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Military Affairs

Iran, Nukes and Anti-Missile Shields

The IAEA announced, almost simultaneously with the US unilateral withdrawal of its planned eastern European anti-missile shield, that Iran now has the capability and materials to build a nuclear weapon. Why did the IAEA come to that conclusion?

• The IAEA’s assessment that Iran worked on developing a chamber inside a ballistic missile capable of housing a warhead payload “that is quite likely to be nuclear.”

• That Iran engaged in “probable testing” of explosives commonly used to detonate a nuclear warhead — a method known as a “full-scale hemispherical explosively driven shock system.”

• An assessment that Iran worked on developing a system “for initiating a hemispherical high explosive charge” of the kind used to help spark a nuclear blast.

Additionally it noted, “The agency … assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device (an atomic bomb) based on HEU (highly enriched uranium) as the fission fuel.”

And it has enriched enough uranium for fuel that it could be turned into enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

So we have the capacity for a nuclear weapon and apparently proof, or at least some pretty heavy indications, that Iran has been working assiduously toward developing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload as well as developing and testing an explosive trigger for such a device.

Obviously this didn’t come as a surprise to the US. Iran’s capability in both missiles and nuclear weapons technology continues to grow.

So excuse me if I don’t buy this “redefinition” of the threat the Obama administration is claiming is better addressed by its focus on short and medium range Iranian missiles. Any defense against missiles is a layered defense. That means you address all possible missile threats.

The fact remains that the only threat to Europe, for whom the Bush-era anti-missile shield was intended, is ballistic missiles. Iran (or Russia) must use them to reach that continent. Iranian short and medium range missiles are not a threat Europe.

The point, of course, is should Iran develop an ICBM, Europe would be defenseless because the systems which are designed for the short and medium range missiles aren’t designed to go after ICBMs.

Or said another way, the proper announcement would have been “the US is adding the missing two layers to the anti-missile defense system, thereby making the system complete.”

Instead we pulled the long-range system. Why?

Well that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Most feel it was a capitulation in answer to Russia’s fears of the system. Russia had claimed that the small and supposed defensive system could be turned into offensive system aimed at them. Of course that would require a completely different sort of missile than would have been deployed there, and, probably, a different sort of radar system as well.

Speaking of the radar system, Russia objected to the sophisticated X-band radar saying it would be able to look in 360 degrees and would be monitoring Russian missiles much too closely. Seems a bit absurd to make that claim when Russia knows we have satellites that can read the bumper numbers off their mobile missile launchers at will.

Then there was the claim that the US and Russia had an agreement that US troops and weapons wouldn’t be stationed or deployed in the former Warsaw Pact nations. The US doesn’t seem to remember that, but Russia claims its the case. That certainly can’t be the concern since Obama has said that in the future the new anti-missile systems might be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obama says his decision was driven by the “unanimous advice” of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Said the man who recommended the deployment of the missile shield to President Bush three years ago:

“Those who say we are scrapping missile defence in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing in Europe,” said Robert Gates, US defence secretary.

In a word: nonsense!

Someone please explain the spurious claim that the best missile defense system for Europe – which can only be hit by an Iranian ICBM – is one which targets short and medium range Iranian missiles. It makes absolutely no sense.

It makes no sense until Russia is dragged into the equation. Then it starts to become somewhat clear. This is a risky bet meant to appease Russia while at the same time hoping Iran is unable to develop a long-range nuclear capable missile before its nuclear weapons program can be stopped. It is also clearly a bow to Russia and a part of the Obama administration’s unilateral attempt to “reset” relations with that country. And it is a display of weakness.

What about our allies? How do they feel about this? Well perhaps the best way to answer that is to understand why they were so interested in the anti-missile system promised by the Bush administration:

During negotiations with the Bush administration, Warsaw pushed hard for a missile defence agreement that would reward them with a Patriot short-range air defence unit supported by US troops. In the end, Poland agreed in principle to host the US base during last year’s war between Russia and Georgia, which sparked fears about Russian intentions towards central Europe.

