Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Timeline

A London-based think tank estimates that Iran is at least "two to three years away" from having the capability to build a nuclear weapon.

John Chipman, Chief Executive for The International Institute for Strategic Studies, made the assessment at Wednesday's launch of the organization's annual publication, "The Military Balance." He also suggested political and economic pressure are having an effect on Tehran, and could lengthen Iran's timetable for having nuclear weapons. U.S. intelligence organizations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have indicated that it may take four years--or longer--for Iran to produce its first bomb.

Mr. Chipman believes that Tehran is on track to have a planned, 3,000 centrifuge array in operation by the end of March. The centrifuges are used to produce enriched uranium, which can then be used in nuclear weapons. However, Chipman noted--as we have pointed out--that it is "another matter" for the Iranians to get the centrifuges operating properly, a process that he believes could take up to a year. After that, it would take Iran another year to produce 55 pounds of highly enriched uranium (HEU), enough for a single weapon. And that assumes that Tehran's nuclear engineeres can attain the "purity" levels necessary for a weapon. Iran's current, 164-centrifuge array is producing enriched uranium rated at 3%; generally speaking, weapons grade uranium has a purity level of 90%--or higher.

Meanwhile, Tehran says it will announce "a major advance" in its nuclear program during the upcoming celebration of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. So far, the Iranians haven't said what that advance entails, although it could relate to the expansion of the centrifuge arrays. A few days ago, an Iranian lawmaker indicated that the array increase would soon be announced, although other government figures dismissed that claim. There have also been reports (in the British press) of increased cooperation between Tehran and Pyongyang that will result in a possible launch of an Iranian space launch vehicle, and (potentially) a nuclear test in Iran by the end of this year. Iran's test would likely be based on North Korea's partially successful nuclear test last fall.

As for the think tank's timeline, it's generally within the ballpark quoted by most experts. However, such estimates do not account for the possibility of a parallel, covert nuclear program that might be more advanced, and possibly yield a bomb sooner. That assumes, of course, that Iran has been able to overcome the technical hurdles of assembling and operating a much larger centrifuge array, and attained the purity and production levels of HEU needed to produce a bomb over the near term. Another scenario would be an Iranian weapon produced from North Korean components and HEU, or a bomb purchased outright from Pyongyang. Iran would never announce that sort of news, but North Korea's provision of key parts or finished weapons could allow the Iranians to claim a "breakthrough," and tout the work as their own.

In any case, the window for potential action against the Iranian nuclear program is closing, and closing rapidly. Tehran will likely accelerate its efforts in the coming months, believing that the U.S. is reluctant to strike (in view of our problems in Iraq), and the Israeli government is pre-occupied with domestic scandals.

Biden Unbound

Joe Biden's first bid for the White House ended shortly after it began in 1988, when it was revealed that he had plagarized a stump speech from an address by Neal Kinnock, who led Britain's Labor Party in the days before Tony Blair.

Two decades later, it seems clear that Biden is better off using someone else's words, rather than his own. In an interview with the New York Observer, the Delaware Senator--who just launched his latest Presidential bid--offered this assessment of Democratic rival, Illinois Senator Barack Obama:

“I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” he said. “I mean, that’s a storybook, man.”

Observer writer Jason Horowitz, who conducted the interview, apparently sees nothing wrong with Biden's comments, or prefers to let the remarks speak for themselves. In fact, the Senator's characterization of Obama is buried in the 14th paragraph of what is, essentially, a sympathetic potrait of Senator Biden, described as the Democratic Party's "go to" guys on foreign policy. Never mind that Biden's plan for Iraq essentially calls for partitioning the country, creating an environment that would allow Iran to carve out a larger sphere of influence in the south (or even annex that area), and pose an ever greater threat to the Persian Gulf region.

But Biden's comments about Senator Obama are generating the most buzz, and rightfully so. Now in his sixth term in the Senate, Biden has been dealing with a friendly press corps for more than three decades and he supposedly knows the rules of the game. When discussing your opponents, say something nice about the guy, then rip into his lack of experience (which Biden does), or just go on the attack, period. Instead, Senator Biden felt compelled to try the former approach, and offered that little ad-lib that may doom his latest presidential bid.

"First mainstream African-American who is articulate"

"Bright"

"Clean"

"And a nice-looking guy."

Where do you begin in refuting comments that are so obviously shallow, stupid, and even racist? Can someone tell me what constitutes a "mainstream African-American?" How are they different from other black Americans? Articulate? Flash for Senator Biden; the black community has never lacked for leaders who can express themselves, dating back to the days of Frederick Douglass. Clean? Is Biden referring to Mr. Obama's personal hygiene habits, or his (relative) lack of associated scandals.

Whatever the case, these comments reaffirm one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington, namely that Joe Biden is one of the dimmest bulbs in the U.S. Senate. If he can't handle a one-on-one interview with a "friendly" reporter in a Delaware diner, he is hardly prepared to articulate a bone-headed Middle East strategy as a prospective commander-in-chief.

Of course, Biden does have a couple of things going for him. First of all, as a Democrat, he's not held to the same standard as a Republican senator or Congressman. Could you imagine the uproar if say, Trent Lott, had offered the same words in "praise" of Barack Obama? And secondly, he's dealing with a chummy Washington press corps that will probably let the controversy die after one or two news cycles.

The Observer is right about one thing: Mr. Biden is a solid, "third tier" Democratic presidential hopeful. And if this interview is any indication, Biden is incapable of catapulting himself into the ranks of a legitimate contender. However, he is capable (on any given day), of saying utterly something stupid that will end his latest campaign, almost before it begins.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The "Other" Headline From General O'Reilly's Speech

There was a lot of news from yesterday's speech by Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly, Deputy Director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency. Not only did he report significant progress in our own missile defense efforts, he also outlined the most compelling reason for moving ahead with BMD:

"North Korea and Iran are Cooperating in Developing Long-Range Missiles."

O'Reilly's statement marked the first time that the Pentagon has publicly confirmed cooperation between Pyongyang and Tehran in ballistic missile research. In his remarks (to the George C. Marshall Institute), General O'Reilly essentially confirmed a recent Aviation Week article that outlined joint North Korean-Iranian missile efforts. O'Reilly noted that Tehran's publicly-stated efforts to develop a space launch vehicle could produce an ICBM--capable of hitting the CONUS--within a decade.

Our thoughts on this issue (which were published last Friday) can be found here.

Missile Defense Moves Forward; Mr. Levin is Unimpressed

There was some encouraging news yesterday regarding a pair of key projects in the nation's ballistic missile defense program.

First, the Deputy Director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency (MDA) reported that ground-based detection radars and interceptor missiles--based in Alaska--should be able to guard against enemy attacks, while testing new technologies. Army Brigadier General Patrick O'Reilly made the comments in a speech at the George C. Marshall Institute, a public policy group. According to General O'Reilly, the nation's missile defenses have continued to "mature" since the first group of missile interceptors became operational last summer. O'Reilly indicated that the system may be fully operational "within a year," but said no announcement will be made when the defensive shield reaches that operational milestone. Eventually, the network will include up to 44 interceptor missiles, 40 based in Alaska, and the rest at Vandenburg AFB in California.

General O'Reilly also noted that the defensive system now being fielded has achieved success in 14 of 15 flight tests conducted so far. That appears to be an indirect shot at Congressional Democrats, who have threatened to "gut" missile defense, by implementing a more stringent testing program. We reported on those efforts, led by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, last December. O'Reilly's response is clear: BMD is already meeting its test objectives and (in some cases), exceeding them.

Given that impressive track record, and considering the growing missile threat from North Korea, Iran and other rogue states, Levin and his colleagues would be smart to simply shut up and color. But, alas, that won't be the case. Mr. Levin and his Democratic colleagues have opposed missile defense since Ronald Reagan first proposed it more than 20 years ago; they won't miss an opportunity to derail the program--perhaps permanently--by instituting test goals that are impossible to achieve.

On a related note, Air Force Times is reporting that another key BMD program is facing an equally important test. In the coming weeks, the Air Force's Airborne Laser (ABL) will test-fire its low-powered laser in flight for the first time. The test will determine if the ABL (mounted on a highly-modified Boeing 747-400) can track an airborne target and measure atmospheric turbulence. If that test goes well, the Times reports, the Air Force and Boeing will proceed with integration of a high-power, chemical oxygen iodine laser (COIL) into the aircraft. The COIL is ABL's missile killer, designed to destroy ballistic missiles in the boost phase.

ABL has a limited range, but it is an ideal weapon for targeting short and medium-range ballistic missiles, including China's CSS-6/7, North Korean SCUD variants and the Iranian Shahab-3. By targeting outbound missiles in their boost phase--when they're most vulnerable--ABL will relieve some of the pressure on theater-level missile defenses, including Patriot batteries, the new THAAD system, and Aegis-equipped naval vessels, modified to fire Standard Missile 2 Block IV interceptors. Given a chance, Mr. Levin will likely extend his ridiculously stringent testing requirements to ABL as well, making it more difficult for the airborne laser to achieve operational status.

Former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld was right when he observed that a missile defense system doesn't have to be perfect to be deployed. Collectively, the land-based defenses in Alaska and California (and possibly, in eastern Europe), coupled with sea-based Aegis platforms, will provide increasing levels of protection against missile attacks. At the same time, THAAD will expand the defensive envelope at the theater level, improving our ability to intercept short and medium-range missiles that are difficult for Patriot batteries to handle. None of these systems will ever be perfect, but they offer a much higher probability of intercept than the "no defenses" approach favored by Mr. Levin.

