Free Markets, Free People

Robert Gates

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

Gates statement on Wikileaks release provides a dose of reality in foreign affairs

eriously, I really enjoyed reading what Sec. Gates had to say about why nations deal with the US and while the leaks are embarrassing and awkward, aren’t particularly significant.  I think his assessment of their impact is right on the mark:

But let me – let me just offer some perspective as somebody who’s been at this a long time. Every other government in the world knows the United States government leaks like a sieve, and it has for a long time. And I dragged this up the other day when I was looking at some of these prospective releases. And this is a quote from John Adams: “How can a government go on, publishing all of their negotiations with foreign nations, I know not. To me, it appears as dangerous and pernicious as it is novel.”

When we went to real congressional oversight of intelligence in the mid-’70s, there was a broad view that no other foreign intelligence service would ever share information with us again if we were going to share it all with the Congress. Those fears all proved unfounded.

Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think – I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets.

Many governments – some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue to share sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.

Emphasis mine.

The reason I’ve highlighted that portion of the text is it speaks to something I’ve said for years and is an answer to those who claim we must be “liked” in the world community to be effective.

No.  We.  Don’t.

It isn’t at all important that we be “liked” by anyone  – to include our allies.  It is much more important that we be respected, feared and indispensible.  Being “liked” is simply not important in international affairs.  We can be friendly, a “friend”, an ally, and a supporter to other countries, but other countries don’t deal with us because they like or dislike us – they deal with us because of what we can do to them or for them depending on how they act toward us. 

Or said another way, they act in their own rational self interest, with “like” being so far down on the priority list that it isn’t worth mentioning.

However, whenever I hear a candidate, party or group talking about the importance of other countries “liking” us, I immediately tag them as hopelessly naïve and, if in power, dangerous to our best interests.

Gates’ statement is a bit of fresh air considering the Commander-in-Chief’s “like” priority.  Obviously he doesn’t have the final say in foreign policy decisions or our foreign policy priorities, but it is nice to see that there’s a least one adult in DC who, unlike the “reality based community” and their “reset” buttons, understands how (and why) the real world works.

~McQ

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Quote of the day – forget what I said the first time edition

Coinciding with and probably as a result of the McChrystal firing, a lot of questioning has been directed toward the Obama administration about its previously announced decision to begin the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2011. That was originally announced by the President when he outlined his new strategy about a year ago. Since then, as administration officials have been questioned about the date, mixed messages have been the result. VP Joe Biden has said the date is “firm”. SecDef Robert Gates has said it would be based on “conditions on the ground”.

Critics have rightfully said that announcing a firm withdrawal date is a strategically self-defeating thing to do. It gives the enemy a finish line they simply have to survive long enough to make. It also isn’t great for the morale of those US soldiers there now fighting in this war.

So it was interesting to hear the president – who originally announced the withdrawal date for next year -deny it was what he said it was:

“We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us,” Obama said. “We said we’d begin a transition phase that would allow the Afghan government to take more and more responsibility.”

Well that’s not exactly how it was interpreted then (light switching and door closing were certainly implied). Nor was that interpretation of the date then ever denied by the president or his staff – until now.

The announcement above is actually a change. White House spinmeisters will most likely characterize it as a “clarification”. But the bottom line is, the “firm” July 2011 withdrawal date announced by the president last year is much less “firm” with this “clarification”.

And, if I know my wars, the ANA and Afghan government are far from being ready to “transition” into taking “more and more responsibility”.

That, in fact, is why critics in the Senate are telling the president that the problem lies not with the military side of the house, but with the civilian/State Department (and other Departments) side of the house.

Until a credible and competent diplomatic staff is assembled in Kabul and is able to begin to do what was done in Iraq, there will be nothing to which to hand this “transition” off.

Yes, there’s corruption. Yes, we don’t like it. But Afghanistan isn’t the US and corruption and the like have been an integral part of their lifestyle for centuries. Is our goal to make them a mini-US, or to have them develop a functioning government and security apparatus that can hold the country and keep terrorists from basing there and threatening the US?

Two things to take from this – this is a mild presidential rebuke to the “this is a firm date” crowd (*cough* Biden et al *cough*). That may have further implications down the road. And it is also a case where strategic ambiguity – at least in this specific area – is a help and not a hindrance.

~McQ

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Mission Accomplished?