Eastern Europe doesn’t trust Russia as far as they can throw them (a lesson we should have learned as well). The invasion and virtual annexation of two provinces of Georgia underscored Russia intent to dominate what it calls it’s “near abroad” (or Post-Soviet Space). Russia literally thumbed its nose at the US and the rest of the world with its military incursion there. Poland and other former Warsaw pact nations took the lesson for what it was – a declaration that Russia was back and intended to play hardball.

Max Boot reminds us of the last time this sort of thing happened:

That Obama has now bowed to Putin’s demands sends a dangerous signal of irresoluteness and weakness—similar to the signal another young president sent when he met with a Russian leader in Vienna in 1961. Nikita Khrushchev emerged from his summit with John F. Kennedy convinced that the president was “very inexperienced, even immature” and that he could be rolled. We all know the result: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Except this time we’re playing in Russia’s backyard, not our own. Again, leadership is absent in a very critical area of national security.

~McQ

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Uncle Osama Wants You!

Just when it seems we’re putting al Qaeda between a rock and a hard place, we’re seeing talk about leaving Afghanistan. While we may feel we’ve a way to go against the Taliban, we seem to be succeeding against our number one enemy – al Qaeda:

Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida is under heavy pressure in its strongholds in Pakistan’s remote tribal areas and is finding it difficult to attract recruits or carry out spectacular operations in western countries, according to government and independent experts monitoring the organisation.

Speaking to the Guardian in advance of tomorrow’s eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, western counter-terrorism officials and specialists in the Muslim world said the organisation faced a crisis that was severely affecting its ability to find, inspire and train willing fighters.

Its activity is increasingly dispersed to “affiliates” or “franchises” in Yemen and North Africa, but the links of local or regional jihadi groups to the centre are tenuous; they enjoy little popular support and successes have been limited.

It is getting harder and harder to recruit “martyrs”. And, apparently, the organization has been so brutal that it is welcome in few areas. Meanwhile drone attacks continue to decimate its leadership. And those they do recruit are all but driven off once they get to their training site:

Interrogation documents seen by the Guardian show that European Muslim volunteers faced a chaotic reception, a low level of training, poor conditions and eventual disillusionment after arriving in Waziristan last year.

In other words, they become disillusioned cannon fodder. And, of course, word gets back and the supply of more cannon fodder slows to a veritable trickle.

This is called having an opponent on the ropes. We now need to do what is necessary to knock them out for good.

~McQ

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Leadership And Afghanistan

Yes, I’m again addressing presidential leadership, or the lack thereof. While it appears that President Obama has finally decided he has to “step up” in the health care insurance reform debate, he’s seems to be AWOL in that department concerning Afghanistan. Abu Muqawama lays it out pretty succinctly:

I do not think it would surprise any reader of this blog, though, to note the speed with which the debate has shifted on the war in Afghanistan. What was, 12 months ago, “the good war” has now become, for paleoconservatives and progressives alike, a fool’s errand. And the Obama Administration has thus far shown little energy for defending a policy and strategic goals (.pdf) they themselves arrived at just five months ago. I thought that once the president had settled on a policy and strategic aims, the rest of the administration would then go about executing that policy. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? Yet the policy debate seems to continue within the White House, with the Office of the Vice President apparently pushing for a much more limited approach than what was articulated in March by the president himself and following a lengthy policy review. No wonder, then, the uniformed military is getting nervous about the administration’s support for their war. Either the White House has been too busy with health care, or they have failed to notice how quickly the debate has shifted under their feet (as with health care).

Of course the assumptions Abu makes in his paragraph above are only valid if there’s someone in charge and leading the effort. A decision was supposedly made in March, in terms of policy and goals, and the assumption was made it would be executed. But apparently that’s not the case. And, as in the case of health care insurance reform, the evident lack of leadership has caused there to be a noticeable shift in the debate and a tremendous drop in support for the war effort. Again, a major policy issue is left to twist in the wind for lack of a leader.