Senator Levin's likely attempts to undermine BMD again illustrate why the party of Harry Truman and Scoop Jackson can no longer be trusted with the nation's security.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Idiot of the Week

Perhaps we should blame the cold weather, figuring that our brains don't function as well when winter arrives with a vengence. Or maybe it's our supposed desire for 15 minutes of fame, which prompts some of us to say (or do) almost anything. Or maybe it's a culture that simply refuses to condemn bad behavior or specious thinking. Whatever the reason, we've had no shortage of recent nomines for our "Idiot of the Week" award.

Our latest recipient is particularly deserving of that honor, for asking (in a Los Angeles Times op-ed: "Was 9-11 Really that Bad," and postulating that the U.S. has somehow "overreacted" to the threat of Islamofacism. Those are the thoughts of Dr. David A. Bell, a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, and a "contributing editor" to The New Republic (surprise, surprise). While claiming "no disrespect to the victims of 9-11 and the men and women of our armed forces," Professor Bell says that we really don't know what "suffering" is all about.

"IMAGINE THAT on 9/11, six hours after the assault on the twin towers and the Pentagon, terrorists had carried out a second wave of attacks on the United States, taking an additional 3,000 lives. Imagine that six hours after that, there had been yet another wave. Now imagine that the attacks had continued, every six hours, for another four years, until nearly 20 million Americans were dead. This is roughly what the Soviet Union suffered during World War II, and contemplating these numbers may help put in perspective what the United States has so far experienced during the war against terrorism."

And, predictability, he blames conservatives for over-stating the threat posed by Islamic terrorists:

" Of course, the 9/11 attacks also conjured up the possibility of far deadlier attacks to come. But then, we were hardly ignorant of these threats before, as a glance at just about any thriller from the 1990s will testify. And despite the even more nightmarish fantasies of the post-9/11 era (e.g. the TV show "24's" nuclear attack on Los Angeles), Islamist terrorists have not come close to deploying weapons other than knives, guns and conventional explosives. A war it may be, but does it really deserve comparison to World War II and its 50 million dead? Not every adversary is an apocalyptic threat."

It's hard to believe anyone could produce such drivel, let alone someone who is a member of the history faculty at one of the nation's leading universities. But, alas, America academia has produced more than its share of loons and imbeciles as of late, and apparently Dr. Bell deserves a place in their ranks.

Indeed, Bell's "arguements" have more holes than the proverbial block of Swiss. Let's begin with his comparison of U.S. casualties in the War on Terror, and those suffered by the Soviet Union during World War II. It's an invalid comparison, but one often cited by the American left. We really don't know what war is because we haven't lost 20 million people in a single conflict, as the Russians did between 1941 and 1945. The corollary to that assertion goes something like this: maybe if we had experienced such horric losses in the past, America wouldn't be so anxious to use military force and impose its will around the world.

But Dr. Bell fails to address the obvious questions about Soviet casualty totals in World War II. Why did so many Russian soldiers and civilians die? The short answer: military and political incompetence on a scale that simply boggles the mind, and the failure of the Soviet state to meet the basic responsibility of protecting its citizens.

After liquidating millions of ordinary Russians in the Great Terror of early 1930s, Stalin set his sights on the Red Army, purging thousands of competent officers in the latter half of that decade. Many were executed because Stalin and his political commisars viewed them as potential threats. Three of the five pre-war Marshals in the Soviet Army died, along with most of the corps commanders. A few lucky ones--including an up-and-coming general named Georgi Zhukov--found themselves exiled to the Far East. In their place, Stalin stocked his senior officer corps with party hacks and others who were politically reliable, but clueless on the battlefield. But not to worry; the Soviet dictator believed his "friendship" with Nazi Germany would secure the peace for years, giving him enough time to rebuild the ranks of military leaders before the war clouds gathered.

It was a fool's paradise, as Stalin would discover on June 22, 1941, when Hitler's legions stormed across the Russian border. Stalin had rejected intelligence reports of a German build-up along the frontier, and discounted early accounts of an invasion. In fact, the Soviet dictator retreated to his Kremlin apartment and remained there for weeks, barely communicating with anyone, and creating strategic paralysis at the top of Russia's high command. Meanwhile, Stalin's battlefield apparatchiks led the Red Army to a military disaster of the first order. Entire formations crumbled; more than a million Russian soldiers were killed or wounded during the first six months of the campaign, and more than 3 million were taken prisoner. Casualties among Russian civilians were equally appalling.

In other words, millions of Russians died because their leader failed to heed a growing threat and respond appropriately. Sound familiar? Successive U.S. presidents--including Bill Clinton--took a pass on Islamic terrorism for 20 years, and we paid for those mistakes on the morning of September 11, 2001. Three thousand American killed in two attacks may equal only a few minutes' fighting at Stalingrad, but it doesn't mitigate the shock and horror of 9-11--nor the responsibility of government to prevent it from happening again. The comparison between the United States of September 2001 and Russia 60 years earlier lies not in the number of dead, but in the failure of two governments--one free, the other totalitarian--to comprehend a threat and deter it.

Which brings us to the second half of Dr. Bell's arguement, namely that the U.S. has overreacted to Islamofacism. Not every enemy is an apocalyptic threat, he reminds us. But then again, how do you define "apocalypse?" The limited attacks of 9-11 produced an economic impact of almost $600 billion, according to a 2002 study by the Naval Postgraduate School. New York City lost over 100,000 jobs and the nation's airline industry teetered on the brink of collapse.

That may not sound like much in a $12-trillion dollar economy, but let's suppose that Al-Qaida had used suitcase nukes (instead of airliners) in September 2001. Portions of lower Manhattan and the nation's capital would remain uninhabitable to this day, with corresponding economic ripple effects that would be measured in the trillions of dollars. Beyond that, the potential impact on our way of life would be incalculable. And, lest Dr. Bell forget, Al Qaida has long been interested in weapons of mass of mass destruction, as evidenced by documents uncovered in Afghanistan and other locations. True, bin Laden and his minions haven't obtained nuclear devices (as far as we know), but that doesn't eliminate that nightmare scenario. On September 10, 2001, few "experts" believed that Al Qaida could successfully hijack four commercial airliners, and fly three of them into U.S. landmarks, killing thousands of our fellow citizens.

But, if that threat isn't a sufficient threat to our way of life, consider this "alternative" scenario. Islamic extremists, emboldened by a quick U.S. retreat from Iraq, seize control of that country and (eventually) other gulf states. Terrorists now control much of the world's oil supply, and with help from Iran and North Korea, they gain access to nuclear weapons and long-range delivery systems. Would that be a threat to our country? A true vision of the apocalypse?

Dr. Bell would probably disagree. He seems to favor a more "measured" response to the terrorist threat, and that's exactly the approach that got us into trouble in the 1990s. Back in those days, terrorism was considered a law enforcement and intelligence problem. There were a series of attacks, scores of Americans died, our response was inconsistent and the problem only grew worse.

Looking at the daily bombings and gunfights in Iraq through the soda straw of current events, it's easy to dismiss Islamic terror as a threat to our way of life. But viewed through a larger prism--Al Qaida's desire to obtain WMD; it's push to establish an anti-American caliphate in much of the Islamic world; Iran's race to perfect the bomb and it's support for terrorist proxies --the War on Terror should be seen (correctly) as a generational struggle, a conflict that poses the greatest challenge to our nation and our civilization.

For deliberately downplaying the defining threat of the 21st Century, Professor Bell is our "Idiot of the Week."

Weekend Roundup

There were a couple of items over the weekend that caught my eye, aside from Hillary's little gaffe about "evil men she's known," and the return of Jane Fonda, anti-war protestor. At first blush, it's hard to say which of those events were more pathetic. On one hand, you've got next year's presumptive Democratic presidential nominee proving (once again) that she can't even deliver a decent stump speech or think on her feet without inserting an oversized foot in her mouth.

As for Ms. Fonda, despite all her "activist" credentials, she's really nothing than a piece of cultural flotsam, bobbing from one social trend to another. Admittedly, she's a traitorous bit of flotsam, but flotsam nonetheless. Not much demand for her work-out tapes these days; the marriage to Ted Turner didn't work out, and Monster-in-Law proved that her movie career is over. So, how does a fading member of the Hollywood Left prove that she's still relevant? Why, show up in D.C. for that "big" anti-war rally, and announce that "silence is no longer an option."

And that's a decent segue to some of the real news from the past couple of days, beginning with than contrived demonstration in D.C. I'll call it contrived, thanks to the investigative skills of Greyhawk at The Mudville Gazette, and reporters at the New York Sun. More than a week before the demonstration, Greyhawk posted the latest installment in his expose of the "Appeal for Redress," the military wing of the current anti-war movement. As Greyhawk notes, the apparent rise of anti-war sentiment within the ranks is hardly as "grass roots" movement, as organizers have tried to depict it. Instead, it's a classic example of "astro-turfing," a slick, professionally-run public relations campaign masquerading as a grass-roots cause.

In the case of "Appeal for Redress," the PR muscle behind the movement is Fenton Communications, a Washington, D.C. firm that is under contract with MoveOn.org, the far-left activist organization that (increasingly) dominates liberal causes and politics. Last October (as reported in the Sun), another leftist organization (Fourth Freedom Forum) asked Fenton to publicize Appeal for Redress, which promptly organized a conference call between reporters and three of the group's members. Incidentally, Fourth Freedom Forum is also a Fenton client, as is Cindy Sheehan.

