At least in the domestic realm. Those are the latest poll results tracking the president’s job performance approval by CNN/Opinion Research Corp.
Obama retains majority support on foreign affairs at this point (although I don’t expect that to remain favorable for long), but a majority of independents, the key to his electoral victory last year, are not at all impressed with this performance domestically:
Fifty-three percent of independents questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday say they disapprove of how Obama’s handling his duties in the White House, with 43 percent in approval. That result marks the first time in a CNN poll that a majority of independents give the president’s performance a thumbs-down.
Here’s the key line in the article:
“Obama won a majority of the vote among independents last year, and that helped put him in the White House,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Losing their support makes it more difficult for Obama to govern from the center.”
So that leads the question, “how does Obama recapture this key electoral demographic”? The obvious answer is by moving toward the center. But if he does that he’ll have to scrap the more controversial parts of his health
care insurance reform bill and there’ll be hell to pay with his base.
But it is even more complicated than that.
Is the fight over health care responsible for the downturn in Obama’s numbers?
“Yes, in part, but his standing on some other issues has taken an even bigger tumble,” adds Holland. “Among all Americans, his rating on health care has dropped 13 points since March. Compare that to his 16 point drop on the deficit and 17 point dip on taxes and it looks like there is growing discontent with Obama’s overall domestic agenda — not just his health care policy.”
Again, emphasis on the point the left seems incapable of grasping – independents disapprove of the whole domestic agenda – health
care insurance reform is only the flash point.
So coming up with a new bill aimed at the health care issue, even if more acceptable than what is presently being proposed isn’t going to necessarily change the approval rating or bring independents back into the Obama (and Democratic) fold.
As an aside, this is interesting as well:
The survey also indicates that 37 percent of Americans think the media has treated Obama fairly, down 18 points from February. One in four say the media has been too critical of the president, up seven points from February and 36 percent say the media has not been critical enough, up 10 points.
If you add the 37% who think the media has treated Obama fairly, with the 18% who’ve dropped out of that category you just about have the percentage of the vote which elected Obama. My guess is that 37% that think he been treated fairly are mostly the independents he and the Democrats have been losing over the past few months.
Back to the topic – it is fish or cut bait time for Obama and the health care debate is where he’ll finally have to show his true colors. Is he going to try to woo the independents back by proposing moderate reforms and attempting to move back toward the center? Or will he double down, push the controversial portions of the legislation his base demands and all but declare his liberal colors? He’s not going to be able to please both his base and independents. So he’s going to have to make a decision and make it soon – look for his “major speech” on health care to be that decision point.
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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.
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.
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.
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Morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of additional portions of an inspector general’s review of the agency’s interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators, according to former intelligence officials, especially those associated with the program.
Wow, I can’t imagine why morale has sagged. Issues that were previously dealt with by Congress and the DOJ are now back under a microscope and somehow the agency is experiencing low morale? Who’d a thunk?
Look, I think it is pretty well known by those that read this blog what our feelings are about torture. We don’t condone it. Period.
However, as I understood it, that issue had pretty much been settled, new guidelines issued and, as a policy, apparently followed (there may be some individual incidences where that isn’t true, but policy was settled). Point made, lesson learned, new policy in place. Move ahead.
We also watched President Barack Obama assure the agency that he wasn’t interested in looking back, implying he too thought this was all settled business, but instead looking to the future – and he further assured them of his backing.
And now this. I frankly don’t understand necessity of this at all – especially when we’re engaged in two wars in which this agency’s best is necessary.
But I do understand the timing. This is a complete waste of taxpayers money, but it is a political distraction and diversion of the first level when such a distractions and diversions from the health care debacle are badly needed. The CIA is always a favorite target of the left. And it handily resurrects the liberal left’s favorite bete noir – Darth Cheney – just when a bad guy is needed. What better to take the heat off the Dems than a witch hunt involving the CIA and Dick Cheney?
Nothing is new in politics – especially new lows. This, as far as I’m concerned, ranks right there with the lowest.
The Department of Justice? New Black Panther voter intimidation case with video of the crime? Dropped. Pay-to-play corruption case against Democrat Bill Richardson? Dropped. 5 year old case involving the CIA previously settled by Congress and DoJ? Oh, let’s do that. Hard to fathom a more obviously cynically political move than that from a department supposedly dedicated to the enforcement of justice.
This too has the potential to backfire, big time.
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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”.