Abu Muqawama, obviously recognizing this problem, throws out a solution:

What needs to happen? Well, first off, I guess we should decide what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan. (Again, when we set about reviewing ISAF operations in June and July, we thought this question had already been resolved in March.) Once that question is settled, the administration needs to go about defending and explaining their policy. Until then, it’s understandable why everyone from voters in Peoria to Mullah Omar in Afghanistan (?) are confused as to what, exactly, U.S. policy is at the moment.

This is a very critical issue that needs to be resolved now. That means the Commander-in-Chief needs to act like one and do what is necessary to resolve this policy issue. He needs to make a decision, give guidance to the proper agencies which directs them in how he wants his decision implemented and, finally, take responsibility for the war.

As a certain someone is learning, governing and actually leading is much harder than standing off to the side and tossing bricks while regaling everyone with how much better you could do the job. Thus far, the job performance has been anything but impressive.

~McQ

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Afghanistan: Political Will Or Political Cynicism?

For all the rhetoric about Afghanistan being “the ‘good’ war” and where we should be concentrating the fight that we heard during the campaign, it really comes as no surprise to me that politicians, the chattering class, and the liberal left is now pitching abandonment of the effort there just when we are seriously considering that which is necessary to turn the fight around.

The problem?

As usual it has to do with political will.

The new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has done his assessment of the situation and has rendered his report.

“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”

Read that carefully – two words in particular are aimed primarily at one particular sphere of influence – the political. What McChrystal is saying to the political community is, “I think we can be successful if we follow the revised strategy I’ve set forward, but without the “commitment and resolve” from the political community to see this through, it will all be for naught.”

Anthony Cordesman, who was involved in McChrystal’s assessment, delivers what I would characterize as a pretty succinct and honest appraisal of why we’re in the situation we’re in now:

The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade.

Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.

The Bush administration gave priority to sending forces to Iraq, it blustered about the successes of civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan that were grossly undermanned and underresourced, and it did not react to the growing corruption of Hamid Karzai’s government or the major problems created by national caveats and restrictions on the use of allied forces and aid.

It treated Pakistan as an ally when it was clear to U.S. experts on the scene that the Pakistani military and intelligence service did (and do) tolerate al-Qaeda and Afghan sanctuaries and still try to manipulate Afghan Pashtuns to Pakistan’s advantage.

Further, it never developed an integrated civil-military plan or operational effort even within the U.S. team in Afghanistan; left far too much of the aid effort focused on failed development programs; and denied the reality of insurgent successes in ways that gave insurgents the initiative well into 2009.

Like it or not, Afghanistan has been the second priority when it came to resources. Turning it around is going to take both time and more resources – something, if you read the pundits and politicians today, many are not willing to do.

Cordesman says that “most experts” agree that US troop levels in Afghanistan need to be increased by “three to eight more brigade combat teams”. But he also stresses that those BCTs would primarily be engaged in training Afghan troops and making them “full partners rather than tools”. The need for that training is past critical and was highlighted as a problem when 4,000 plus Marines pushed into Helmand province and only 600 Afghan troops (around a battalion) were able to participate.

However Cordesman’s last point about civil-military plans is just as critical and just as on-point. These programs are critical and lacking. A big plus up in that area is required to turn the situation around.

Militarily, what we must do is “take, hold and keep the Afghan population secure”. Classic COIN.

Just as important but glaringly lacking at the moment is the other and equally important side of the process:

[S]ecure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.

Hamid Karzai is nothing more than the mayor of Kabul in reality. One of the critical tasks we faced and overcame in Iraq was teaching Iraqis at every level how to build those necessary government capabilities and then link them all together in a single functioning entity. While certainly not perfect, it provided a decent basis for governance that they’ve been able to assess and refine as they’ve gained experience.