How convenient. Makes you wonder how many other "grass roots" causes recruited their own, high-powered public relations firm within weeks of their inception. As Greyhawk---and the Sun--have observed, virtually every media organization that has reported on "Redress" is aware of the relationship between the military group, Fenton Communications and Fourth Freedom Forum, but those connections have gone unmentioned, except in the Sun and in milblogs.

Not surprisingly, at least one of the designated "leaders" of Appeal for Redress was a major speaker at weekend protest in D.C.. That raises more--and very obvious--questions about how Fenton (and MoveOn.Org) are orchestrating the activities of the redress group, and who's paying the bills for PR work done on its behalf. I'll go out on a limb and say that the Appeal group's leading members (most of whom are junior enlisted personnel) can't afford Fenton's services on a military salary, so the PR work is almost certainly being funded by Fourth Freedom Forum, MoveOn.Org, or other well-heeled liberal groups. In fact, the first website dedicated to the Appeal for Redress was actually owned by a "forum" staffer, although the group is now attempting to conceal its involvement--some might say ownership--of the military organization. Nothing illegal about that, but it certainly refutes the notion that Appeal for Redress is some sort of grass roots, military campaign.

Greyhawk also has useful information on the military group's primary leader and supposed organizer, Navy Seaman Jonathan Hutto. Turns out that Seaman Hutton isn't your typical sailor. He enlisted in the Navy in 2004 after graduating from college, an unsuccessful stint as a school teacher, and positions at various non-profit organizations, including Amnesty International. He apparently participated in anti-war protests in 2003, only a year before he joined the service. That's enough to make us wonder if (a) Seaman Hutto has a security clearance, and (b) how much of this pre-enlistment activity actually surfaced during his background check.

And, despite his written claims that the Navy is a hotbed of racism and discrimination, Hutto has continued to advance in his military career. In 2006, He was named "Blue Jacket of the Quarter" for his ship (the USS Theodore Roosevelt), shortly before he emerged as leader of Appeal for Redress.

That's why reporting by Greyhawk and the Sun on Appeal for Redress (and its leadership) is so important. Viewed through the prism of this information, the military group emerges as just another slick tool in a well-orchestrated campaign to undermine the war effort. But you wouldn't know that from the fawning coverage that Appeal for Redress has received from the MSM; according to those outlets, the organization is little more than Seaman Hutto, his computer and an idea. Only in the blogosphere do you learn that Hutto and his group are simply one element of an activist/PR machine that staged that little anti-war "event" in D.C.

***

The other gem that I discovered over the weekend came from the indispensable Hugh Hewitt. On Friday evening, Hugh posted an open letter to Virginia freshman Senator Jim Webb, who delivered the Democratic "response" to President Bush's State of the Union speech last week. The letter was written by a career Navy officer, who (like the Senator) is an Annapolis graduate. Read the entire letter; not only does the writer point out the factual flaws in Webb's nationally-televised speech, he also finds a disturbing "streak of vengeance" in the senator's character, apparently dating back to a famous academy boxing match against another midshipman, Oliver North.

"On close inspection, something about Senator Webb is very disturbing. Perhaps it harkens all the way back to his midshipman days in Annapolis and a simple boxing match lost. You see, James Webb lost a boxing match to a man he clearly despises, Oliver North. Webb, as chronicled by Robert Timberg in his best-selling book, The Nightingale├é’s Song, was heavily favored to beat North in the Brigade boxing championships but lost. Timberg claims that Webb believed he was intentionally denied the title by poor preparation from his coach, or more accurately the boxing coach made sure Ollie was better prepared to beat him! Regardless, Webb believes he was wronged and today we can see this streak of vengeance in him."

And, as we have pointed out, the writer finds Webb's arguments are long on accusations and short on solutions.

"Webb invokes his opinion and those of others who were against entering into Iraq in 2002 and 2003. They made their arguments but they were not compelling and were predicated on managing the threat by containing Saddam - but all of that changed at the World Trade Center. We were brutally attacked and most of us expected further equally violent and destructive attacks. The president took the best information he had from numerous intelligence agencies, our own and those of our allies, regarding WMD and made the tough choice. Hindsight is perfect but given what the president AND Congress HONESTLY BELIEVED to be the threat, the accusation of recklessness is a cheap shot unworthy of a former warrior. Mr. Webb opines that we have lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. Where? When? How many plots must we foil before the Democrats will admit that we are winning the overall war on terror and Iraq is but ONE theater in that larger war? I challenge Mr. Webb to be more specific. He is long on general accusations but they cannot survive serious critical thinking and examination and at least not to support the charge that the president was incompetent or reckless. Reasonable people can disagree about American Grand Strategy in the post 9/11 world, but the senator did not offer reasonable disagreements. Thus, he resorted to the recent Democratic ploy of finding one or two generals to counter what the president has done, and adopting them as oracles."

Very well stated, indeed. It's reassuring to know that other military professionals see Jim Webb for what he has become--an opportunistic political hack, eager to recite his party's talking points, and with little regard for their basis in reality, or their impact on the War on Terror. We've taken tcallingng Mr. Webb "One Term Jim," in hopes the electorate of Virginia will see the error of their ways and send him packing in 2012, assuming, of course, that this "simmering cauldron of arrogance, anger and resentment (as that other Annapolis grad described him)doesn't pitch a fit and quit on his own before then. Hey, we can always dream.

Kudos to that Annapolis grad for calling Jim Webb what he really is, and to Hugh, for posting that timely letter.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Iran Makes the Case for Missile Defense

Earlier this week, we reported that Russia's is upset over the proposed deployment of U.S. missile defense radars and interceptor missiles in eastern Europe. Moscow views the the BMD deployment as a threat, but as various analysts have noted, the radar and defensive missiles would have only a limited capability against Russia's still-massive arsenal of ballistic missiles. True, the basing of ballistic missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic would move the U.S. "trip wire" closer to the Russian border, the the BMD capability is aimed more at Tehran, and not Moscow.

And, true to form, the Iranians are now making the case for such a deployment. Aviation Week and Space Technology is reporting that Iran has converted one of its ballistic missiles into a space launch vehicle (SLV), and will soon attempt to place a satellite into orbit. The SLV in question is believed to be a derivative of a liquid-fueled Shahab-3 (which has a range of 800-1000NM), or a Ghadr 110, a solid-fueled missile that can reach targets up to 1800 NM away. Iranian opposition groups claim that the Ghadr is an original design, and not a clone of existing North Korean or Russian missiles. The Shahab-3, on the other hand, is based on Pyongyang's No Dong medium-range missile, and other experimental Iranian missiles (notably the Shahab-4) are also rooted in North Korean technology.

As Aviation Week's Craig Covault notes, the projected space launch is important for a variety of reasons. First, it sends a clear message to Iran's adversaries--and the region--about Tehran's growing strategic reach, and its ability to potentially hit targets as far away as southern Europe. Secondly, it sets the stage for Iran to eventually develop (and orbit) reconnaissance satellites, allowing them to monitor U.S., Israeli and coaliton forces at greater distances, and provide more precise data for potential nuclear targeting. And finally, the development of this technology will allow Iran to develop at least a crude intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), capable of hitting CONUS-based targets, within the next decade.

Iran's ability to actually pull off a short-term space launch is a bit problematic. As we've observed in the past, the Shahab-3 (and other medium/extended range Shahab variants) have a mixed record, in terms of operational reliability. There have been several spectacular failures in the Shahab program, and there's no guarantee that a more powerful SLV model would be successful. The same holds true for the Ghadr, which is barely off the drawing board, and equally susceptible to an operational failure. It's worth noting that North Korea's first space launch attempt--that ill-fated 1998 shot across Japan--was a complete bust. If the Iranian launch vehicle is based heavily on North Korean technology, the prospects for failure are decidedly higher.

As for the payload, it may be Tehran's version of Sputnik, a small communications platform that broadcasts pre-recorded information from Tehran, along the lines of what North Korea hoped to achieve back in 1998. But, as Aviation Week notes, the payload for this mission is almost a secondary concern; the real focus is on getting something in orbit, and building the foundation for placing a small reconnaissance satellite in space in the near future.

Making that happen will require extensive assistance from Russia and/or China, particularly in the area of sensor technology. But with outside help (and, assuming the SLV proves viable), it's not unreasonable to expect Iran to put an imagery satellite with 10-20 meter resolution into orbit by the end of this decade. That's archaic by western standards; under optimum conditions, the resolution of U.S. satellites is well below one meter, and even the Israelis, relative newcomers to the overhead imagery game, have a one-meter capability with their latest satellite, the Ofek. However, even the crude resolution standards of a first-generation Iranian satellite would still be sufficient for nuclear targeting of cities and population centers.

In previous posts, we've observed that a nuclear strike capability is actually "based" on three distinct capabilities: the actual weapon, the delivery platform(s), and the intel support required for targeting. Tehran is already well along in its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles; the satellite program is evidence that Iran is also racing to complete the third leg, by creating its own, independent imagery capability.

