Free Markets, Free People

National Security

When is a secret not a secret?

When government leaks sensitive national security information to the press, of course.

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

Obama’s order, approved earlier this year and known as an intelligence "finding," broadly permits the CIA and other U.S. agencies to provide support that could help the rebels oust Assad.

What is it that occurs in early November?  And who needs a little boost?

Oh, yeah.

Forward.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Is Iran preparing to close the Straits of Hormuz?

That’s what our intel guys are saying:

U.S. government officials, citing new intelligence, said Iran has developed plans to disrupt international oil trade, including through attacks on oil platforms and tankers.

Officials said the information suggests that Iran could take action against facilities both inside and outside the Persian Gulf, even absent an overt military conflict.

The findings come as American officials closely watch Iran for its reaction to punishing international sanctions and to a drumbeat of Israeli threats to bomb Tehran’s nuclear sites, while talks aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons have slowed.

Now, of course, “developing plans” and actually executing them are entirely different things.  But, as irrational as Iran can be sometimes, the development of such plans has to be taken seriously.

If you’ve been paying attention over the past few months, we’ve been creeping any number of assets closer to Iran.  So obviously we believe where there is smoke we may see fire.

"Iran is very unpredictable," said a senior defense official. "We have been very clear what we as well as the international community find unacceptable."

The latest findings underscore why many military officials continue to focus on Iran as potentially the most serious U.S. national-security concern in the region, even as the crisis in Syria has deepened and other conflicts, as in Libya, have raged.

Defense officials cautioned there is no evidence that Tehran has moved assets in position to disrupt tankers or attack other sites, but stressed that Iran’s intent appears clear.

Iran has a number of proxies, as we all know, none of whom have much use for the US or the rest of the Western world.   What would possibly cause Iran to attempt to strike at outside targets?  The belief that they could get away with it:

But U.S. officials said some Iranians believe they could escape a direct counterattack by striking at other oil facilities, including those outside the Persian Gulf, perhaps by using its elite forces or external proxies.

I’m not sure how one thinks they can escape retribution by such tactics, but it is enough to believe you can.  And apparently there are some in Iran who do.  That’s dangerous, depending on where they sit in the decision making hierarchy.

The officials wouldn’t describe the intelligence or its sources, but analysts said statements in the Iranian press and by lawmakers in Tehran suggest the possibility of more-aggressive action in the Persian Gulf as a response to the new sanctions. Iranian oil sales have dropped and prices have remained low, pinching the government.

So, we wait.  And creep more assets into the area.  And wait.

As an aside to all the arm-chair defense experts who claim we shouldn’t be developing advanced weaponry because all our future wars are likely to be “just like Afghanistan”.

Really?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Pan-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood takes over in Libya

Yes sir, that Arab Spring is really what we all wanted, isn’t it?  So much so that the US and NATO helped this particular one along.  In Libya:

While the elections for a 200-member National Congress is unlikely to grant a majority to any one faction, the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies are confident they can join their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt at the helm of leadership.

Negotiations between the Muslim Brotherhood and a secular-based political movement led by former interim prime minister Mahmoud Jibril have focused on forming a post-election government as soon as the result is known.

An adviser to Mr Jibril said the former prime minister was likely to take the post of figurehead president with Mustafa Abu Shagour, currently interim deputy prime minister of the Muslim Brotherhood, taking the prime minister’s slot as head of government.

The Muslim Brotherhood would dominate the ministries.

And what pan-Islamist faction is positioned in Syria along with its militant al Qaeda brothers to take the reigns there when the current government eventually falls?

Why the same Muslim Brotherhood now ascendant in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

All good, right?

Exactly what we expected and wanted, right?

Foreign policy success, right?

Caliphate?  What Caliphate?

Forward.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

There is no US national security interest in a Syrian intervention

I just wanted to make that clear as we look at the Turkish jet shoot down and the fact that Turkey has invoked chapter 4 of the NATO treaty:

That is the provision that calls on NATO member countries to “consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened.” Turkey’s Islamist foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has announced that Turkey is calling for an emergency consultation of NATO members under Article 4 to consider a response to what it deems Syrian aggression.