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That’s what the UK Times is reporting:
Iran has perfected the technology to create and detonate a nuclear warhead and is merely awaiting the word from its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to produce its first bomb, Western intelligence sources have told The Times.
The sources said that Iran completed a research programme to create weaponised uranium in the summer of 2003 and that it could feasibly make a bomb within a year of an order from its Supreme Leader.
Of course, what we don’t know about Iran’s capability could fill a book. We’ve seen it variously reported that they a year away to ten years away – a good indicator that for the most part intelligence agencies haven’t a clue in reality.
However, as we know, nuclear bombs are old technology. The genie has been out of the bottle way too long to believe that Iran can’t build a bomb if it dedicates the time and resources to do so. And it certainly seems to have done both.
So now what?
That’s the salient question now. Let’s assume Iran has a bomb by this time next year – then what?
Well here’s the apparent game plan:
If Iran’s leader does decide to build a bomb, he will have two choices, intelligence sources said. One would be to take the high-risk approach of kicking out the international inspectors and making a sprint to complete Iran’s first bomb, as the country weathered international sanctions or possible air strikes in the ensuing crisis. The other would be to covertly develop the materials needed for an arsenal in secret desert facilities.
Last week, during a series of high-level US visits to Israel, officials outlined Washington’s plans to step up sanctions on Iran, should Tehran fail to agree on talks. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, and General James Jones, the National Security Adviser, said that Iran had until the end of next month, when the UN General Assembly is to meet, to make a positive move towards engagement.
If Tehran fails to respond, Washington aims to build a tough international coalition to impose harsh sanctions focusing on petroleum products — an area where Iran is particularly vulnerable because it sends almost all of its crude abroad for refinement.
The feeling, of course, is if these sorts of sanctions can be imposed, it will hurt the regime even further by adding more unrest among a population already not happy with the election outcome. And, per the Times, hit directly at the Revolutionary Guards Council, which is the main exporter of terrorism through its surrogates in various parts of the world.
Of course what isn’t mentioned by the Times is the one big fly in the ointment of getting this done – China. No China, no sanctions. And China has developed a pretty close relationship with Iran based on petroleum trade. In 2004 it signed two huge oil and gas deals with Iran. Presently 45% of China’s crude imports come from the Middle East and that’s expected to rise to 70% by 2015. In 2008, China finalized a $70 billion deal to develop Iran’s Yadavaran oil field in exchange for the supply of liquefied natural gas. And much, much more.
So China is not going to be keen to cripple a nation which it has invested so much time and money in developing a relationship with – especially if it wants to maintain its own economy (and keep its own internal unrest to a simmer) during recessionary times.
Bottom line? My guess is a lot of tough talk and fist shaking at Iran, but in the end, nothing much happens and Iran ends up with its nuke. The play will be made in the UN where China has a seat on the Security Council and I’d almost bet the house that nothing comes out of that organization with any teeth whatsoever or China won’t vote for it.
Bottom bottom line – Israel, who we seem bound and determined to have worse relations with, is probably going to have to find a way to destroy the capability on their own. Militarily they’ve been quietly developing the strike capability for some time. And Saudi Arabia, which is very worried about an Iranian nuke and what it would do to the balance of power in the region, has given Israel a subtle nod that it would turn its back should the Israelis fly over their territory to strike Iran – unprecedented in the history of the region and an indication of the depth of fear the Saudis harbor.
But reliance on the UN and “sanctions”? I just don’t see that happening.
Unlike the left, I’m having difficulty getting too excited about a CIA program that never got out of the planning stage. The NYT carries the story today. Essentially the gist is that the CIA, under the supervision of Darth Cheney, planned (for 8 years apparently) to deploy assassination teams to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives where ever they were to be found.
Certainly, had they actually done that and say “captured or killed” someone in a place other than Iraq or Afghanistan, I think there would certainly be legal questions (and problems) involved (assuming we did so without the knowledge and permission of the country in which the person targeted was to be found). But as is obvious in the NYT story, these plans were never executed and for all we know, it may be because of those concerns about its legality that it remained only a plan.
On the other hand, I can also understand the concern of those who say all such plans, by law, must be disclosed to the body charged with oversight, whether executed or not. That’s how rogue operations are prevented, and this non-disclosure, by definition, would make it such an operation. Oversight and disclosure are key to a free and open society, so I’m sympathetic to the complaint that this operation was hidden and that’s wrong.
