driven much Japanese security policy, and will continue to do so.
Christopher Caldwell writes in the Financial Times how Libyan thug-dictator Muammar Gaddafi has successfully used an unholy trinity of terror, petroleum and hostage-taking to blackmail the West, and predicts that Libya will win integration into the international order on its terms, not the West's. Noting how Gaddafi cut off oil shipments for two days to Switzerland to protest its trying to reign in his wayward thug-son Hannibal for committing assaults inside the country, CC concludes:
Much of the discussion of Britain’s release of Mr Megrahi has focused on non-issues, such as the erosion of the US-UK special relationship. While the US public is indeed furious over the release of Mr Megrahi, the Obama administration’s criticisms are probably pro forma. From his apologetic speech in Cairo to the Ramadan dinner he held at the White House last week, Mr Obama has placed good-faith gestures at the heart of his Middle East policy. It is almost as if he believes that the west’s tensions with the Muslim world involve an accounting of manners. We have run up a big deficit of slights, which must now be paid down with courtesies. Letting Mr Megrahi go is consistent with that. Susan Rice, America’s UN ambassador, described the US as “offended by the reception accorded to Mr Megrahi in Libya upon his return from the UK”. That is not a criticism of the Brown government.
Yet the west has a big problem with Col Gaddafi. There is a standard Gaddafi method that was visible in both the Swiss and Scottish cases. Right and wrong are put to one side, and only bargaining chips remain. After Libya’s prosecution of Bulgarian nurses in 2004 on the absurd charge of infecting local babies with the Aids virus, Col Gaddafi negotiated their return with French and other diplomats. His son, Saif al-Islam, claimed that an arms agreement was negotiated as part of the deal. The very same Saif said recently that Mr Megrahi’s release was always “on the table” whenever Libya discussed oil contracts with Britain. Revealing such details would seem to risk killing the goose that laid the golden egg. But Col Gaddafi is after something bigger than wringing money and technology out of the west. He means to sully its good name and expose its corruption, which is part of what he and his fellow officers professed to be revolting about in 1969.
In this he has succeeded. He has revealed that there are exceptions to the “norms” of international law. What is the legal principle under which Chilean generalísimos and Balkan strongmen get hauled before European courts but Col Gaddafi can travel to Italy for the G8 and to New York for the opening of the UN? He has revealed that there is impunity under Swiss law for certain playboys, that Scots nationalism is either a sign of British weakness or an avenue of diplomatic corruption, that the UK government, confronted with questions about terrorism, can go two weeks without giving a straight answer – in short, that reintegrating Libya into the international community is likely to be done on Libya’s terms.
Daily Telegraph columnist Janet Daley praises Conservative Party opposition leader David Cameron's public display of anger over the Lockerbie Affair.
This Los Angeles Times obituary memorializes an American hero, who recently passed on: General Charles R. Bond, Jr. Unlike fictional hero James, Bond was an ace with the fabled Flying Tigers who flew inferior aircraft against the Japanese in Asia. In 1996 Bond was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Read the article and learn more about this grand hero. So long as America can produce citizen-warriors like General Bond, we will not need to dream about being saved by 007.
I missed the President's speech--all 50 minutes of it. Here is his Sept. 9 text (8 pages). Here is the GOP response given last night. Here are reactions from the WSJ editors, Bill Kristol, Karl Rove, Fred Barnes and Jed Babbin. Michael Barone includes health care on 44's "convenient fantasies" list. A WSJ op-ed warns that unions are moving in on hospitals as part of ObamaCare.
44's address can await my later consideration. Good night, sweet princes & princesses who read LFTC, good night. May flights of (health care) angels sing thee to thy rest! (My apologies to the Bard.)
Yesterday the WSJ published Sarah Palin's take on ObamaCare. She notes what 44 said in April and raises the "death panel" issue:
Now look at one way Mr. Obama wants to eliminate inefficiency and waste: He's asked Congress to create an Independent Medicare Advisory Council—an unelected, largely unaccountable group of experts charged with containing Medicare costs. In an interview with the New York Times in April, the president suggested that such a group, working outside of "normal political channels," should guide decisions regarding that "huge driver of cost . . . the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives . . . ."
Given such statements, is it any wonder that many of the sick and elderly are concerned that the Democrats' proposals will ultimately lead to rationing of their health care by—dare I say it—death panels? Establishment voices dismissed that phrase, but it rang true for many Americans. Working through "normal political channels," they made themselves heard, and as a result Congress will likely reject a wrong-headed proposal to authorize end-of-life counseling in this cost-cutting context. But the fact remains that the Democrats' proposals would still empower unelected bureaucrats to make decisions affecting life or death health-care matters. Such government overreaching is what we've come to expect from this administration.