Now the backstory, so you at least understand why this presents a possibility of NATO, and thus the US, being pulled into such an intervention (possibly willingly, I’ll get to that later).  It comes from Andrew McCarty at PJ Media:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a Sunni Islamic supremacist with longstanding ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s most influential Sunni supremacist organization. The Brotherhood is leading the mujahideen (called the “opposition” or the “rebels” by the mainstream media) that seeks to oust the Assad regime in Syria — dominated by the Alawites, a minority Shiite sect. Unsurprisingly, then, Turkey’s government has taken a very active role in abetting the Brotherhood’s operations against the Syrian regime, which have also been joined by al-Qaeda and other Sunni militants.

On Friday, a Turkish air force jet entered Syrian air space, and Assad regime forces shot it down. Turkey claims the jet “mistakenly” cruised over Syria, and that, by the time it was taken down, it was in international air space over the Mediterranean. One need carry no brief for Assad to conclude that, given the interventionist drum-beat for no-fly zones and direct military and logistical aid to the “opposition,” Syria rationally took the presence of a Turkish military aircraft in its air space as a provocation. Turkey insists it was not “spying” — that this was just an accident to which Syria overreacted. That would be a good argument if the regime were not under siege and if the Syrian and Turkish governments had not been exchanging hostile words (mostly, threats from Erdogan) for months. That, of course, is not the case.

Confused?  Well don’t be.  This is just another chapter in the eternal war between the Sunnis and Shiites and between the religious and secular.  Turkey happens to be an Islamic Sunni enclave (some want you to believe the country is “secular” but it isn’t thanks to Erdogan) and Syria is ruled by a “secular” Shiite government which, by the way, is ideologically identical to Saddam’s Iraq.  You know, the Syrian government headed by a man this US administration labeled as “a reformer” not so long ago?  Well, it’s “under the bus” time for him.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia – that would be Wahhabist Saudi Arabia (Sunni) – have been arming the Syrian rebels along with who, oh yeah, the Muslim Brotherhood.  And that has ended up seeing good old Al Qaeda show up on the rebel side, which apparently is fine with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Brotherhood.

More:

The Obama administration, from its first days, has cozied up to the Muslim Brotherhood — both Brotherhood branches in the Middle East, and Brotherhood satellite organizations in the U.S., such as CAIR and the Islamic Society of North America. Obama has also been quietly supporting the Syrian mujahideen: coordinating with repressive Islamist governments in Turkey and Saudi Arabia to arm and train them, and reportedly dispatching the CIA to facilitate this effort. But it has thus far resisted calls for more overt participation — calls by pro-Brotherhood progressives in both parties for something along the lines of what Obama did in Libya, meaning: without congressional approval and toward the end of empowering virulently anti-Western Islamists.

There was no US interest in intervening in Libya but we did (we used R2P as the excuse and NATO as the tool).  Syria, of course, would present orders of magnitudes more difficulty militarily.  It is a much more sophisticated military power than was Libya.

The problem?  Well while Obama may be reluctant to intervene alone, NATO might provide a perfect excuse/vehicle.  And the benefits would be fairly obvious electorally.  It would “change the subject” again.  It would make him a “war time” president (yes, technically he is now, but A’stan isn’t “his” war so he doesn’t quite get the benefit public support for his continuation in office).  And he could cite “treaty obligations” as a reason without having to go to Congress.

He also has the “good experience” of Libya as a sort of enticement to try the same thing again.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia make out rather well too.  They  get the crusaders to fight and die in their battle all so the Islamists can eventually take the prize.  The US and NATO would end up fighting to help put Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in charge in Syria.

Ironic?  Uh, slightly.

Point: This is not a NATO or US fight.  This is something that we should stay as far from as we can.