But other than that, I’m not at all sure any investigation in this program is going to come off as anything other than a witch-hunt and find little sympathy for the investigators with the public at large. This, in the big scheme of things, is going to be considered slap-on-the-wrist stuff for most of the public. Al Qaeda is not a sympathetic organization and considering plans to take out their leadership isn’t going to be seen by the majority of Americans as a “bad” thing, especially when the plans in question were never executed.
What happened is UAVs provided a viable alternative. Putting these sorts of teams together presented all sorts of unanticipated problems which, in combination with the UAV option, quickly shelved the idea. Why the program continued for 8 years and why Congress wasn’t informed are legitimate questions that deserve answers.
Special prosecutors and a legal witch-hunt, however, will not shed any more light on the subject and will find a largely unsympathetic public quickly on the side of those who sought, however clumsily, to protect us and against those who push the prosecution.
Via The Corner, Charles Krauthammer on Fox’s News Hour with Brett Bair. First he talks about the pre-negotiated reduction of nuclear arms between Russia and the US:
That was the deal that Obama really was lusting after as a way to come home and to wave a diplomatic success.
The problem is that any deal on offensive nuclear weaponry is either useless or a detriment to the United States.
Useless because it makes no difference above a certain level how many warheads you have. We could suspend our negotiations today and say to the Russians: You can construct as many warheads as you want and spend yourselves into penury, as the Soviets did, to make weapons that are redundant, that will do nothing more than make the rubble bounce, as Churchill once said memorably.
It could be a detriment because the Russians have insisted on linkage between offensive and defensive weaponry. The reason it’s a detriment is because we have a huge technological advantage on defensive weaponry. We can shoot down a missile. The Russians can’t.
For 25 years, the Russians have attempted to get a curb on American defensive weaponry, starting at Reykjavik, where Gorbachev attempted to swindle Reagan out of our strategic defenses. Reagan said no. Bush 1 said no. Clinton said no. And Bush 2 said no.
Obama is wavering on this, and I think it could be a real catastrophe if he concedes. He already is wavering on the missile shield in Eastern Europe. Medvedev said we [he and Obama] agreed on linkage, and Obama himself had said it would be the subject of extensive negotiations.
Why negotiations with the Russians over a shield in the Czech Republic and Poland?
If he gives away the missile shield then he’s essentially given the Russian the advantage of not having to worry about losing any warheads to anti-missile defenses, thereby making any cuts, even by a third, painless. And, of course, he’s already ceded ground by agreeing to linkage and subjecting such a defense to “extensive negotiations”.
Reducing nuclear weapons is a laudable accomplishment. But weakening our defenses against such weapons as the price isn’t.
If she thinks that this decision is a way to advance her political career, she is delusional. She could survive this. It’s possible. It may not be a fatal decision, but it’s not an advancement.
It is a quitting, and I think it’s largely a personal decision, a reasonable one. There was a lot of heat, a lot of attacks, and she wanted out, and that’s OK.
If there was a political calculation, it would have to be—if it were rational—that after the age of Obama, you know, way down the road, there are second acts in American politics. Reagan returned. Nixon returned. Clinton returned. It’s possible.
But she has to make herself serious. If she imagined she is going to be a Reagan-in-the-wilderness in the ’70′s and lead a movement, she has to be like Reagan, who was a serious man with serious ideas, who studied, who wrote, who thought, and made himself a major figure. If she doesn’t do that, she’s toast.
As much as I like Sarah Palin as a personality, I think Krauthammer has put his finger on her problem – she isn’t a Reagan or a Thatcher, or even a Nixon or Clinton. And as I’ve implied in some commentary to another blog post, with this highly partisan and poisonous political atmophere which gets 24/7 coverage, second acts are very, very hard to come by. And, as Krauthammer notes, when it’s “quitting” that defines your departure, a second act may be impossible.
For new readers, the title is what the shortened “QandO” means.
- Whether you love her, hate her or really don’t care, it is hard too argue against the assertion that Sarah Palin effectively ended any national aspirations she might have had by announcing her pending resignation (assuming there isn’t some extremely compelling private family reason for doing so). The first thing any political opponent is going to say is “she quit on the citizens of Alaska, will she quit on you?”
- The story about the Washington Post selling access to the Obama administration isn’t just about the WaPo. Seems to me there had to be some a) knowledge of the plan and b) cooperation from the White House for it to have been as far along as it was. After all, the first “salon” was scheduled to be held at the publisher’s home in 2 weeks. Is anyone exploring that angle?