Considering this latest Iranian "revelation," I'm guessing that the BMD talks between the U.S., Poland and the Czech Republic are taking on new urgency, and it's likely that a basing agreement will be announced soon. As its missile, WMD and space programs move along, Iran is making a powerful case for missile defense of our allies in Europe, and for the CONUS as well.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Today's Reading Assignment

Courtesy of Spy the News and a reader at Tigerhawk, who offer excellent dissections of the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union Address, delivered by freshman Senator "One Term Jim" Webb of Virginia. As O-be-Wise observes, Mr. Webb offered a false comparison of the situation in Iraq, and President Eisenhower's efforts to end the Korean War. In his speech, Senator Webb suggested that Eisenhower recognized Korea as a bloody stalemate, and used diplomacy to bring the conflict to an end.

"As I look at Iraq, I recall the words of former general and soon-to-be President Dwight Eisenhower during the dark days of the Korean War, which had fallen into a bloody stalemate. "When comes the end?" asked the General who had commanded our forces in Europe during World War Two. And as soon as he became President, he brought the Korean War to an end. [Eisenhower] took the right kind of action... for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling on this President to take similar action.... If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way."

But, as an anonmyous poster at Tigerhawk points out, President Eisenhower used a much more forceful approach to hammer out a cease fire in Korea:

Interesting that Webb invoked Eisenhower ending the Korean War. According to this cached google report (and multiple other sources), "Nearly three years later, Truman's successor, President Dwight Eisenhower, also wielded the threat of U.S. nuclear use. In May 1953, Eisenhower authorized an expanded Korean bombing campaign, prompting the North Koreans and Chinese to respond by increased ground action. As part of the heightened military activity, the Joint Chiefs presented six different scenarios for ending the war, "most envisioning the possible use of atomic weapons," according to an official Pentagon history. "After the NSC reached a seeming consensus on May 20 to employ atomic weapons both strategically and tactically--that is within and outside the Korean Peninsula--the administration communicated its resolve to the Chinese and North Koreans. . . . Both Eisenhower and [Secretary of State John Foster] Dulles believed the message had the desired effect" of ending the war, the history reads." So, is Webb saying the US should threaten the use of nuclear weapons to end the Iraq war?

Naturally, One Term Jim didn't include those historical facts in his State of the Union response. But then again, Mr. Webb has become quite adept at "adjusting" the truth to fit Democratic Party talking points, as we observed shortly after his election victory last fall.

The Gingrich Factor

As John Forbes Kerry takes a pass on 2008, Professor Daniel Drezner wonders if another, potential presidential candidate--former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich--can make the grade. Drezner notes a recent Fortune article highlighting Newt's serious--and thoughtful--proposal for fixing the nation's health care system. It's the centerpiece of his effort to build a groundswell among the GOP base, and launch a "draft Newt" movement for '08. If the GOP is looking for a "big ideas" man to help them retake the White House next year, Gingrich is definitely their guy.

But, as Drezner points out, does a "reinvented" Newt Gingrich have any appeal beyond the policy wonks and the most conservative elements of the Republican Party? I'll take a stab at that question and say the answer is "no." And my assessment has nothing to do with Newt's intellectual brillance or his political skills. When he engineered the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994, Gingrich became public enemy #1 among Democrats, their friends in the MSM, and even certain Republicans. The Fortune piece notes that Gingrich barely survived an internal putsch by fellow House Republicans, only two years into his tenure as speaker. Gingrich was gone by 1999, driven out by ethics charges, Republican electoral setbacks, and internal dissatisfaction with his "egocentric" rule of the House. The same allegations that engineered his departure from the House eight years ago would certainly be resurrected for any '08 presidential bid.

But there's a more important reason that the "Draft Newt" movement will never get off the ground: the Grand Old Party is no longer the party for new ideas. Many Republicans blame George Bush's "bold" policies in the War on Terror for their recent electoral defeat, and they've become averse to political, social and economic risks. It's more than ironic that the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Reagan--men who ran and governed on big ideas--is becoming a party of retail politics and entitlements. Instead of pushing for the Fair Tax, the GOP is lining up to support an increase in the minimum wage that nothing but a sop to Big Labor.

And, lest we forget, this is the same Republican Party that passed a prescription drug plan for seniors that will add billions to the federal budget, with only the slightest nods toward competition and market-driven savings. Given its "new" orientation, the GOP of 2007 looks less like the band of Gingrich-led revolutionaires that seized control of Congress 13 years ago, and more like the party Gerry Ford, when the Republicans were a permanent political underclass.

But Newt is undeterred. His big idea plan would put individual Americans largely in care of their health care, introducing more market forces into the system, and allowing us to shop around for the best deals on doctors, hospitals, prescription drugs and other medical procedures. It's the most innovative proposal currently on the table, and the potential savings for consumers, the government and the health care industry are staggering. But "individual responsibility" and "market forces" don't resonate with a Democratic Congress and an electorate that are drifting toward "Hillary Care 2.0." It's no accident that the Gingrich plan has largely gone unnoticed, while the wonks, the media and the politicos lavish attention Mitt Romney's health care proposal, or Arnold Schwarzenegger's recently unveiled "Kalifornia Care."

Gingrich is apparently content to swim against political and social tides, believing that his ideas will eventually prevail, and (perhaps) force the GOP to select him as their candidate next year. But does he really want the nomination? Personally, I tend to agree with those who wonder if Newt actually craves the presidency. One of his allies told Fortune that Gingrich is a "better Moses than David," suggesting that the former speaker is more comfortable in leading his party back to the Promised Land, instead than being in charge when they arrive.

However, that Moses analogy only goes so far. When the Israelites left Egypt, they rejected Moses' leadership (and the word of God), resulting in a 40-year oddysey through the wilderness. Of course, the Israelites eventually entered the land that the Lord promised, but only after the old, rebellious generation had passed away. Many of the Republicans who rebelled against Newt in the mid-1990s are still in the House, and even less likely to embrace radical change than they were a decade ago. If Mr. Gingrich expects his increasingly timid party to draft him--and his big ideas--for an '08 presidential run, he will almost certainly be disappointed.

What's Missing from This Solution?

More than a year after Hurricane Katrina, schools in New Orleans are still struggling to find enough teachers. According to this AP article, the 19 schools which form the state-run "Recovery School District" is about 50 teachers short of what it needs--a shortage so severe that some students who want to enroll have been placed on a waiting list.

But, as you read further, you'll discover that Katrina was merely the straw that broke the back of a failing school system. New Orleans's inner-city schools were in trouble before the storm, beset by crumbling facilities, violence and rock-bottom scores on achievement tests. As the AP notes:

"Many of the schools inherited by the state were run down even before Katrina, plagued by leaky roofs, lead paint or poor heating systems. Many of the students are indifferent to learning or are far behind, with some freshmen unable to read and some teenagers disappearing for days. Some have been arrested for fighting with each other or beating up security guards. Some schools lack classroom supplies."

Sound familiar? So, too is the proposed solution. The state is mounting a full-scale recruiting effort, designed to attract young teachers to the Recovery District. There's a planned partnership with "Teach for America," which places recent college graduates into a "school-in-need" for two years.

Will it work? As a former teacher, count me as a skeptic. Judging from the AP account, it sounds like the Recovery District is doing little--if anything--to address the underlying causes of its failing schools: the complete lack of discipline, an inability (or unwillingness) to move troubled students into alternative education programs, and rampant truancy. Sadly, the inner-city schools of New Orleans sound like they've been out of control for years, and the inmates are still running the asylum. I'll predict that most of the new hires now teaching in New Orleans will be gone within 2-3 years, burned out by working under chaotic conditions, for low pay.

Want a better solution? Introduce real discipline into the schools--establish some "Junior ROTC high schools (as Chicago has done), where every student is a member of the cadet corps, and required to meet more stringent dress and behavior criteria. Get the troublemakers out of the school--permanently. I don't have the numbers, but I'll wager that the number of students permanently expelled from New Orleans schools before the storm was shockingly low. You see, booting the bad apples invites law suits and means less dollars under the federal school lunch program, which awards funding solely on a school's enrollment.

More importantly, give the students who want to learn (and their parents) a real choice. The Recovery District seems ripe for a voucher program, along the lines of past, successful efforts in Milwaukee, Cleveland, Washington, D.C. and other cities. The AP reports that New Orleans's charter school system doesn't have a teacher shortage (wonder why?), and neither does the Orleans Parish system, which was also hard-hit by the storm. In the wake of Katrina, qualified teachers apparently voted with their feet and continued a migration to better schools, both in and outside the city.

Last year, barely three weeks after the hurricane, Chris Kinnan had an excellent column at National Review online, advocating the widespred use of vouchers in New Orleans. As he observed, a large-scale education voucher program would have allowed students to find a seat in the city's parochial schools (which served 50,000 students before the storm), or in other systems in the New Orleans area. Sixteen months later, the need for that sort of program in New Orleans is more evident than ever. Instead, the Recovery District seems intent on recruiting new teachers for perpetually failing schools, continuing a doomed cycle that existed long before Katrina made landfall.

The Sting

Over the past decade, the U.S. government has spent billions of dollars assisting Russia (and other former Soviet states) in securing their WMD stockpiles, under the Nunn-Lugar program. For the most recent fiscal year ('06), the federal government spent $415 million on the initiative, which is named for its original sponsors, former Georgia Democratic Senator Sam Nunn and Republican Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana.

While the government--and Congress--remain committed to Nunn-Lugar, there has always been an element of controversy associated with the program. Supporters claim the project is woefully underfunded, providing barely enough money to fund stockpile destruction programs, with little left over for non-traditional, counter-proliferation efforts, such as stipends for nuclear scientists who might be tempted to "sell" their expertise to rogue states and terrorist organizations.