Politics, however, will be integral to any decision made at this point, at least in the US. Domestic electoral politics.  What scares me is the possibility the Obama administration may conclude it is a good idea politically to use NATO to “change the subject” and make Obama a “war time President” hoping the advantages of that situation will make the difference in November.  And it wouldn’t be a unilateral decision, but instead receive bi-partisan support as Sen. McCain and other GOP members have been outspoken in their desire to intervene.

Call me paranoid but I find nothing in my analysis that’s at all infeasible or improbable.  In fact, having watched this administration at work, I consider it to be a completely possible scenario.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Obama Administration: Remember when “Top Secret” actually meant something?

On the eve of the anniversary of D-Day, it isn’t difficult, given their record, to believe that if it was the Obama Administration in charge on that historic day, the Germans would have known all about it.

In recent months, operations which we should frankly know nothing about, have been leaked by this administration.

Most observers have come to the conclusion that the leaks are an attempt to paint a positive picture of Obama the Commander-in-Chief in what promises to be a bruising fight for re-election.  The reason for such an attempt is the rest of the Obama record leaves much to be desired.

Here, from Peter Brooks at the NY Post, is a litany of the leaks:

It started with the Osama bin Laden takedown last May, in which operational and intelligence details found their way out of the White House Situation Room to the press in just a number of hours.

In a slap at the leakers, then- Defense Secretary Bob Gates said, “We all agreed that we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden . . . That all fell apart on Monday — the next day.”

The situation was made worse by exposing the role a Pakistani doctor played in finding bin Laden. The doc is now going to jail for 30-some years — and the crafty inoculation program meant to get Osama’s DNA is blown.

Earlier this year, info escaped about the busting of the plot to put an “underwear bomber” on a US-bound aircraft by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

While kudos go to the intel community for this fabulous counterterrorism op, it was revealed that the expected bomber was a double agent who’d penetrated AQAP. Now al Qaeda knows, too.

Then, late last week, came a news story on “Stuxnet,” the tippy-top-secret US-Israel cyberassault on Iran’s uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz that’s been going on since the George W. Bush presidency.

It’s terrific the cyberattack reportedly led to the destruction of some centrifuges used in Iran’s bomb program, but now the mullahs know for sure who was behind the operation.

Moreover, dope on our highly successful drone program continues to ooze out.

All of this has led to compromising networks, having an agent (the Pakistani doctor) arrested and jailed, and blowing other operations.  It has also made it clear to our allies that sharing intel with the US is a risky business, especially if the outcome could help the political career of the incumbent president.

Let’s be clear here – none of this should have leakedNone of it.  A fairly terse announcement of fact that Osama bin Laden was confirmed dead should have been the extent of any sort of information released.  That’s it.

Instead operational details that should never have seen the light of day have been routinely released.  Anyone with an ounce of sense knows you never, ever talk about methods and means.  Yet both have been a part of these releases.

This sort of behavior, for pure political gain, compromises our intel gathering capabilities and is likely to hurt future operations.   We spend years trying to develop human intelligence networks and agents and in one fell swoop we compromise them (the double agent in Yemen and the doctor in Pakistan).

Who is going to trust us now?

"It’s a pattern that goes back two years, starting with the Times Square bomber, where somebody in the federal government, probably the FBI, leaked his name before he was captured," said Rep. Pete King, the GOP chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

"That’s why he tried to leave the country — he knew they were on to him." Calling the episode "amateur hour" at the White House, King said: "It puts our people at risk and gives information to the enemy."

Amateurs are dangerous.  Amateurs who leak classified information for political gain are even more dangerous.

It’s time to stop “amateur hour at the White House.”

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Travel day–in DC for CPAC

Sorry about the lack of posting, but have been on the road since 5am.  Got into DC about 2pm and that gave me just enough time to change clothes, grab the Metro and make it over to the Rayburn building to spend about 30 minutes with House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon.  Very interesting discussion which I’ll be writing up soon.  Ed Morrissey from Hot Air was there as well.

I’m interested in the temperature of Conservatives this year so I’m probably going to be doing more talking/interviewing of bloggers than listening to variations on the candidate’s stump speeches.