That task has yet to be done in Afghanistan.

And it may never be done either.

Why?

Because the “good war” that the left claimed was legitimate and necessary to fight is suddenly neither.

We’re now treated to daily editorials and op/eds wondering if Afghanistan is Obama’s Vietnam or whether we find ourselves in yet another “quagmire”.

And it is reported that even conservative commenter George Will is preparing to come out against our continued presence there, rationalizing such a pull-out with a foolish solution (his column is now available):

“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”

Of course such a strategy will secure neither Afghanistan or Pakistan and certainly do nothing at all toward eliminating the al Qaeda threat. Instead it would give the organization a much freer hand in both countries.

Politicians have also begun to weigh in with rationalizations for pulling out of Afghanistan that can only be characterized as ignorant. Take Sen. Russ Feingold who claims he was for the war before he decided now to be against it. And, per Feingold, if we only listen to him, we can have our cake and eat it too:

We need to start discussing a flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan. Proposing a timetable doesn’t mean giving up our ability to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Far from it: We should continue a more focused military mission that includes targeted strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and we should step up our long-term civilian efforts to deal with the corruption in the Afghan government that has helped the Taliban to thrive. But we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals.

Of course Feingold’s solution expects the Taliban and al Qaeda to remain quiescent and cooperate with his plan by leaving the population, the government and our “long-term civilian efforts” alone after we pull our troops out and Afghanistan unable to defend itself.

There are other political moves afoot as well as Cordesman points out. Speaking of the realities of the Afghanistan situation and the required support necessary to change it successfully, he says:

Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.

And his conclusion, based on that is as true as it is unacceptable:

If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.

It will be interesting to see how the Obama team reacts to the McChrystal report. If, as Cordesman suggests, he attempts to put off a decision by caving into the pressure to have Generals Eikenberry and McChrystal provide a series of dog-and-pony shows outlining “a broad set of strategic concepts”, then I’d conclude that the political will to carry the mission to a successful conclusion is likely not there.

What we’ll instead see is a series of these sorts of delays used to push a decision on commitment further and further out until it is politically safe for the administration to pull the plug. That, of course, would be 2012 with a second term safely secured. If my cynical prediction is correct, you’ll see the effort in Afghanistan given enough support to keep it from collapsing but really not furthering the effort toward success.

If that is indeed how it plays out, then politicians will be trading the lives of our soldiers for time to successfully secure their political future. That is both immoral and totally unacceptable.

Afghanistan is a salvageable. But it will take a long time, a full commitment to the mission, patience and above all, political will.

If the political will is not there, the administration owes it to our troops to do its “cutting and running” now, and let the political chips fall where they may.

If, instead, they string this thing out until it is politically acceptable to do that, they deserve to be banished to the lowest level of hell, there to toil in agonized perpetuity for putting politics above the lives of our soldiers.

~McQ

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Shucks!

I got a call yesterday at about 3pm from Keesler Air Force Base, home of the Hurricane Hunters.

“Hey, can you get to Andrews AFB by Sunday morning? If so we’ll fly you through Hurricane Bill!”

Heck yeah. So I go about doing all the things you have to do to get ready for such an adventure and at about 10am this morning I take off toward DC. About 30 min into the drive, my Airforce PAO contact on the scene calls me to makes sure I’ve got the mission time and we talk about what to take on the flight. She’s talking a flight of 11 to 14 hours. I’m pretty much covered on all the gear I need, but she suggests I pick up some food to take with me since there will be no in-flight meals. OK, I can handle that.

So I continue on toward Andrews when I get a second call.

“I hate to have to call and tell you this, but the National Hurricane Center has canceled tomorrow’s tasking and the mission is scrubbed”.

Ah well, Bill was just a Cat 2 storm and apparently losing a little bit of steam. I made ‘em promise me they’d keep me at the top of the list for the next storm. I definitely still want to join that rather exclusive club of people who’ve flown through the eye of a hurricane – on purpose.