Meanwhile, critics argue that Nunn-Lugar places too much faith in Russian officials who don't always live up to their obligations under the agreement. Five years ago, the House of Representatives blocked an attempt to increase funding for the program, noting reports from the GAO and Harvard that found Russian officials were blocking access to sites that the U.S. had targeted for security improvements.

Recent events in Georgia will likely reignite the debate over Nunn-Lugar, and the best methods for improving WMD security in the former eastern bloc. As reported by the Associated Press, Georgian authorities, working with the CIA, set up a sting operation last summer that nabbed a Russian man, who was offering the sell weapons-grade enriched uranium. According to a Georgian official, who provided limited information on the sting operation, the Russian had about 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of enriched uranium when he was arrested. Tests confirmed that the uranium had a "purity" of more than 90%, making it weapons grade material.

A spokesman for the CIA has refused comment on the AP story, and officials at the FBI and Energy Department (which also assisted in the operation) are being tight-lipped as well. While the enriched uranium in question apparently came from a Russian source, there is no information (yet) on how the man obtained his sample, and exactly where it came from.

Equally troubling is Moscow's silence on the matter. A spokesman at the Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the AP report; Georgia's Interior Minister told the wire service that Russian officials have declined to interview the smuggler, despite offers of cooperation from the authorities in Tiblisi.

Troubled relations between Georgia and Russia are one reason for the lack of cooperation in this case. But Moscow's reluctance to participate is also evidence of competing-and seemingly conflicting--goals in the non-proliferation arena. Russia has always been eager to reap the financial rewards of Nunn-Lugar, but it also throws up roadblocks that impede efforts to secure its WMD stockpiles.

The Russians will probably argue that the Georgia case is an isolated, criminal incident and should not affect the broader non-proliferation program. But I would argue that you can't separate these events. If Moscow is truly interested in securing its stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, it should be a willing participant in investigations relating to the apparent "theft" of material that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

The U.S. should make it very clear that continuation of Nunn-Lugar (and any funding increases for the program) will be linked to Russian cooperation in all matters relating to non-proliferation, including the Georgia incident. Vladimir Putin's current silence on the matter suggests that Russia has something to hide, and that Moscow's interest in Nunn-Lugar is
largely financial.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Day's Most Ominous Development

Con Coughlin of the U.K. Telegraph is reporting that North Korea is helping Iran with preparations for an underground nuclear test, similar to the one carried out by Pyongyang last year. According to the paper, the Iranian test could be conducted by the end of this year, thanks to increased nuclear cooperation between Iran and North Korea.

Citing an unnamed "senior European defense official," Mr. Coughlin says that North Korea invited "a team of Iranian scientists" to study results of its recent underground nuclear blast, to assist Tehran in preparing for its own test, possibly by the end of 2007. As we've noted in past, there have been credible reports of cooperation between Iran and North Korea on nuclear matters. A team of Iranian scientists reportedly traveled to North Korea for last October's nuclear test that was, by most accounts, only partially successful.

Mr. Coughlin's sources believe that this relationship would allow for "accelerated" development and testing of an Iranian nuclear device, based on the North Korean design. I'll take that a step further. The "successful" detonation of an Iranian device later this year would require a wholesale export of Pyongyang's nuclear technology, including fissile material, bomb and trigger design, and testing expertise. While Iran's weapons program has progressed steadily in recent years, there is nothing to indicate that Tehran could complete the process in the next 10 months or so--unless North Korea is providing the technical know-how and the necessary components.

By most accounts, Iran's uranium enrichment program--considered the most likely track to produce that country's first atomic bomb--is currently producing relatively small quantities of fuel that could be used to power a nuclear reactor. However, the current output and its relatively low purity (less than 10%) are not suitable for weapons production. Reaching the required levels of quality and quantity would require a much larger centrifuge array than the one currently in operation. Those goals could be achieved over the next couple of years, but not in the coming months.

As we've cautioned in the past, there is the likely possibility that Iran is also operating a parallel, covert nuclear program that has advanced beyond the capabilities that Tehran has publicly demonstrated. If that's the case, the timeline for the first Iranian nuclear device would be shortened, but (again) it's difficult to believe that even the covert program could deliver a successful test by the end of this year. It took North Korea's secret program almost a decade to produce the nuclear device tested last October. Full access to Pyongyang's expertise would cut development time for Tehran, but staging an actual nuclear test during 2007 would require much more than the sharing of test and design data--it would likely mean that North Korea plans to ship a finished device (or its components) to Iran, for testing later this year.

If the Telegraph report is accurate, immediate steps should be taken to prevent the full-scale export of nuclear technology (or finished weapons) from North Korea to Iran. The U.S. should implement a full air and naval quarantine of the DPRK, and demand that countries between Pyongyang and Tehran deny landing and overfly rights to all North Korean and Iranian cargo aircraft. Additionally, the U.S. should pressure international air cargo haulers--notably those in Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus--to decline shipments between Iran and North Korea. If necessary, we should be prepared to "buy up" their flight schedules for the forseeable future, to prevent Pyongyang from chartering air freight firms to transport nuclear cargoes. Limiting the movement of North Korean and Iranian nuclear scientists will be much more difficult, if not impossible. However, preventing the shipment of key components (or finished weapons) by air or sea will make their job much more difficult, and help prevent an Iranian test over the short term.

Welcome to Iraq, Mr. Cuomo

ABC News Correspondent Chris Cuomo (Mario's son) apparently has a new appreciation for the hazards faced by our troops in Iraq. Mr. Cuomo is currently on assignment in that country, and yesterday, he narrowly escaped injury from a roadside bomb that went off near his vehicle. Cuomo was on patrol with U.S. soldiers at the time of the attack, as he recounted for the New York Post:

"Until this I didn't really appreciate the daily routine of violence that these soldiers face...As a news anchor, "I tell you a story every morning about how many people died in Iraq in this or that bombing, but the appreciation of the constancy and the consistency of what they face is really daunting. I didn't appreciate it until I went out [on patrol] with these guys, and saw how they responded to something so harrowing, so horrific."

According to Cuomo, the bomb was apparently placed in dead bodies left along the roadside--a tactic frequently used by terrorists in Iraq. In fact, the terrorists have planted bombs in almost anything they can get their hands on, including toys and even piles of garbage. The enemy's relentless search for new ways to hide explosives makes our "find and clear" rate for IEDs (40%) that much more impressive.

We're glad that Mr. Cuomo is okay, and didn't suffer the same fate as his ABC colleague Bob Woodruff (who was badly wounded by a bomb in Iraq in January 2006), and CBS's Kimberly Dozier who was also injured by a terrorist bomb last year. Two members of Ms. Dozier's crew died in that attack, a reminder of the hazards faced by journalists who actually cover the war from outside the Green Zone.

Welcome to Iraq, Mr. Cuomo. As for your comments to the Post, I'm not sure if they reflect a certain naivete, a bit of ignorace, or both. It's hard to believe that a network journalist who reads stories about Iraq five mornings a week and (presumably) watches reports from his colleagues in that country wouldn't have a better appreciation of what our troops must endure. Perhaps this near-miss experience will make him realize that those young men (and women) on that patrol are the best our country has to offer; they deserve our fullest support--not the parsing and sniping of the chattering class.

In a few days, Chris Cuomo will complete his assignment in Iraq and return to the anchor desk in New York. Those brave young Americans will still be walking the line in Baghdad, Al-Anbar and a hundred other dangerous places in Iraq, conducting missions and patrols that will never make Good Morning America or the evening news. As always, keep them in your prayers.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Petraeus on the Hill

The next commander of coalition forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General David Petraeus, is on Capitol Hill today, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. As you might expect, the questions from senators have focused largely on President Bush's planned troop surge, and not on Petraeus's strategy for using those forces to improve the security situation.

Between political statements and posturing from committee members, General Petraeus demonstrated why he's the right man for the job. In his opening statement, Petraeus painted a realistic picture of conditions in Iraq, warning senators that "tough days" are ahead, while voicing his support for the troop increase, indicating that more forces on the ground can make a difference.

Petraeus even got in a little swipe at Ted Kennedy. When the senior Senator from Massachusetts asked why an additional 21,500 troops would make a difference. Petraeus said the important factor is how the troops are used, not their numbers. He reemphasized that the additional forces will be used to protect the civilian population of the Iraqi captial, rather than killing insurgents.

General Petraeus refused to say how long the troop surge might last, but he told Senator John McCain that "indicators" of success or failure would be evident by late summer. While the first wave of additional troops is now arriving in Iraq, Lieutenant General Petraeus said the last of the new brigades won't be in place until late May. If the Iraqis fail to meet their commitments under the revised security plan, Petraeus said he would consult with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on how to respond.

While most of the committee's Democratic members (and a few Republicans ) took potshots at the policy, only one senator, Connecticut's Joe Lieberman, asked Petraeus how Congressional resolutions opposing the troop surge would affect operations in Iraq. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina echoed Lieberman's query, but readers will note that there's no mention of the question in this AP dispatch.

And little wonder. The journalistic template for Petraeus's testimony--and the troop surge--has already been established. It won't work; too little, too late, there's no support for the policy, but hey, we're still behind the troops and don't you dare question our patriotism. Using that model, there's no room for success--or even discussions on chances for success. Just lots of stories that emphasize senatorial opposition to the plan.