Palin also discusses deficit projections,l government incompetence, burden on small business and endorses market-oriented HC ideas.
The White House released talking points including a vigorous attack on Sarah Palin's Tuesday op-ed. The result can only be to build up Palin more as a national figure and a player in the HC debate.
Why Sonia's First Case is Major. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined her 8 new judicial colleagues to hear a second round of oral argument in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (the link is to a webpage tracking all developments in the case--here is the actual Citizens United v. FEC lower court decision), a monster First Amendment case involving a possible overturning of campaign laws restricting political speech. What makes this case so unusual is that the Supremes heard argument last March on a narrow framing of the case, then asked after the argument for a second round to consider broader challenges to the laws governing political speech during campaigns. This is rare enough, but to have a special argument set nearly one month before the Court season officially beings (Oct. 5) is truly extraordinary. Sotomayor, having been a lawyer for the New York City Campaign Finance Board, will likely side with the government.
The Case's Fast Track to the Supremes. The appeal came to the Supreme Court by an unusual procedural route: a statutory provision (Title 28 U.S. Code sec. 1253) permitting direct appeal to the Supreme Court of decisions made by Congressionally-authorized three-judge panels in the U.S. District Court (28 U.S.C. 2284 covers other direct-appeal routes to the Supreme Court). These courts normally try cases under a single judge, often but not always with a jury impaneled to decide facts, with appeal going to the intermediate level of the federal court system, the U.S. Courts of Appeal, organized into 12 Circuits. In special cases created by Congress, as is the case here, a three-judge panel hears legal arguments without a jury, and appeal bypasses the Circuit Court level. Section 403(3) of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 ("McCain-Feingold", in popular parlance) provided for this special expedited judicial review.
The Legal Issue in a Nutshell: Is corporate speech by a non-profit corporation that accepts minuscule funding from for-profit corporations within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary election, that may expressly advocate support or defeat of an identifiable candidate, constitutionally protected under the First Amendment, or can it be restricted under federal campaign finance laws? A neat op-ed by former Solicitor-General Ted Olson, who argued the First Amendment side of the case yesterday, frames the issue squarely. Basically, corporate entities are barred from using general corporate treasury funds to influence campaigns within the statutory periods, but can contribute limited amounts under the stringent political action committee (PAC) rules, using "separate segregated (not racially, financially) funds" only. Non-profit organizations can use general treasury funds, provided they do not get money from for-profit corporations. Citizens United is a non-profit corporation that made Hillary, the Movie!, a 90-minute documentary that the courts barred it from airing during the 2008 campaign, as advocating expressly the defeat of a candidate. The rule applies to broadcasts only--print media excluded--that can potentially, plausibly reach at least 50,000 people; media companies are exempted. Thus GE, which has NBC, is free; but GM is not. The film was legally shown in movie theaters, and distributed on DVD & videocassette.
Who Filed Briefs? Here is a page with all briefs filed in Citizens United for this latest round. Indicative of the stakes is that the parties themselves filed 7 briefs, and that 53 parties filed separate amicus curiae ("friend of the court") briefs in the case; of the 53 amicus briefs, 33 support Citizens United, 16 support the FEC & 4 support neither party. Here is the 69-page (text 56 p., notes 13 p.) March 24 Oral Argument transcript in the first round of the case. Here are the 7 party filings--filings 1-3 for the March 2009 round, and filings 4-7 for the September 2009 round; (1) Brief for Appellant Citizens United; (2) Brief for Appellee Federal Election Commission; (3) Reply Brief for Appellant Citizens United; (4) Supplemental Brief for Appellant Citizens United; (5) Supplemental Brief for Appellee FEC; (6) Supplemental Reply Brief for Appellant Citizens United; (7) Supplemental Reply Brief for Appellee FEC.
Notable amicus Briefs (filing party names only). In support of Citizens United: (1) 7 Former Chairmen & 1 Former Commissioner of the FEC; (2) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, filed by First Amendment superstar Floyd Abrams; (3) Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence (co-counsel ex-A-G Edwin Meese); (4) American Civil Liberties Union; (5) National Rifle Assn. (counsel Charles Cooper, a top GOP constitutional lawyer; (6) American Civil Rights Union (brief by health care maven Peter Ferrara); (7) American Civil Rights Union, supplemental brief; (8) Campaign Finance Scholars.
In support of FEC: (1) Senators John McCain & Russell Feingold (co-sponsors of the 2002 law being challenged, lead counsel ex-Clinton Solicitor-General Seth Waxman); (2) Senators John McCain & Russell Feingold (supplemental brief); (3) Common Cause et al. (CC is a high-profile Beltway self-styled citizens lobby); (4) Norman Ornstein & Thomas Mann, et al. (two top think tank political scholars--NO at American Enterprise Institute & TM at Brookings Institution); (5) League of Women Voters et al. (the LWV sponsored all Presidential debates, 1976-1996).