~McQ

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The Left Turns Against Afghan War

This, at least in my mind, has never been a matter of “if”, but instead a matter of “when”. According to the Washington Post, the “when”, has occurred and according to their poll the majority of Americans are now against the war in Afghanistan.

Popularly known, even by Barack Obama, as the “good war” or the “necessary war”, the Washington Post is now saying popular sentiment has turned against it:

A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

[...]

Among all adults, 51 percent now say the war is not worth fighting, up six percentage points since last month and 10 since March. Less than half, 47 percent, say the war is worth its costs. Those strongly opposed (41 percent) outweigh strong proponents (31 percent).

This change of perception has been driven by the left, who previously claimed that Afghanistan was indeed the only proper war to be fighting:

Although 60 percent of Americans approve of how Obama has handled the situation in Afghanistan, his ratings among liberals have slipped, and majorities of liberals and Democrats alike now, for the first time, solidly oppose the war and are calling for a reduction in troop levels.

Overall, seven in 10 Democrats say the war has not been worth its costs, and fewer than one in five support an increase in troop levels.

Among the right, the war there is still seen as worth fighting and winning:

Republicans (70 percent say it is worth fighting) and conservatives (58 percent) remain the war’s strongest backers, and the issue provides a rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies. A narrow majority of conservatives approve of the president’s handling of the war (52 percent), as do more than four in 10 Republicans (43 percent).

Interestingly, as the article states, this is a “rare point of GOP support for Obama’s policies”. And it pits both Obama and the GOP against the left and, I would guess, a Congress which will eventually reflect the constituency reflected in the numbers above. There’s a reason for that.

Congress is on a “dollar hunt” right now to pay for their favorite domestic agenda items. Afghanistan (and Iraq) are places where some dollars can be stolen. Popular support and money should be more than enough impetus to begin the “cut and run” mantra in earnest.

Apparently for the left, since it is no longer a blunt rhetorical instrument with which to beat George Bush over the head, Afghanistan is no longer the “good and necessary war”.

~McQ

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Hell Freezes Over – NYT Fact Checks Obama

I‘ll leave it to you to read the health care fact check. But this was of particular interest to me:

The president continued to take credit for deficit reduction by making a claim that has been challenged by many experts.

“If we had done nothing, if you had the same old budget as opposed to the changes we made,” the deficit over the next 10 years would be $2.2 trillion greater, the president said.

In fact, $1.5 trillion of those “savings” are mainly based on an assumption that the United States would have had as many troops in Iraq in 10 years as it did when Mr. Obama took office. But before leaving office, President George W. Bush signed an agreement with Baghdad mandating the withdrawal of all American forces within three years.

So Mr. Obama is claiming credit for not spending money that, under the policy he inherited from Mr. Bush, would never have been spent in the first place.

For those of you who missed it, even Bush didn’t plan on keeping as many troops as we had then for 10 years. The SOFA agreement and the general withdrawal timetable had been announced before Obama ever took office.

A perfect example of why every “fact” Obama utters needs to be examined carefully (that’s true for every politician, but this one especially), especially now when he’s promising the moon and stars in health care for less cost. Again, read the fact check for some of the points addressing that.

~McQ

Death Of A Hero: SSG Darrell “Shifty” Powers

You know, the word “hero” gets tossed around a lot these days. That’s not to say there aren’t heroes in our midst, there certainly are, but sometimes it’s just a good idea to sit back for a second and reflect on the word and its real meaning.

If you’re a fan of the HBO series “Band of Brothers”, then you know what real heroes look like. The paratroopers of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division were soldiers we got to know during that series through the depiction of their heroic actions throughout the unit’s fight through Europe.

They became real people on the screen. That’s because we got to know the real people the actors were portraying in a series of interviews with the survivors of the unit which were cut in at intervals throughout the film.