During today's hearings, one senator described General Petraeus's new assignment as one of the most important operational commands in the U.S. military. That may be an understatement. I believe Lieutenant General Petraeus has been handed the toughest job in DoD, with minimal time to produce results. And making matters worse, most difficult challenge facing Petraeus may not be on the streets of Baghdad, but in the corridors of the United States Senate.

Today's Reading Assignment

Hugh Hewitt and the WSJ, on John McCain's refusal to embrace the conservative blogosphere, and how it may hurt his prospects for 2008.

As Hugh and Journal reporter Amy Schatz correctly point out, McCain is reluctant to engage the new media because he's very much a creation of the old media. During the 2004 GOP convention in New York City, just hours after he delivered a speech in support of President Bush, Senator McCain celebrated his birthday at Tavern on the Green. The guest list included virtually every big media "A" list type from New York and Washington. Most showed up to celebrate the senator's birthday, with smiles, hugs and laughter all around.

By currying favor with the press, McCain seems to believe that he can avoid the withering criticism leveled at most GOP presidential contenders, and cruise to the '08 nomination. Unfortunately, the Senator is living in a fool's paradise. His media stock rose only when he broke with the administration and showed his "maverick" streak. Observers will note that the press seems far less interested in McCain's support for the troop surge in Iraq, than his past criticism of administration war policies. Senator McCain apparently hasn't learned one of the cardinal rules of GOP politics: if you're a Republican and the MSM loves you, it's time to check your recent statements and voting record, because you're probably out of step with your party, and a good chunk of America (paging Senator Hagel).

And, if that weren't enough, Senator McCain's erstwhile media "allies" are about to teach him another elementary lesson. In presidential campaigns, the support (and sympathy) of the press inevitably falls with the Democrats, even if the GOP contender was a media darling in the past. Over the next year, the media will turn on the Arizona Senator with a ferocity and viciousness that will even surprise Mr. McCain. Exhibit A in this transformation process is the recent profile of Senator McCain by Todd Purdum (Mr. Dee Dee Myers) in this month's Vanity Fair. Barely 1,000 words into the article, Mr. Purdum wonders if McCain is really up to the job, or could live with himself in making the compromises often required to win the White House.

As he embarks on his second presidential campaign, a campaign he once assumed he would never get the chance to run, there are many questions for John Sidney McCain III. Can he bank the fires of temperament that routinely put him atop insiders' lists of the most difficult senators on Capitol Hill and become a unifying leader? Can he reconcile his unstinting support for the war in Iraq with his unsparing criticism of the Bush administration's execution of it—and with the electorate's evident yearning for a new approach? Would he be, at 72—more than two years older than the oldest man ever to assume the presidency, and more battered by old injuries than most men who have held it—too damned old to do the job?

But the biggest questions of all are whether, by forcing himself to become some kind of something he just isn't, John McCain can win the presidency to begin with, and would he consider himself to be worthy of the honor if he did.

The rest of Purdum's article echoes these themes, raising more doubts about McCain and his ability to win in '08. It's hardly a hit piece, but the Vanity Fair article isn't exactly the fawning coverage that the Senator has received in the past. In fact, the "profile" is nothing more than a first attempt to soften up Senator McCain for next year's campaign, highlighting his potential liabilities as a candidate.

Admittedly, some of these "faults" are trivial. Senator McCain has a temper? Well, I'm told that a certain Senator from New York has a volcanic temper, but you won't see that sort of stuff in her Vanity Fair profile. McCain--a retired Navy Captain--has a bit of a salty tongue? I've met (and covered) politicians from both parties who could make a longshoreman blush, but you won't find that in the MSM, either. In fact, you've got to wonder why McCain's vocabulary is an issue at all, until you remember McCain's meltdown in South Carolina in 2000, the same state where thousands of evangelical voters might be offended by a politician who sprinkles g--d--- into his casual conversation.

It's the first media salvo in the campaign to destroy John McCain, and it will be fascinating to see the Senator's reaction as his "friends" in the press finally turn on him. Meanwhile, as Hugh and Ms. Schatz observe, Senator McCain deliberately ignores potential allies in the conservative blogosphere, a key constituency in solidifying your support among the GOP base. It's a choice Mr. McCain makes at his own peril, and as criticism from the MSM intensifies, the Senator may wish he had built some bridges to the bloggers and the rest of the new media.

Delivery Complete

Russia has announced that it has completed deliveries of the SA-15 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system to Iran. Moscow signed an agreement to sell 29 SA-15 fire units to Iran in late 2005; training of Iranian crews began last summer, and actual deliveries commenced in November of last year. Compared to past arms deals, the delivery of the SA-15s (which the Russians call the TOR-1M) seems a bit accelerated; Moscow delivered the full order in about two months, reflecting the urgency that Tehran assigns to the air defense purchase.

We've written extensively about the SA-15 deal in the past, beginning in December 2005. Deployment of this modern SAM system can certainly improve the short-range defense of key installations, including Iran's nuclear facilities. But this purchase will not solve Iran's serious air defense problems, which require billions for additional equipment and traning. Among other issues, Tehran's air defense network is beset by gaps in radar coverage, limited automation of its air defense "picture," an ineffective command and control (C2) system, aging equipment and limited training, just to name a few.

In other words, while the SA-15 is capable of defending key targets against aircraft, cruise missiles and even precision-guided munitions, the new SAM system must operate within an air defense structure that often fails to detect potential threats, or notify the right air defense sector for possible action. Without effective early warning or C2, the SA-15 crews will be forced into an autonomous operations mode, where on-board systems identify and target detected threats. Operating without independent confirmation and confirmation of targets, the SAM crews will run an increased risk of false alarms, wasted shots and even fratricide.

As we observed last April, one of the critical issues regarding this deployment is the basing scheme that Iran selects for its SA-15s. The TOR-1M is a highly mobile system, best suited for conducting operations on the move, typically in support of advancing ground forces. Iran, however, prefers to place its SAMs in fixed positions around high-value targets. While that scheme enhances local defenses, it also makes it easier for adversaries to locate, fly around--and target--individual SAM batteries. The SA-15s would be much more effective in establishing mobile ambush points, along likely ingress routes for inbound strike packages.

But that sort of operational scheme would mean more time in the field, and (potentially) higher transporatation and maintenance costs. And, given Iran's penchant for doing things on the cheap, it's unlikely that Tehran will keep its SA-15s on the move, complicating our ability to detect and target them. Many will eventually move to existing I-HAWK sites, replacing the venerable U.S.-made SAM that's been the backbone of Iran's air defense system for more than 30 years. At that point, the U.S. and Israel can dial in their location, and Tehran can expect to lose a portion of its SA-15 force in potential engagements with its adversaries.

***

Readers may recall that Russia has indicated its willingness to sell other "defensive" systems to Iran. That raises the question of whether Moscow and Tehran will conclude a deal for an advanced, long-range SAM system (say, the SA-20) that could have a greater impact on air operations against Iran. Tehran has had the opportunity to buy the SA-20 in the past, but has typically balked at the cost ($300 million per battery).

Monday, January 22, 2007

The New Threat to Russia

The Russians have their collective knickers in a bunch, expressing "concern" over U.S. plans to base anti-missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moscow claims the planned deployment represents a "clear threat" to its interests, despite reassurances from Washington, Prague and Warsaw.

We've written about the U.S. plan at length, most recently in May of last year. It calls for installing ballistic missile warning radars in the Czech Republic, and the basing of up to 10 interceptor missiles, most likely in Poland. Total cost for the project is estimated at $1.6 billion, and there are no assurances that the missile defenses will actually reach operational status. Our embassies in Prague and Warsaw emphasize that negotiations on the missile defense issue are on-going, with no guarantee that the Poles and Czechs will ultimately approve the plan.

On the other hand, Moscow's neighbors in eastern European neighbors have long memories of the Soviet-era occupation of their countries, and they would probably welcome added protection against future attacks by the Russians. But the Poles and Czechs (not to mention the Hungarians, Slovaks, Bulgarians and Germans) are also realistic; they understand that a single radar and a few interceptor missiles would provide only modest protection from a Russian missile attack.

But they also understand that the proposed deployment is primarily aimed at at deterring a limited missile attack by a rogue state, most likely Iran. Tehran recently acquired the BM-25 intermediate range missile system from North Korea; in its current form, the BM-25 is already capable of hitting targets in southeastern Europe. With further upgrades, the system may be able to hit much of western Europe within the next decade. Against this type of threat, the proposed deployment would offer genuine deterrence and protection.

So why the fuss from Moscow, over a deployment that offers no real to Russia or its military forces? From the Russian perspective, the proposed missile defense shield represents a further erosion of influence in an area they once controlled. Over the past decade, the former Warsaw Pact has essentially become NATO East, making the Russians feel further isolated and threatened. Stalin would be spinning in his grave if he knew that his "sphere of influence" in eastern Europe now looks to Washington, rather than Moscow, for trade and protection.

On a more practical level, Moscow is also upset at the prospect of another high-powered radar near its frontiers, giving the west additional capabilities in monitoring Russian ballistic missile activity. The proposed radar in Czechosolvakia will provide even more coverage of the Russian land mass, including regions where missiles are deployed and tested. The Czech radar could become even more important if Moscow fields its hypersonic glide vehicle, launched from a land-based ICBM, and designed to evade "traditional" ballistic missile radars (read: those based farther away from Russian territory). Operating closer to the Russian border, the Czech-based radar could improve chances of detecting a HGV launch, although interceptor missiles would still be hard-pressed to engage a hypersonce vehicle, flying into allied airspace on a shallow trajectory.