I think there’ll be more insight and gold in the interviews with Conservative activists than politicians.

Oh, and apparently Occupy is going to pay CPAC a visit on Friday and Saturday so that ought to be fun.

I’m tired.  So, until tomorrow.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

The defense budget

Here’s a little fact to keep in mind when considering the current cuts to spending at DoD (and let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with appropriate cuts to defense spending), besides all the other ramifications it promises:

Defense accounts for less than 20 percent of the federal budget but already exceeds 50 percent of deficit-reduction efforts. And for every dollar the President hopes to save in domestic programs, he plans on saving $128 in defense.

And that’s without the looming sequestration cuts (keep in mind, most war fighting costs are not included in the budget) of another half trillion dollars.

Or said another way, the administration has decided that it will attempt to cut spending primarily with cuts to national defense.  There is no serious program afoot to cut back the myriad of other government agencies and branches.  In fact, many are expanding (see EPA, IRS, etc.).

As for sequestration, Democrats are bound and determined to see it through, because, you know, national defense is less important than winning an ideological struggle.

Charles Hoskinson of POLITICO’s Morning Defense reports (btw, if you don’t subscribe to it, you should):

BUT REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS are still far apart on one key issue: taxes. We caught up with SASC Chairman Levin at a breakfast Thursday and he said he’s counting on public pressure to push the GOP to accept new tax revenues as part of any solution – something they’ve so far refused to consider. Meanwhile, Levin and other Democrats won’t budge on reversing sequestration except as part of a complete package. "The dam has got to be broken on revenues, and what I believe will break it is the threat of sequestration," he said.

Shorter Levin, “we’re more than willing to hold national security hostage and see it gutted to get our way on taxes”.

It is rather interesting  approach for an administration which is hung up on everyone paying their ‘fair share’.  It seems that the lion’s share of what it will surely tout during the upcoming campaign as serious budget cutting, will come from the one Constitutionally mandated duty it has – national defense.

As for all the programs that have a future funding liability of 200 trillion dollar?

Meh.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

HASC Republicans: A common sense solution to sequestration and national defense

The DoD is presently working through a half trillion dollars in budget cuts mandated by Barack Obama which is going to see a much weaker military despite what any of the madly spinning politicians claim. 

But the real meat axe is hanging just over the horizon in what is known as “sequestration” cuts, i.e. cuts which will be made across the board because the debit committee was unable to reach a deal on the cuts in the budget (by the way, Harry Reid, it’s now been 1001 days since you, Mr. Majority Leader, passed a budget out of the Senate) for the future.   That would mean an additional half trillion in cuts to DoD, the result of which, would simply be disastrous to our national security.

Here, in this video, a group of Republican House Armed Services Committee members make a pitch for a common sense solution that would absorb the need for those sequestration cuts.  In short, cut the Federal workforce by 10% – but do it over time and strictly through attrition.

Someone, anyone, tell me we couldn’t get along without 10% of the Federal workforce:

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Samuelson: Obama’s Keystone Pipeline decision an “act of national insanity”

Robert Samuelson, writing in the Washington Post, correctly dissects the Obama decision to reject the Keystone Pipeline into its two proper constituent parts: politics and the net practical effect:

President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is an act of national insanity. It isn’t often that a president makes a decision that has no redeeming virtues and — beyond the symbolism — won’t even advance the goals of the groups that demanded it. All it tells us is that Obama is so obsessed with his reelection that, through some sort of political calculus, he believes that placating his environmental supporters will improve his chances.

Aside from the political and public relations victory, environmentalists won’t get much. Stopping the pipeline won’t halt the development of tar sands, to which the Canadian government is committed; therefore, there will be little effect on global-warming emissions. Indeed, Obama’s decision might add to them. If Canada builds a pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific for export to Asia, moving all that oil across the ocean by tanker will create extra emissions. There will also be the risk of added spills.