In support of neither party: (1 ) 2 Former Officials of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The League of Women Voters' brief presents an interesting history of the populism that led to the passage of the first campaign finance laws; here is an online campaign finance law timeline for reference. The Ornstein-Mann brief recounts a solid history of how political ads are used in campaigns via "soft money" to circumvent statutory financing limits. The Common Cause brief notes that candidate Barack Obama raised $745M in the 2008 election cycle, and that in 2008 he average cost of winning a House seat was $711,000 and for the Senate, $2.4M; CC compares this to the $23.5 TR valuation for corporations as of 2005.
The Campaign finance Scholars brief is fascinating, informing the Supremes that court campaign finance rulings have relied on faux history, tilted towards the populist side. Their brief includes this juicy quotation on the risk of relying on legal advocates for history: "The lawyer's use of history may be fiction from the standpoint of a scholarly historian, but if it produces victory it has served its purpose." The National Rifle Association's brief focuses on the absurdity of treating non-profits alike with for-profit enterprises, and also dryly notes that suppressing speech critical of incumbents was a prime motivator (true) of campaign finance legislation. The ACLU stated that identifying what constitutes express advocacy is often subjective, and thus the restriction in issue is unconstitutionally vague, because the speaker does not know the line the law draws separating lawful from unlawful speech; thus the law will likely foster discriminatory application.
The ACLU also noted that banning the satellite or cable broadcast of the film, while permitting it to be shown in a movie theater & sold on DVD & videocassette, is illogical & arbitrary. The brief filed by seven former Federal Election Commission commissioners cited (p.13) the danger posed to political speech by complex, vague rules:
This case presents the Court with a glimpse into
the burden and unworkability of current campaign
finance law. The field has become so complex that citi-
zens cannot understand it and experts find it difficult.
The pristine simplicity of the First Amendment’s pro-
scription of any law abridging speech yielded first to
urgent circumstances, but now is replaced by a flood of
complex restrictions. The complexity requires citizens
to hire specialists to speak. Specialists cost money. Er-
rors risk penalties. Core political activity is chilled.
Indicative of how risible the government's position is, consider this, as explained in the brief filed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: Michael Moore's 2004 film, Fahrenheit 911, a savagely anti-Bush film, escaped falling under federal election laws, because it was a "commercial" film. Former ACLU senior officials said in their brief that the Court should rule narrowly: uphold the general legal principles but rule that the minuscule for-profit corporate contributions to non-profit corporation Citizens United does not trigger campaign finance regulations.
Yesterday’s Oral Argument. It is famously hazardous to predict what the Supremes will do, but here goes: Based on what follows, I believe it likely that the Supremes will narrow the scope of the statute governing “independent expenditures” by non-profit corporations, by allowing them to accept minimal contributions from for-profit firms, without losing their non-profit status. (Campaign laws recognize a major distinction between “contributions”—sums paid directly to a candidate’s campaign, and independent expenditures—sums spent without coordination with any candidates or their campaigns.)
The Court may also decide that the so-called Wellstone Amendment of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (named after the late Minnesota Democratic senator), which bars “express advocacy” via independent expenditures, should be declared unconstitutional. In effect, doing so would reinstate the so-called Snowe-Jeffords Amendment (named after Maine GOP Senator Olympia Snowe & a former Vermont GOP, then Independent Senator Robert Jeffords—whose May 2000 switch threw the Senate from GOP into Democratic hands). Snowe-Jeffords allowed independent expenditures by non-profits, using funds from individuals and segregated into a separate fund, without forcing the non-profit to go through burdensome PAC rules. (The oral argument featured next to nothing about what constitutes “express advocacy”—a major problem with existing laws, because the definition is often subjective, and thus speakers do not know when they might cross the line between protected and unlawful advocacy.)
Here is the transcript (prints 99 pages, but only 82 is text) & audio (90 min.) of yesterday's oral argument, courtesy of NPR. Several points stood out at yesterday’s argument, in which two top lawyers argued for each side. Solicitor-General Elena Kagan argued for the government; also on the government’s side was Seth Waxman, ex-Clinton S-G, representing Senator John McCain & other senators. Former Bush S-G Ted Olson argued for Citizens United, joined by First Amendment superstar Floyd Abrams, representing Senator Mitch McConnell (whose challenge to the McCain-Feingold law at issue yesterday was rejected in 2003 by the Supremes).
Several points of interest stood out. Justices Ginsburg & Stevens raised the issue of foreign money—including sovereign wealth funds with huge troves of government money. Olson declined to say they would be outside First Amendment protection, and in the event it is not at issue in this case. But the liberal Justices have a point for future reference: foreign government money could be used in large gobs to influence US elections, in pursuit of their own strategic interests.