Well, with little notice or fanfare, one of Easy Company’s heroes made his final jump on June 17th of this year. SSG Darrell “Shifty” Powers has joined the 101st immortals, passing away last month as a result of cancer. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, his death barely got a notice.

SSG Darell "Shifty" Powers, E Co, 2/506th PIR, 101st Abn Div WWII

SSG Darell "Shifty" Powers, E Co, 2/506th PIR, 101st Abn Div WWII

Today, members of the milblog community are holding a virtual memorial for Shifty Powers, a man who helps define the word hero. Here’s a portion of an email that has gone viral which does a much better job than I can in giving you an idea of who Shifty Powers was:

Shifty volunteered for the airborne in WWII and served with Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Infantry.

If you’ve seen Band of Brothers on HBO or the History Channel, you know Shifty. His character appears in all 10 episodes, and Shifty himself is interviewed in several of them.

I met Shifty in the Philadelphia airport several years ago. I didn’t know who he was at the time. I just saw an elderly gentleman having trouble reading his ticket. I offered to help, assured him that he was at the right gate, and noticed the “Screaming Eagle”, the symbol of the 101st Airborne, on his hat.

Making conversation, I asked him if he’d been in the 101st Airborne or if his son was serving. He said quietly that he had been in the 101st.

I thanked him for his service, then asked him when he served, and how many jumps he made. Quietly and humbly, he said “Well, I guess I signed up in 1941 or so, and was in until sometime in 1945 . . . ” at which point my heart skipped.

At that point, again, very humbly, he said “I made the 5 training jumps at Toccoa, and then jumped into Normandy . . . . do you know where Normandy is?”

At this point my heart stopped. I told him yes, I know exactly where Normandy was, and I know what D-Day was.

At that point he said “I also made a second jump into Holland, into Arnhem.”

I was standing with a genuine war hero . . . . and then I realized that it was June, just after the anniversary of D-Day. I asked Shifty if he was on his way back from France, and he said “Yes. And it’s real sad because these days so few of the guys are left, and those that are, lots of them can’t make the trip.”

My heart was in my throat and I didn’t know what to say. I helped Shifty get onto the plane and then realized he was back in Coach, while I was in First Class. I sent the flight attendant back to get him and said that I wanted to switch seats.

When Shifty came forward, I got up out of the seat and told him I wanted him to have it, that I’d take his in coach. He said “No, son, you enjoy that seat. Just knowing that there are still some who remember what we did and still care is enough to make an old man very happy.” His eyes were filling up as he said it. And mine are brimming up now as I write this.

Today is a day to remember what he did and reflect on that. Of course his understated “I made the 5 training jumps at Toccoa, and then jumped into Normandy” doesn’t even begin to describe what jumping into Normandy entailed:

“I could hear bullets and shrapnel hitting the plane. As I jumped out the door, I could see that the left motor was on fire.” – Darrell Shifty Powers talking about jumping over Normandy, France, on D-Day.

Real heroes really don’t talk about it much, and they usually don’t include themselves when they do.

There are some real heroes that live among us and they deserve more than just a passing notice when they die. Shifty Powers was one of those heroes.

May he rest in peace and in the acclaim for his deeds he so richly deserves.

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother

~McQ

Paranoia, The Destroyer

Obviously, as one with a severe bent towards freedom, I think it is always advisable to keep a close eye on what our government is doing. Especially when it comes to said government granting itself extraordinary powers over the conduct of our lives, and/or over our liberty, in light of particular opinions we might hold, or because of the people we hang around with. The danger in allowing the government latitude to impinge upon our liberty in such cases should be apparent. However, sometimes people start seeing a red under their bed, or a little yellow man in their head, and act just a wee bit paranoid about actions that the government has proposed.

And it goes like this:

… legislation quietly making its way through Congress would give the White House power to categorize political opponents as hate groups and even send Americans to detention centers on abandoned military bases.