The unions are in his pocket, or so this decision would seem to say.  Not in his pocket and not particularly happy with him at the moment are the members of the radical environmentalist movement.  He apparently thinks they’re important to his re-election.  This was a political move designed to shore up that constituency with the implied promise of permanent rejection of the project after he’s re-elected.  That’s the message to them (whether it is true or not, they’ll still vote for him now because they know a Republican will okay it).  He most likely figures the unions will suck it up and support him and, my guess now, he’ll find a bone he can throw their way sometime between now and November.

That leaves the practical effect of his rejection to the overall environmentalist goal of “reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.  The effect?  It will likely mean even more emissions than running the pipeline through the US.  As Samuelson points out the tar sands will be developed and exploited, the product will be transported through a pipeline and most likely that pipeline will now run to the west coast of Canada instead of our Gulf refineries.  But unlike the trip by pipeline to the coast, there will then be an added step of transporting it by sea to China.

Great win there enviro-types.

But there’s even more damage done by this decision. 

Now consider how Obama’s decision hurts the United States. For starters, it insults and antagonizes a strong ally; getting future Canadian cooperation on other issues will be harder. Next, it threatens a large source of relatively secure oil that, combined with new discoveries in the United States, could reduce (though not eliminate) our dependence on insecure foreign oil.

It’s not “relatively secure”, it is very secure.  Canada is and has been our largest supplier of “foreign” oil for years.   And they’re both a friend and a neighbor.  How more secure – other than having the tar sands within our borders – can a supply get?   What we have an opportunity to do here is displace the commensurate amount of foreign oil from unfriendly and insecure sources by the amount the tar sands would yield.

Sound like good policy?  Sound like a smart move?  Of course it does.  So why the rejection of such a seemingly common sense decision.  See reason one above: politics.  This is all about election year politics.   The president who claims to have the best interest of all Americans at heart has just demonstrated that that claim is nonsense.  He’s catered to a particular election year constituency in deference to what is obviously best for the nation.

Finally:

…Obama’s decision forgoes all the project’s jobs. There’s some dispute over the magnitude. Project sponsor TransCanada claims 20,000, split between construction (13,000) and manufacturing (7,000) of everything from pumps to control equipment. Apparently, this refers to “job years,” meaning one job for one year. If so, the actual number of jobs would be about half that spread over two years. Whatever the figure, it’s in the thousands and thus important in a country hungering for work. And Keystone XL is precisely the sort of infrastructure project that Obama claims to favor.

What has supposedly been the focus of Obama for some time – that’s right, jobs and infrastructure.  His rhetoric has been all about how we need to create jobs and improve our infrastructure.  Here you have a infrastructure project – an actual shovel ready one – that will provide jobs and he rejects it and, as usual, tries to shift the blame to Republicans for something he decided.   The implication, of course, is he might have made a different decision if they’d have let him vote “present” until after the election.  Because, you see, they’ve now forced him to tack this stupid decision on his less than impressive record as president – and now he’ll have to run on it.   As usual, the blame-shifter in chief had decided it is someone else’s fault.

And in case you were wondering about the timeline on this project, it goes pretty much like this:

The State Department had spent three years evaluating Keystone and appeared ready to approve the project by year-end 2011. Then the administration, citing opposition to the pipeline’s route in Nebraska, reversed course and postponed a decision to 2013 — after the election.

By the way, the supposed primary excuses for the rejection was the opposition to the pipeline mounted by Nebraska.  In fact, as POLITICO reports, the White House used the Republican governor there, Dave Heineman, as cover for its decision.  Heineman takes exception to that:

"I want to say I’m very disappointed," Heineman told POLITICO. "I think the president made a mistake."

"Really what he was saying in denying the permit was ‘no’ to American jobs and ‘yes’ to a greater dependence on Middle Eastern oil," he said. "We want to put America back to work."

Why is Heineman disappointed?  Because there was a way in the works to let the project go ahead while negotiations were finalized that would have satisfied Heineman and the states initial objections:

He said that his Legislature and his administration were working to get the final approvals in place and that the State Department should have approved conditionally while Nebraska worked out the final route. The company seeking to build the pipeline, TransCanada, was perfectly willing to begin construction at either end and finish in Nebraska, according to Heineman.