While the defensive deployment isn't much of a military threat to Russia, it is enough to put Moscow into diplomatic overdrive; over the next few months, the Russians will redouble their efforts to convince the Poles and Czechs to reject the proposed missile defenses. It is worth noting that the Russians have other options at their disposal. They will likely respond to any BMD deployment in eastern Europe by continuing their research on HGV weapons, and placing additional decoys on their medium and intercontinental-range missiles.

But the best option in this matter is the onle Moscow is most likely to reject, namely accepting a U.S. invitation to be a part of a regional missile defense shield. Whether or note Vladimir Putin cares to admit it, the threat he is helping create in Tehran will ultimately be aimed at Russia as well. Oh, wait a minute...that's right, Russia already has a missile defense system, based around Moscow, and it's been operational for years. How are the deployments proposed for Poland and Hungary destablizing when Russia's limited ABM network isn't? The short answer is: they're not. Russia's opposition to the BMD deployment is just another example of post-Cold War hypocrisy.

Hostile Fire

Pentagon sources are telling Fox News that hostile fire may have caused last weekend's deadly helicopter crash in Iraq, which killed 13 U.S. soldiers. The UH-60 Blackhawk went down northeast of Baghdad on Saturday. Witnesses say some sort of "rocket" or "projectile" was fired at the chopper shortly before it went down.

However, other details on the incident remain sketchy. For example, it would be helpful to know the helicopter's heading and altitude before it went down, or if any maneuvering was observed prior to the aircraft being struck. That would give us some idea if the crew had any idea they were under attack, and took evasive action (to include the dispensing of counter-measures), used to defeat enemy shoulder-fired missiles. The absence of that information suggests the attack may have been unobserved; the terrorists got lucky, scored a fat hit on the Blackhawk, and by that time, it was too late.

The helicopter crash accounted for almost half of the U.S. military fatalities reported in Iraq over the weekend. At least 28 military personnel died during that period; 15 in ground attacks and 13 in the helicopter crash. While it was the deadliest American chopper crash in Iraq in more than a year, the incident is not a genuine reflection of rotary-wing operations in the war zone. As we've noted before, the number of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft lost to hostile fire has actually declined (per 100,000 flying hours since 2003), reflecting improved on-board counter-measures and tactics. The number of attacks or missile launches against our aircraft has remained fairly constant over the past four years, but the enemy's success rate has declined. That's another reason the terrorists emphasize roadside attacks, because their prospects for downing a helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft are decidedly low.

Unfotunately, our enemies get lucky every now and then, resulting in the type of losses experienced near Baghdad on Saturday. But compared to other campaigns against insurgent (notably Russia's experiences in Afghanistan and Chechnya), our attack, transport and scout helicopter units have experienced remarkably low losses in Iraq. That may be little consolation for the families who lost loved ones near Baghdad on Saturday, but it is a testament to the skill and dedication of pilots and crews performing helicopter operations in Iraq--and to the maintenance crews that keep them flying.

***

The apparent Blackhawk shoot-down came a little over a year after another UH-60 was lost in Tal Afar Province, killing 12 soldiers. That incident was part of a sudden rash of American helicopter losses in early 2006; three choppers were shot down in a two-week period, resulting in the deaths of 14 military personnel. At the time, we expressed concern that the sudden spike in shoot-downs might indicate the introduction of a more advanced shoulder-fired missile among insurgents, perhaps the Russian-made SA-18. But those concerns never panned out, and we rather doubt that the terrorists are using more advanced missiles at the present time. For engaging helicopters in Iraq, the weapons of choice are older, more readily available MANPADs (SA-7s/14s) and RPGs. And under the right circumstances, even those weapons can be deadly.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Iran's Latest War Games

Those worthy stenographers at the Associated Press have issued a dispatch on Iran's latest war games, proving (a) reporters at the wire service's Tehran bureau know next-to-nothing about Iranian military capabilities, and (b) they take any statement or claim from Ministry of Defense at face value. Whatever the case, most readers wind up with a distorted view of Tehran's military capabilities.

According to the AP, Iran's Revolutionary Guards began a three-day missile drill on Sunday, in a desert region about 60 NM northwest of Tehran. That's an accurate statement, but it ignores the proper context for the event. The Revolutionary Guards (who control Iran's ballistic missile and battlefield rocket forces) typically hold an exercise in the first quarter of the calendar year, typically in February or March. This particular exercise may be coming a bit early (perhaps in response to the planned deployment of a second U.S. carrier group to the Persian Gulf), but whatever the reason, the missile drill has been in the works for several months. Planners need that time to coordinate the movement of crews, missiles, launch vehicles, and support equipment, among other items.

And, if the Iranians follow historical norms, we may see other exercises over the next couple of months, involving short-range SCUD and medium-range Shahab-3 missiles. Those drills would be more significant that the current exercise, since they would test systems with greater range and accuracy than the Zelzal and Fajr-5 rockets now in the field. The much-hyped Fajr-5 is actually a short-range (50 NM) battlefield rocket; the Zelzal has a range of roughly 110 NM. Both have relatively unsophisticated guidance systems, making them even less accurate than the notoriously-inaccurate SCUD, which has a circular probability of error (CEP) of 1-3 NM at max range. In other words, the Zelzal and Fajr-5 would only be useful against large, area targets (port facilities, airfields, logistical bases), and only if they're equipped with a chemical or biological warhead (it's doubtful Iran will have a nuclear warhead small enough for their battlefield rockets in the forseeable future).

Additionally, as we've noted before, the supposedly "advanced" technical features of the Fajr-5 have been grossly overstated. Those "radar-evading" abilities? Apparently, nothing more that a coat of radar-absorbent paint (that likely evaporated during flight). And it's multiple warheads? Just ordinary cluster warheads, available--and used--for years on a variety of ballistic missiles and rockets. So much for those technical breakthroughs. Iran is probably a decade away (or longer) from a true multiple, independent reentry vehicle (MIRV) capability, but you wouldn't know that by reading the AP's reporting.

In fairness, it is a bit unreasonable to expect the AP to staff all its bureaus with military experts. But in a country like Iran--which is trying to develop WMD and improve its long-range delivery platforms--you would think the wire service would demand a bit more detail and perspective in its coverage. Unfortunately, the bulk of the AP's reporting on the Iranian military is little more than retransmission of Revolutionary Guards press releases, creating an unrealistic picture of Tehran's military capabilities. It's fortunate that our military forces don't rely on the AP for updated assessments of the Iranian military arsenal.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Weather Kerfuffle

As a reformed broadcaster (and life-long meteorology buff), I've been following the recent weather kerfuffle with a great deal of interest. It began when Dr. Heidi Cullen of The Weather Channel suggested that broadcast meteorologists who don't subscribe to the Al Gore Theory of Global Warming should lose their accreditation from the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Of course, Dr. Cullen is a big believer that man-made greenhouse gasses are the primary cause of global warming; her weekly program on The Weather Channel ("The Climate Code") is essentially an echo of that theme. From her perspective, it's an open-and-shut case, despite serious opposition from some eminent climatologists, notably Dr. William Gray of Colorado State University.

Now, a well-respected broadcast meteorologist is firing back. James Spann of ABC 33/40 in Birmingham, Alabama has a post on his weather blog that highlights a root cause of the global warming hysteria:

*Billions of dollars of grant money is flowing into the pockets of those on the man-made global warming bandwagon. No man-made global warming, the money dries up. This is big money, make no mistake about it. Always follow the money trail and it tells a story. Even the lady at The Weather Channel probably gets paid good money for a prime time show on climate change. No man-made global warming, no show, and no salary. Nothing wrong with making money at all, but when money becomes the motivation for a scientific conclusion, then we have a problem. For many, global warming is a big cash grab.

*The climate of this planet has been changing since God put the planet here. It will always change, and the warming in the last 10 years is not much difference than the warming we saw in the 1930s and other decades. And, lets not forget we are at the end of the ice age in which ice covered most of North America and Northern Europe.

If you don't like to listen to me, find a meteorologistist with no tie to grant money for research on the subject. I would not listen to anyone that is a politician, a journalist, or someone in science who is generating revenue from this issue.

Mr. Spann doesn't have the same academic pedigree as Heidi Cullen, but he's hardly a weather interloper. He holds credentials as a Certified Broadcast Meteorologistist (CBM) from the AMS, which mandates that recipients meet the following criteria:

"In order to acquire a CBM, new applicants must hold a degree in meteorology (or equivalent) from an accredited college/university, pass a written examination, and have their work reviewed to assess technical competence, informational value, explanatory value, and communication skills."

And here's the recommended study guide/knowledge base for the CBM exam. It may not be the equivalent of a PhD curriculum in climatology, but it is rigorous and demanding. The AMS also has a list meteorologists who currently hold the CBM certificate. Funny, but I don't see any of the anchors from The Weather Channel--including Heidi Cullen--on that list.

More importantly, Mr. Spann has passed the tests of time (and competition) in a demanding weather market. When Channel 33/40 became Birmingham's ABC affiliate about 10 years ago, one of the first persons hired for its fledgling news operation was James Spann. Market research showed that viewers flocked to his channel during severe weather coverage. He's one of the main reasons that Channel 33/40 remains at or near the top of the ratings heap in Birmingham's TV news wars.