Ah, what’s to be found in a name?

ABC News has learned that the Obama administration has decided to give the war in Iraq — currently known as Operation Iraqi Freedom — a new name.

The new name: “Operation New Dawn.”

In a February 17, 2010, memo to the Commander of Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the “requested operation name change is approved to take effect 1 September 2010, coinciding with the change of mission for U.S. forces in Iraq.”

[…]

Gates writes that by changing the name at the same time as the change of mission — the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. combat troops — the US is sending “a strong signal that Operation IRAQI FREEDOM has ended and our forces are operating under a new mission.”

Well actually, a lot. There’s no question the former mission under the umbrella of OIF is considered to have been accomplished if a new name to reflect a “mission change” is being requested. Why? Because orders issued under Operation New Dawn will reflect that basic change of orientation for forces. OIF’s mission guidelines were one thing. New mission guidelines will be issued under the new operational designation.

As Gates notes:

The move, Gates writes, “also presents opportunities to synchronize strategic communication initiatives, reinforce our commitment to honor the Security Agreement, and recognize our evolving relationship with the Government of Iraq.”

Shorter Gates: It’s a new game.

Of course not everyone is happy with the name change:

The move has met with some criticism. In a statement, Brian Wise, executive director of Military Families United said, “You cannot end a war simply by changing its name. Despite the Administration’s efforts to spin realities on the ground, their efforts do not change the situation at hand in Iraq. Operational military decisions should not be made for purposes of public relations, as the Secretary of Defense cites, but should be made in the best interests of our nation, the troops on the ground and their families back home.”

Whatever the reason for the name change, the reality on the ground is we’re leaving per the agreement negotiated by the Bush administration. It makes perfect sense to wrap up the old operation which doesn’t include that mission, and begin the phased withdrawal under a new mission designation.

Frankly I have no problem with it other than this administration, via the VP, trying to claim credit for what was fait accompli when it took office.

~McQ

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Military Commissions Back On The Table For Gitmo

Sometimes, watching this circus of the Obama administration, you just have to shake your head and laugh a bit, even if the laughter is rueful:

The Obama administration is moving toward reviving the military commission system for prosecuting Guantánamo detainees, which was a target of critics during the Bush administration, including Mr. Obama himself.

Officials said the first public moves could come as soon as next week, perhaps in filings to military judges at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, outlining an administration plan to amend the Bush administration’s system to provide more legal protections for terrorism suspects.

Continuing the military commissions in any form would probably prompt sharp criticism from human rights groups as well as some of Mr. Obama’s political allies because the troubled system became an emblem of the effort to use Guantánamo to avoid the American legal system.

The more this crew gets into the weeds concerning Gitmo, the more they seem to validate all the moves Bush made.

I’m sure it’s a bit maddening for them.

Officials who work on the Guantánamo issue say administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies.

That was the Bush administration argument for some time. Congress passed legislation to enable it, the SCOTUS shot it down and told them how to fix it and Congress did, only to see SCOTUS change its mind and shoot it down again.

And, of course, that made it very easy to denounce from the campaign trail. But now the reality of governing intrudes:

Obama administration officials — and Mr. Obama himself — have said in the past that they were not ruling out prosecutions in the military commission system. But senior officials have emphasized that they prefer to prosecute terrorism suspects in existing American courts. When President Obama suspended Guantánamo cases after his inauguration on Jan. 20, many participants said the military commission system appeared dead.

But in recent days a variety of officials involved in the deliberations say that after administration lawyers examined many of the cases, the mood shifted toward using military commissions to prosecute some detainees, perhaps including those charged with coordinating the Sept. 11 attacks.

“The more they look at it,” said one official, “the more commissions don’t look as bad as they did on Jan. 20.”

Heh … what a surprise.

And this:

Administration officials said Friday that some detainees would be prosecuted in federal courts and noted that Mr. Obama had always left open the possibility of using military commissions.

… is pure and unadulterated BS.

Still, during the presidential campaign Mr. Obama criticized the commissions, saying that “by any measure our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure,” and declaring that as president he would “reject the Military Commissions Act.”

But according to both Sec. Gates and AG Holder, military commissions are still very much on the table, because, as Holder said:

“It may be difficult for some of those high-value detainees to be tried in a normal federal court.”

Gee — I wonder who else’s administration said that?

~McQ