Rep. Alcee Hastings – the impeached Florida judge Nancy Pelosi tried to install as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until her own party members rebelled – introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that gives Attorney General Eric Holder sole discretion to label groups that oppose government policy on guns, abortion, immigration, states’ rights, or a host of other issues. In a June 25 speech on the House floor, Rep. Trent Franks, R-AZ, blasted the idea: “This sounds an alarm for many of us because of the recent shocking and offensive report released by the Department of Homeland Security which labeled, arguably, a majority of Americans as ‘extremists.'”

Another Hastings bill (HR 645) authorizes $360 million in 2009 and 2010 to set up “not fewer than six national emergency centers on military installations” capable of housing “a large number of individuals affected by an emergency or major disaster.” But Section 2 (b) 4 allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to use the camps “to meet other appropriate needs” – none of which are specified. This is the kind of blank check that Congress should never, ever sign.

It’s not paranoid to be extremely wary of legislation that would give two unelected government officials power to legally declare someone a “domestic terrorist” and send them to a government-run camp.

(my emphasis)

In support of author Mark Tapscott’s ipse dixit argument that this isn’t paranoia, he points to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. That’s a fair enough point (i.e. it has happened before here), but the analogy between Hastings’ amendment and the WWII internment camps is still pretty weak. For one thing, the internments were not done on the sly, as Tapscott suggests is being done now, and secondly, rounding up a relatively small number of people during WWII, is a lot more plausible than attempting to imprison half the country.

Ed Morrissey also pours some cold water on Tapscott’s theory:

To be fair on the second point, most legislation includes phrases similar to the “meet other appropriate needs” as a means of allowing flexibility in using facilities commissioned by Congress. Under unforeseen circumstances even apart from creating concentration camps for abortion opponents, the six national emergency centers might need to get some use other than housing military personnel or civilians evacuated from a disaster area. That language allows the Pentagon and Homeland Security leeway to adapt for other issues without having to worry that lawyers will descend upon them like locusts for not strictly limiting use to the statutes.

Nevertheless, I decided to delve into the Hastings amendment that Tapscott referred to, and which can be read in its entirety here (pdf). This is the pertinent language that woke some people up feelin’ kinda queer:

‘(2) DEFINITION OF HATE GROUP.—In this subsection, the terms ‘group associated with hate-related violence’ or ‘hate group’ mean the following: …

(G) Other groups or organizations that are determined by the Attorney General to be of a violent, extremist nature.

First of all, note the qualifier “violent” in that definition. Just being pro-life or anti-tax would not bring one under the aegis of this provision unless you also advocated violence in support of the cause.

The other part that seems to have been missed by some, is that this entire amendment is aimed at rooting out hate-group supporters from the military:

(1) PROHIBITION.—A person associated or affiliated with a group associated with hate-related violence against groups or persons or the United States Government, as determined by the Attorney General, may not be recruited, enlisted, or retained in the armed forces.

In other words, the worst thing that can happen as a result of this bill is that someone could be unfairly kept out of the military. I don’t want that any more than I expect anyone else does, but it’s sure a far cry from rounding up Republicans and throwing them in gulags.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with the amendment. As many of you probably already know, the military already has several provisions on the books prohibiting associations with extremist hate groups. Moreover, as Rep. Franks noted in arguing against the amendment, when viewed in light of the recent DHS report, allowing unelected and unaccountable officials to determine on their own who is an extremist or not seems like a pretty bad idea:

I take extreme offense that the federal government – through a report issued under the authority of a Cabinet-level official – would dare to categorize people who are “dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition or abortion or immigration” as “right-wing extremists” and it begs the question of whether the Attorney General, under Mr. Hastings’ Amendment, can look to the Napolitano report to decide who is an extremist, or can make the same categorization of the majority of Americans as extremists who may then be kept from joining the military, or who may be discharged.

The desire to risk one’s life on foreign soil for one’s country may well be considered “extreme.” To spill blood on a foreign battlefield in the name of freedom requires extreme devotion.