Asked by Justice Breyer about the risk of corruption from corporate funds, at the expense of political parties, Olson answered that 27 states, including California, permit state corporation funds to be used, with no sign of added corruption as a result.
lFoyd Abrams argued that where First Amendment rights are at stake, the Court has in the past preferred broader rulings to protect free speech, over narrow rulings leaving future protected speech in peril. Justice Sotomayor, asking a question for the first time, asked Abrams if removing restrictions on corporate independent expenditures might not be “cutting off the democratic process.” Abrams replied that protecting First Amendment rights aided the democratic process.
Justice Kennedy asked if using an “as applied” standard—which calls for case by case adjudication—would not chill speakers who feared how a vague law might be applied in a given case. Kagan demurred, but not convincingly. Kennedy continued sparring with Kagan, stating that corporations have subject matter knowledge that would make them able to add to the quality of public debate. Kagan stressed fear of corrupting influence.
Chief Justice Roberts pressed Kagan hard here, noting that of three potential rationales for curtailing corporate speech during campaign blackout periods—potential to corrupt, protecting shareholders and quid pro quo—none have been used by the Court to date as to independent expenditures; only in case of regulating corporate contributions to candidates has the corruption rationale been adopted by the Court.
Ginsburg noted that unions couldn’t compel dues-paying members to support political beliefs against their will (in real life, unions ignore this in Democratic administrations, who simply decline to enforce the rules). Ginsburg asserted that shareholders lack have similar protection, to which Kagan agreed. But both ignored that shareholders can protect themselves by selling shares, which members of a union closed shop (barring non-union workers at a given plant) cannot do.
Scalia noted that books could be banned under the Wellstone Amendment, if they offer “express advocacy” for or against a particular candidate. Yet free DVDs or a theater showing are not banned! Kagan acknowledged this. Justice Scalia suggested that the statute is thus “overbroad”—legalese for a law that encompasses too much within its ambit.
Seth Waxman stressed the history of campaign finance reform, harking back all the way to 1894. (Abrams had noted that the history of 20th century campaign reform was misleading, and that in practice many laws were not vigorously enforced, for fear of curbing speech.) Waxman also noted that while most corporations ar small, there are huge ones as well. True, but no one picked up on this: Unlike billionaire renegades like George Soros, who can slip vast sums into campaigns with zero accountability, no corporation can devote significant sums to finance campaigns, without attracting such notice, from both press & shareholders.
Scalia noted that in a case involving the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 96 percent of member companies were small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. These are, Scalia said, hardly the types to corrupt campaigns with huge sums. (Olson earlier noted that 97 percent of the 6 million corporations filing to pay US taxes had assets under $5 million.)
Olson returned to the podium for a short rebuttal. He noted that the government shifted its position from relying on corruption to the other two prongs Justice Roberts cited: protect shareholders and prevent quid pro quo—rationales applied to direct contributions in earlier cases, but not to independent expenditures. Olson also noted that S-G Kagan embraced the equalizing goal of balancing political speech, anathema under several major Supreme Court rulings.
Bottom Line: How Will the Justices Vote? It is fair to say that Chief Justice Roberts, and Justice Scalia, Thomas and Alito, the four most conservative jurists, will vote to narrow McCain-Feingold. The question is what must they give up to get another vote or two. Kennedy will likely join them, but may wish the narrowest ruling. That might even attract Stevens, though a long-shot, depending upon the language. To get to 6 votes, the ruling will have to be narrower than to get to 5, and the 4 conservatives may have to balance the political benefit of 6 votes versus a broader ruling decided by 5-4 the minimum margin. Consider Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor as sure votes to sustain the government’s position. I expect lots of back-room horse-trading on the scope of the ruling and the language used to express it. Because certain arguments made by each side were first made in the later stages of the case, and not argued early on, some Justices may wish to defer a decision on those issues, pending further briefing in a new, more focused case. This is a common preference among jurists, and those pushing the line on issues may well select a more prudential political course, in accord with intra-Court politics.
I think the government could only win full endorsement of its position if it hit a bases-loaded grand slam with its case. I seriously doubt it did. The Court clearly leans towards some liberalization of the rules governing non-profits. How much of a change in the law awaits the ruling. A very experienced Court hand told me to expect a ruling no earlier than November.
3 posts: (1) The First "East Jerusalem" Settlement, and Abusing an Ally Today--Wobble Watch; (2) A Doctor's Plan to Reform the Legal System; Another's 10 HC Gripes--The Home Front; (3) Health Care Ideas, Good (Mostly GOP) & Bad (Mostly Dem)--The Home Front.