- How concerned is Saudi Arabia with the probability of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons? Apparently enough to make it known they’ll turn a blind eye to any Israeli incursion which crosses the kingdom in order to strike Iran.
- Apparently the scales have finally fallen from Colin Powell’s eyes concerning Obama and the direction he’s taking this country. Formerly Powell’s message was that American’s wanted more government and were willing to pay for it. He now says he’s concerned with the number of programs, the legislation associated with them and the cost of the additional government they’ll entail. “We can’t pay for it,” he’s now saying? Better late than never, I suppose, but this just underscores my disaffection with Powell politically.
- Speaking of Sarah Palin, apparently the federal investigation rumors (FBI looking into irregularities concerning the sports complex in Wasilla, etc.) and pending indictment are false. An FBI spokesman in Alaska has said there is no pending indictment or ongoing investigations of her. Concerning the ongoing rumor he says, “it’s just not true”.
- The after effects of the recent “election” in Iran continue to eat away at the foundation of the “Islamic Republic”. The Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum split with Ayotallah Khamenei declaring both the election and the new govenrment “illegitimate”. That is a very public and unprecedented challenge to Khamenei’s power. Additionally Moussavi’s campaign has released a report that outlines the election violations in detail. These are very serious challenges to the regime’s legitimacy.
- Speaking of Iran, it appears that while the world is ready to ratchet up the pressure on the regime in light of its brutal put down of pro-democracy protesters, the Obama administration is apparently prepared to block any sanctions agreed upon at the G8 summit. I swear I can’t figure that bunch out – support the dictator in Iran and mischaracterize a legal use of constitutional power in Honduras in support of another would-be dictator there.
- Did you know that Hitler had a 600 mph stealth bomber almost ready for production when the allies overran Germany? Check out the pics and description of the HO 2-29.
- The law of unintended consequences continues to operate unabated. Governments, desperate for revenue, have raised property taxes all across the country. Homeowners, knowing their home values have plummeted, are filing an unprecedented number of appeals. Those appeals are costing the governments huge amounts of money in refunds and attorney’s fees. However, homeowners should note that if they don’t appeal, the government will gladly screw them to the wall with an unjustified tax increase. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn’t it?
You have to laugh some times. Or maybe a rueful shake of the head is more appropriate. Here’s Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, answering questions about the reportedly tough measures the new UN resolution against NoKo allows the country, via the military, to take:
Q: Admiral Mullen, Secretary Gates, currently the U.S. military is tracking a North Korean-flagged ship, the Kang Nam, which is suspected of proliferating either weaponry, nuclear materials or missile parts. What are your options n terms of enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874? Are you prepared to board the ship at this time?
ADM. MULLEN: Without going into specific details, clearly we’re — we intend to vigorously enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874, to include — options to include certainly a hail and query. There are — part of the UNSCR is to, if a vessel like this is queried and doesn’t allow a permissive search, to direct it to go into a port, and the country of that port would, as required to, inspect the vessel, and to also keep the United Nations informed, obviously, if a vessel like this would refuse to comply.
But the United Nations Security Council resolution does not include an option for an opposed boarding or a noncompliant boarding with respect to that. And if we get to that point with a vessel that we suspect has material which is counter to — unauthorized in accordance with UNSCR, that’s a report that goes back to the United Nations as well.
Q: What do you think is on board this ship? What has made you suspicious that the military’s tracking it?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I wouldn’t go into any kind of details, at this particular point in time, except to say that it’s very clear that the resolution prohibits North Korea from shipping these kinds of materials, the kinds of weapons that were laid out, in the material, from conventional weapons up to fissile material or nuclear weapons.
And we expect compliance. And I’ve gone through the steps that we would take.
Q: The north has said that they would take that, any sort of interdiction, as an act of war. Would that prevent you from pursuing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think, it’s important that this is a U.N. resolution. This is an international commitment. It’s not just the United States. It’s a lot of other countries as well. And the North taking steps to further isolate itself, to further non-comply with international guidance and regulations, in the long-run, puts them in a more difficult position.
With all due respect to Adm. Mullen, I’m having real difficulty, given what he said they could do -essentially send a report to the UN if NoKo doesn’t play along with the demands he’s authorized to make- seeing how NoKo is putting themselves “in a more difficult position” than they now occupy. More importantly, why would NoKo care?