This amendment could have been written in a way that is more consistent with current DOD policy, which prohibits military personnel from participating in “organizations that espouse supremacist causes; or attempt to create illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, or national origin…”

So, not only is Hastings’ amendment redundant, it’s also an undesirable (and perhaps unconstitutional) grant of power to the Attorney General. Clearly the amendment as drafted could use some work, and it should be watched and commented upon. However, none of it suggests that Hastings is planning on helping the Obama Administration to unilaterally declare “groups that oppose government policy on guns, abortion, immigration, states’ rights, or a host of other issues” hate groups and then have them carted off to Guantanamo-on-the-Mainland.

heck, even Franks didn’t go so far as to suggest that Democrats want to literally wall off their political rivals. Instead, he claimed that the real intentions of the House were not being reflected in the amendment:

The military has many laws and regulations in place to counter racism and the enlistment of racist militants. Recruits must be thoroughly vetted, and must even explain the symbolism behind their tattoos, body markings and writings. I understand that there is concern that the rules and regulations governing vetting of recruits are not being followed as vigilantly as they could be, and this is a legitimate cause for concern. At the same time, this is a call for better enforcement of the laws in place, rather than a sweeping categorization of persons as “extremists,” as we saw in Janet Napolitano’s agency’s report.

I want to state unequivocally that I believe that it is not the intent of this Congress to label pro-lifers, federalism proponents, and pro-immigration enforcement groups and their affiliates as extremists under the bill. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle should make a strong effort to assuage these concerns and make our intentions clear.

(my emphasis)

Is this an example of poor legislative drafting? Sure. Is the Hastings amendment really necessary in light of existing military rules and regulations? Probably not. Is it a good idea to give unaccountable officials the power to label groups of Americans as extremists simply because of some opinions that they might hold? No, no it isn’t. Does this amendment represent an empowerment of the federal government to intern a large swath of conservative America? Don’t be so paranoid.

Calling the government to account for straying outside it’s bounds of power is always a good idea, but being paranoid about it doesn’t help your cause, and may in fact hurt it. You’re blowing it all with paranoia. You may be feelin’ guilty, feelin’ scared, seeing hidden cameras everywhere, but you’ve got to Stop! Hold on. Stay in control.

‘Cuz paranoia is the destroyer.

F-35: Last Manned Fighter?

Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seems to think that may be the case.

So, what the aviation side of this is, I think, is very much focused on this change. And I think we’re at the beginning of this change. I mean, there are those that see JSF as the last manned fighter — or fighter-bomber, or jet. And I’m one of — you know, I’m one that’s inclined to believe that. I don’t know if that’s exactly right. But, this all speaks to the change that goes out, you know, many — obviously, decades, including how much unmanned we’re going to have and how it’s going to be resourced.

I’m not one inclined to believe that necessarily (at least not with the technology today). Although I did read that the Air Force will, this year for the first time, train more UAV pilots than fighter pilots, I think there will always be a role for fighter pilots in combat. Why? Because of the air superiority role. UAVs – drones if you prefer – can fulfill the close air support role, and even a tactical and strategic bombing role. But, at least with the technology we have today, I simply can’t see an unmanned “fighter” having the advantage over a manned fighter in the air superiority role.

And without air superiority, you don’t fly UAVs.

Here’s someone who agrees with Mullen:

I guess I’m with Mullen; there are currently jobs that manned warplanes can do that drones can’t perform (human pilots are more visually capable than even the best drones, for example), but a) drones are getting better, b) drones are so much cheaper, and c)taking the pilot out means that you can do a lot of funky, interesting things with an advanced airframe. This isn’t to say that the F-35 (or even the F-22) have no role; they’ll continue to be useful frames for the jobs they’re intended to do for a substantial period of time. But I don’t think there’s a next “next generation” of fighter aircraft.

Addressing b) above, things like this don’t help the manned fighter side.  But then “cheap” doesn’t always translate into “most effective” either.

Thoughts?

~McQ