But there may be a little more a work here than a mere scientific disagreement over global warming. Cullen and Spann represent two distinct divisions within the meteorologicalcal community, with the pedigreed "scientists" in one corner, and broadcast meteorologists in the other.

Many in the "scientific" crowd look down on their broadcast counterparts, sneering at their "lack" meteorological training. Read the bios of a few TV weather anchors, and you'll find more than a few received their training via the Broadcast Meteorology Program at Mississippi State University. Completion of that program provides 36 hours of academic credit in meteorology, climatology, and earth science, and prepares graduates for certification by the AMS and its counterpart, the National Weather Association (NWA).

The Mississippi State program is administered and taught by PhD meteorologists; some of the curriculum (notably the radar course) is quite good, but it's not quite up to snuff for the scientists. From their perspective, anyone without a B.S. from one of the "big meteorology programs (Penn State, Florida State, Missouri, or Texas A&M) simply isn't a meteorologist.

On the other hand, is it really necessary for a television weathercaster to have an advanced degree meteorology? In my old outfit, the U.S. Air Force, weather officers have meteorology degrees, but the actual forecasts are generated by enlisted personnel (typically NCOs) who have completed courses in weather observation and forecasting. Both schools are challenging, but they're not the equivalent of a bachelor's degree meteorology. But somehow, the Air Force (and the other services) have managed to survive.

In fact, there's long been an element of jealousy between the scientific meteorology community and their colleagues on the broadcast side. A TV weather anchor at the top of his profession (say, Sam Champion of Good Morning America) can earn a six or seven-figure income. That's quite a jump from the salary meteorology PhDs typically earns in academia, or working for a private forecasting company. Some of those folks are incensed that weather "personalities" like Mr. Champion (who doesn't have any formal meteorology training) earn public acclaim and mega-bucks, despite slim credentials.

On the other hand, doing the weather on TV isn't as easy as it appears. Try standing in front of a blank wall, in front of a television camera. Your graphics are supplied by two computers and one or two radars. You can only see the graphics by looking at off-camera monitors, while trying to avoid standing in front of the storm front you're talking about. Using those tools, your own forecasting abilities and communications skills, you've got to provide a meaningful forecast to your viewers, usually in less than four minutes. And you're doing that with a producer barking through your earpiece, urging you to speed up, while you're praying that the computers don't lock up.

Or, you're anchoring two hours of live, severe weather coverage. Nothing but you, your forecasting skills, the station's radar, warning data from the National Weather Service, and (if you're lucky) assistance from one of your broadcast colleagues. Thosands of viewers are relying on you for information that could save their lives. And, you've got to do it in a calm, professional manner, to avoid inciting panic. Local weather icons like James Spann earn their reputations by doing just that, offering accurate, timely and vital information over decades, not during a half-hour cable show.

As for Dr. Cullen, she's certainly entitled to her scientific opinion. But her call to "de-certify" broadcast meteorologists who don't agree with the global warming orthodoxy is nothing more than scientific McCarthyism. Kudos to Mr. Spann for standing up for the other side of this scientific debate, and having the guts to challenge meteorology's version of political correctness. According to Mr. Spann, there are many broadcast meteorologists who share his views; if that's true, then more need to speak up. With the exception of one newsroom in Birmingham, the silence on this issue from the broadcast meteorology crowd is deafening.

Today's Reading Assignment

"The Death of U.S. Airpower," a commentary by Loren Thompson of UPI, reprinted at the Air Force's "Aimpoints" web site.

In reality, the situation isn't quite as dire as Thompson would have you believe. In terms of tactical proficiency, precision strike, ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) and quality of personnel, the U.S. Air Force has no peer. But Mr. Thompson is correct in noting that much of the Air Force's fleet of fighters and support aircraft is getting long in the tooth. That means lower mission-capability rates and high maintenance costs, with less money for other programs, such as recapitalization of the aircraft inventory. Naval aviation is experiencing similar problems; with retirement of the F-14 Tomcat (and no replacement for the A-12 program), the Navy has been forced to use the F/A-18 Super Hornet as an "all purpose" platform. Make no mistake; the Hornet is an exceptionally capable jet, but it's still, at heart, a fourth-generation fighter that (like the F-15 and F-16) no longer has a commanding technological edge over potential opponents.

That because the rest of the world has been closing the technology gap, while the U.S. decided against building the Navy's A-12, and slashed the F-22 program. The latest generation of Russian FLANKERs and the European Typhoon (Eurofighter) are just as capable as our F-15s and F-16s; the active-radar missiles they carry are comparable to our AMRAAM. The IR-missiles they carry are better that similar U.S. models. Fortunately for us, the tactics gap is still relatively wide, but there are examples (India comes to mind) of nations that can employ late-model fighters in a highly effective manner. Other countries--including China--may be able to close the gap as well.

The solution, of course, is finding enough money to fund key programs in the Air Force and the Navy aviation community. That's not to say that aircraft or aviation O&M programs should move ahead of funding for ground forces, or their planned expansion. It's a balancing act, something that's proving difficult--even in an era of $500 billion dollar annual defense budgets.

Distorting the News (Again)

In today's editions, The New York Times weighs in on China's recent (and apparently, successful) test of an anti-satellite system. As Aviation Week & Space Technology recently reported, the Chinese conducted an evaluation of a missile-launched ASAT on 11 January, using the system to knock-out an obsolete weather satellite. Our information suggests this was merely the latest in a series of tests with the ASAT and the meteorological satellite; during each successive evaluation, the Chinese managed to maneuver the kill vehicle closer to its target, before disabling the weather bird last week.

The implications of this event are clear; you don't have to be a space analyst to understand that China is positioning itself to challenge us on the high frontier, and (possibly) deny our access to critical, space-based intelligence platforms. According to Aviation Week, the "kill" demonstration took place roughly 500 NM above the earth, an altitude block that is used by many of our reconnaissance satellites. If China were able to degrade or destroy those platforms, our ability to prosecute a war would be greatly jeopardized. Additionally, the PRC ASAT program may give Beijing a mechanism for threatening some commercial satellites as well, with potentially dire consequences for the global economy.

Simply stated, China's ASAT program is a clear threat to the west, and that threat has grown geometrically over the past decade. In the mid-1990s, Beijing (essentially) had no anti-satellite capability. Since that time, they've invested tremendous resources in developing not only an orbital ASAT capability, but ground-based systems as well. Last July, the PRC reportedly fired a high-powered laser at a U.S. recce satellite in low earth orbit (LEO), demonstrating a potential ability to blind overhead sensors, and further limit our collection and surveillance capabilities.

But if you read today's account in the Times, you'll discover that China had a more "sensible" motive for conducting its recent ASAT tests. Quoting "experts" from organizations that are hardly friends of the Bush Administration (or, its recently-announced space policy), the NYT postulates that Beijing may be attempting to pressure the U.S. into negotiating an agreement that would prevent the militarization of space.

From a military stand-point, that logic choo-choo jumped the tracks a long time ago. Let me get this straight: China spends a decades (and billions of dollars) on a program that is one of its highest state priorities, yet it would gladly surrender those capabilities in exchange for a U.S. ASAT program that has been dormant for roughly 20 years. Analysts cited by the Times claim that Russia wants a similar deal. But such conjecture ignores another disturbing fact: Moscow is hard at work on its own, top priority space program a hypersonic glide vehicle that is capable of evading existing detection systems, and defeating ballistic missile defenses. Vladimir Putin is reportedly putting a lot of money into that effort, which (again) raises that nagging question: why give up a program that holds tremendous promise for a U.S. ASAT effort that has been largely abandoned?

Fact is, most "successful" Cold War arms treaties (noted by the paper's experts) were based on the elimination of viable systems or capabilities on both sides. Remember that 1980s agreement that banned intermediate range weapons from Europe? It came only after the U.S. deployed ground-launched cruise missiles and Pershing II IRBMs to bases in Sicily, England and Germany, countering Russia's sizeable arsenal of comparable weapons in eastern Europe. Ronald Reagan showed the Kremlin he meant business, and backed up his rhetoric with action.

Given the present status of our ASAT program, it would be difficult to negotiate a meaningful treaty on weapons in space, despite the propaganda "spin" from Moscow and Beijing. Besides, implying that Russia and China want a substantive agreement in this area--and suggesting that the White House is ignoring those overtures--is merely another excuse to blame George Bush for a problem that our adversaries are perpetuating.

As we noted yesterday, Mr. Bush's more assertive "national space policy," announced last October, is a step in the right direction, given the emerging threats from China and Russia. the Administration should make it clear that any space weapons treaty must include an end to Moscow's weapons-related HGV testing, and the dismantlement of China's ASAT program. In return, the U.S., Russia and other interested countries could mount a "peaceful" HGV research program, and we would continue our self-imposed moratorium on ASAT deployments. Put those criteria on the table, and we'll see just how interested the Chinese and Russians really are. Based on recent activities in those countries, I'll guess there won't be any takers for a "serious" space weapons treaty, one that requires Moscow and Beijing to surrender (or forestall) their own capabilities.

Suggesting that China's ASAT tests are little more than a negotiating ploy represents a dangerous--yet predictable--distortion of these events by the Times.

***

BTW, a tip of the hat to armscontrolwonk.com, among the first to publish rumblings about the Chinese ASAT test, which was revealed by Aviation Week yesterday. Armscontrolwonk published early details/speculation on the event on Wednesday, a full day ahead of the magazine.