Reading this carefully, it seems the UN has authorized them to “query” a NoKo ship and ask to inspect it. NoKo can say “no”. If NoKo says no, we can demand they go to the nearest port for inspection. But again, all the NoKo ship has to do is say “no” and that ends it. Result: Strong report sent to UN. Sounds more like punishment for those who have to fill out the report to the UN than NoKo.
Where else in the universe are such steps considered “tough” besides the UN?
Kim Jong-Il is apparently not content with good old-fashioned saber rattling, and instead wants to push the envelope (or the button, as it were) a little further:
North Korea may fire a long-range ballistic missile toward Hawaii in early July, a Japanese news report said Thursday, as Russia and China urged the regime to return to international disarmament talks on its rogue nuclear program.
The missile, believed to be a Taepodong-2 with a range of up to 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers), would be launched from North Korea’s Dongchang-ni site on the northwestern coast, said the Yomiuri daily, Japan’s top-selling newspaper. It cited an analysis by the Japanese Defense Ministry and intelligence gathered by U.S. reconnaissance satellites.
The missile launch could come between July 4 and 8, the paper said.
While the newspaper speculated the Taepodong-2 could fly over Japan and toward Hawaii, it said the missile would not be able to hit Hawaii’s main islands, which are about 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) from the Korean peninsula.
A spokesman for the Japanese Defense Ministry declined to comment on the report. South Korea’s Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service — the country’s main spy agency — said they could not confirm it.
If North Korea does carry out such a plan, it would be a most provocative act, bordering on a casus belli. Figuratively speaking, it would not be any different than the child’s game of swinging one’s arms within inches of one’s sibling while declaring “not touching!” In realpolitik terms, it is simply a threat.
Of course, the real question is, what do we do about it?
President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak met in Washington on Tuesday for a landmark summit in which they agreed to build a regional and global “strategic alliance” to persuade North Korea to dismantle all its nuclear weapons. Obama declared North Korea a “grave threat” to the world and pledged that the new U.N. sanctions on the communist regime will be aggressively enforced.
In Seoul, Vice Unification Minister Hong Yang-ho told a forum Thursday that the North’s moves to strengthen its nuclear programs is “a very dangerous thing that can fundamentally change” the regional security environment. He said the South Korean government is bracing for “all possible scenarios” regarding the nuclear standoff.
In a rare move, leaders of Russia and China used their meetings in Moscow on Wednesday to pressure the North to return to the nuclear talks and expressed “serious concerns” about tension on the Korean peninsula.
The joint appeal appeared to be a signal that Moscow and Beijing are growing impatient with Pyongyang’s stubbornness. Northeastern China and Russia’s Far East both border North Korea, and Pyongyang’s unpredictable actions have raised concern in both countries.
After meetings at the Kremlin, Chinese President Hu Jintao joined Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in urging a peaceful resolution of the Korean standoff and the “swiftest renewal” of the now-frozen talks involving their countries as well as North and South Korea, Japan and the United States.
“Russia and China are ready to foster the lowering of tension in Northeast Asia and call for the continuation of efforts by all sides to resolve disagreements through peaceful means, through dialogue and consultations,” their statement said.
Keep in mind, as well, that North Korea need not tip anyone of those missiles with a nuclear warhead (which it does not yet have the capability to do) in order to pose a significant threat. Reportedly, the Stalinist regime is well-equipped with chemical weapons as well:
The independent International Crisis Group think tank, meanwhile, said the North’s massive stockpile of chemical weapons is no less serious a threat to the region than its nuclear arsenal.
It said the North is believed to have between 2,500 and 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, phosgene, blood agents and sarin. These weapons can be delivered with ballistic missiles and long-range artillery and are “sufficient to inflict massive civilian casualties on South Korea.”
Although the nations involved have been ready to talk sternly about “grave threats” and to urge further negotiations to quell the tensions, Kim Jong-Il is notably unimpressed. Rather than seeking to retard the North Korean leader’s ambitions, everyone seems insistent upon being cautions in order to avoid “provoking” Kim Jong-Il. That is a shrewd plan when dealing with a crazy person, but in the end, a bully is just a bully, whether he’s crazy or not.
Unfortunately, at some point a swift smack on the nose will be necessary if we truly want to back the recalcitrant dictator up a step or two, which admittedly carries its own unfortunate possibilities. Even if that point is not now, or if and when North Korea sends its missiles hurling dangerously close to our sovereign territory, it does seem to be approaching quickly. Given the rather meek approach taken by all nations thus far, one can only hope that Kim’s own machinations do him under before the international community’s hand is forced.