But the unilateral president, in a fit of political pique and in full political mode, decided to dump the project … at least for now.  Those ready shovels could be breaking ground today.  Instead, we have to hope, if and when the decision is reversed, that it hasn’t been overcome by events and Canadians aren’t loading tar sand oil on Chinese ships.

Naturally the administration thinks Heineman’s idea is just, well, inappropriate:

“It’s the responsibility of the State Department to grant this permit, which really looks at the crossing of the international boundary. … It’s important for us to look at the full pipeline and not move forward on such a major infrastructure project that will be a part of the country and the landscape for many years in pieces like that. I hadn’t heard about the governor proposing this, but we don’t really think that’s an approach that really deals with the national interest question in an appropriate way," Assistant Secretary of State Kerri Ann Jones said on a conference call.

Right.  Of course.  Naturally. 

What BS.

Say’s the governor:

"If you’re a decisive president and you want to put America back to work, you can find a way to get to yes," Heineman said about the administration’s response. "That’s what most governors do. So I’m just not buying that."

Yeah, neither am I.  Neither are 70% of the voters.

Politics … pure and simple. 

Jobs president?  Don’t make me laugh.

National security first?  Nope, politics first.

Concerned with all Americans?   Seriously?

An “act of national insanity”? Spot on.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Iran, the Straits of Hormuz and “Armageddon”

Iran is supposedly being sternly warned that attempting to close the Straits of Hormuz will not be tolerated.  The Iranians have put forward a bill in their Parliament which would require warships from any nation desiring to transit the Straits to get the permission of Iran first.

Of course, the Straits are considered by the rest of the world as “international waters” while the premise of the Iranians is they’re national waters subject to the control of Iran.

Most experts believe that this has been precipitated by sanctions imposed on Iran by much of the world, but especially the Western powers.  Closing the Straits of Hormuz would be viewed by most of them as an act of war.

So, per the New York Times, a secret channel has been opened with Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in which he has been informed the US would consider any such attempt to close the Straits as “a red line” that would provoke a response.

DoD has made the position publically official:

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this past weekend that the United States would “take action and reopen the strait,” which could be accomplished only by military means, including minesweepers, warship escorts and potentially airstrikes. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told troops in Texas on Thursday that the United States would not tolerate Iran’s closing of the strait.

So the line is drawn.  The hand is closed into a fist with a warning.  Bluff or promise?  Will Iran test it to see?

Here’s why some think they won’t:

Blocking the route for the vast majority of Iran’s petroleum exports — and for its food and consumer imports — would amount to economic suicide.

“They would basically be taking a vow of poverty with themselves,” said Dennis B. Ross, who until last month was one of President Obama’s most influential advisers on Iran. “I don’t think they’re in such a mood of self sacrifice.”

Of course fanatics often don’t think or reason in rational terms, but Ross has a point.

Meanwhile, as the sanctions continue to bite, Iran’s president is finishing up a South American swing to shore up support (and resources one supposes) for his regime from the usual suspects – Chavez, Ortega and their band of merry socialists.  China is also a player in all of this, although not a particularly enthusiastic one.  Iran exports 450,000 barrels a day of oil, which is now not being bought by Europe or the US.  So it sees an opportunity here to up its share of that total.  John Foley thinks China will fudge on sanctions, at least partially.  That, of course, could extend the drama.

And while all of this is going on, Iranian nuclear scientists are blowing up pointing to some sort of effort by some nation(s) or group to slow and frustrate what everyone believes is Iran’s push for nuclear weapons.  That, by the way, may be part of the discussions in South America if you get my drift.

Don’t know if you noticed recently, but the Doomsday Clock has added a minute, the first since 2007 when it subtracted one.  We’re no 4 figurative minutes from “Armageddon”.  Iran certainly figures in the move.

So far, the “reset” is going just swimmingly, isn’t it?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO