Monday, September 24, 2012

Today's Reading Assignment

A Navy P-8 Poseidon in flight.  Program delays and the threat of sequestration could create more difficulties for the new ASW aircraft, leaving the Navy with inadequate airborne resources for detecting, tracking and attacking enemy subs (Wikipedia photo).    

An excellent post at The NavLog, on the Navy's troubled P-8 ASW aircraft.  The service is moving forward with long-standing plans to replace what's left of its P-3 Orion fleet with the next-generation ASW airframe, based on the Boeing 737-800.  But, as the author observes, successful implementation of the P-8 depends on technology that is inmature (at best), and on a planned aircraft "buy" that is inadequate for the mission:

We recently attended a briefing on the Navy’s new P-8 Poseidon aircraft, the replacement for the P-3C Orion. The short version is that it is not working out as hoped and that US Navy airborne anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is in jeopardy.


{the} Boeing P-8 was conceived as a 156-airframe replacement for the already dwindling number of P-3s, a number of P-8s then reduced to 108 aircraft, to be augmented by dedicated UAVs and UCAVs for persistent surveillance over-ocean missions. The P-3’s 330 knot enroute speed would be substantially increased to over 500 knots with the P-8, meaning a faster arrival on station. Since a jet burns far more fuel per mile than a turboprop, the P-3’s low-level endurance was to be sacrificed by a never before tried high-altitude precision ASW at or above 20,000 feet, meaning abandonment of what had been traditional low-level tracking of and attack upon a submarine. Torpedoes dropped from 200-500 feet will now become glide-bombs: torpedoes with wings dropped from 20,000 feet to somehow reach a fleeing submarine before it's long gone. The P-8s MAD boom was summarily dispatched. To those of us with real world ASW experience, the picture was questionable and depended upon no yet developed new ASW techniques and technology.

At the recent brief we were instructed about new, smaller, light-weight sonobouys equipped with GPS that will be launched from rotary launchers aboard the P-8. This is aimed at plot stabilization, or plotstab, a critical element in ASW. A submarine or surface contact is positioned with respect to the sono pattern dropped. Unless you know where your bouys are, you can’t know where your target is. The GPS-broadcasting bouys are meant to align target location with the real world. This will be especially tough because the P-8 is meant to stay above 20,000 feet. This altitude restriction is imposed for several reasons, but we were informed it is primarily because the P-8s planned onsta performance is not even close to what the Boeing and Navy engineers estimated, and is, in fact perhaps four hours, or about half that of the P-3 or even the P-2

And unfortunately, the problems don't end there.  While the Navy plans to field 12 P-8 squadrons, each unit will have only six assigned aircraft.  Do the math, and you'll discover that our "new" ASW fleet will consist of only 72 aircraft, along with a smaller number of P-3s that will be re-winged to extend their service life.  Once upon a time, the Navy had more than 400 Orions, with most devoted to the ASW mission.  True, those numbers existed during the heyday of the Soviet Navy, but it's worth noting that many countries are now building or purchasing quiet diesel submarines, so the threat is steadily increasing.  And, when you consider the P-8 won't the endurance of its predecessors, it's clear the Navy won't have enough of the new ASW jets for the mission.

As we've noted in the past, the ASW mission was largely ignored after the collapse of the former Soviet Union.  Making matters worse, the Navy wasted years of development time (and millions of dollars) on the "first" Orion replacement, the Lockheed P-7, which was scrapped in the 1980s.  Meanwhile, the service was flying the wings off its remaining P-3s (quite literally) by reassigning the aircraft for overland missions in places like Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

One more thing: as The NavLog observes, lead-in training for a new P-8 crew member will be an "astounding" 15 months, so the Navy will be hard-pressed to meet its goal of geting the first squadron operational in 2013.  And no one wants to predict the potential impact of sequestration on the Poseidon.  If the P-8 doesn't survive under sequestration, then we'll be left with a dwindling number of deteriorating P-3s, and no replacement in sight--truly, the worst case scenario.

But that's just the tip of the fiscal iceberg.  Multiply this sort of program cancellation across the services, and you'll have a good idea of what our military may look like in the years to come.      

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Who Knew, Redux

It doesn't take a foreign policy wonk to understand why the Obama Administration is so desperate to "spin" its version of how Islamic terrorists attacked the U.S. Consulate (and diplomatic safe house) in Benghazi, Libya almost two weeks ago, resulting in the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.  As the true details of that incident begin to emerge, one thing is clear: this is a security, intelligence and leadership debacle of the first magnitude.

Mr. Stevens and his colleagues didn't have to have to die--it's that simple.  There were warnings of a possible attack up to three days prior, from Libyan officials and Egyptian intelligence.  There are also indications that the Brits knew something was up and shared that information with us, but to no avail.  Ambassador Stevens, who reportedly told co-workers he "had a price on his head," elected to travel to the unsecure Benghazi facility, with no dedicated security detail.  However, it is unclear if Stevens received the latest threat information before setting out for the consulate.

And, it now evident that senior U.S. officials knew the Benghazi compound was under attack as it unfolded (emphasis ours).  According to media reports, President Obama was told of the assault between 90 minutes and three hours into the incident.  He later went to bed, before the fate of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues was determined.

But that timeline is predictably fuzzy.  Earlier this week, Libyan officials claimed that U.S. officials intercepted communications between Al Qaida's Libyan affiliate and members of the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia brigade discussing the planned attack.  So far, it has not been disclosed if those conversations came before, during or after the attacks on the consulate and the safe house, which unfolded over several hours.

In any event, there is reason to believe that Mr. Obama may have learned of events in Libya long before the three-hour mark, and here's why: reports of escalating threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East should have put the National Security Agency (and its global intercept capabilities) on heightened alert.

It's also worth noting that the U.S. (read: NSA) monitored several phone conversations between Al Qaida operatives and representatives of the Ansar al Sharia group.  During the calls, they discussed the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.  So far, U.S. officials have not revealed if the chatter was related to planning the assault, or if it occurred while the attack was in progress.

But let's assume that the conversations occurred just prior to the attack and while it unfolded.  We make this assumption (hoping) that if NSA had advance notice that our consulate was being targeted, protective measures would be implemented to safeguard our personnel.  Obviously, we cannot make this assumption with complete certainty; after all, the agency collects millions of bits of information on a daily basis.  There are delays in translation, and even with sophisticated data-mining and keyword search techniques, analysts don't always receive information required to provide timely warning.

Still, if we're reading the tea leaves correctly, it appears that NSA was monitoring terrorist communications for a period that included the actual attack on the consulate and the murder of Ambassador Stevens.  If that's the case, then the agency most likely issued its highest priority message traffic (known in the trade as FLASH/CRITICs).

These alerts, reserved for the most important global events, are supposed to be in the hands of the President--and other senior officials--within 10 minutes of receipt.  There are established guidelines for events considered worthy of a CRITIC, and NSA has sometimes rejected submissions from lower levels in the signals intelligence (SIGINT) community.  For example, when U.S. listening posts in Japan detected the shoot down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983, initial CRITICS sent to NSA were rejected, on the grounds of insufficient information.  However, as the situation became more clear, FLASH/CRITIC traffic was quickly forwarded to President Reagan and key members of his national security team.

Based on what we're hearing, it seems likely that President Obama was in receipt of similar messages on the night our consulate was breached and Ambassador Stevens was murdered, along with three other Americans.  And, if NSA was monitoring terrorist phone calls in the run-up to the attack, there is a very real possibility that the commander-in-chief knew what was going on well before the "three hour" mark.  That possibility raises very real questions about what Mr. Obama knew, when he knew it, and his initial response to the crisis.

As Congress digs deeper into the incident, they should ask the NSA Director (General Keith Alexander) about CRITIC reporting from Libya on the night in question.  The amount of CRITIC reporting by NSA is very small--usually no more than a handful of messages a year.  It won't be very hard to determine if any FLASH/CRITIC messages were sent to the White House that night; when the President received them, and exactly what he knew before his "command decision" to go back to bed.      


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Right Call

Senate Republicans are being called "cruel," "heartless" (and worse) after rejecting a $1 billion veterans jobs bill.  More from The Hill:

Senate Republicans stopped the veterans jobs bill Wednesday by forcing a budget point of order vote.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (R-Ill.) requested a motion to waive the budget point of order, which was raised by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Democrats needed 60 votes, but got only 58.
“This violates the Budget Control Act, there is no dispute about it,” Sessions said in a floor speech Wednesday. “The bill will not even go through the House and it violates the Constitution because it says revenue bills must be started in the House ... [and] this is a revenue bill.”
The Veterans Jobs Corp Act would have created new job-training programs to help veterans find work in targeted fields such as national park conservation, historic preservation projects, police work and firefighting, among others.
Only five GOP senators voted in favor of the waiver; two of them (Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Dean Heller of Nevada) are in tough re-election fights, so perhaps we'll give them a pass. 
Meanwhile, the Republicans who voted against the bill deserve praise, for several reasons.  First, the Senate bill was nothing more than a political stunt, aimed at painting the GOP as "anti-veteran."  Democrats who backed the legislation knew it was doomed for defeat on procedural grounds alone, but offered it anyway.  Call it an exercise in cynicism.  
Secondly, as Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn explained, the veterans job bill is a prime example of wasteful spending that will only add to the national debt.  Once created, programs like the veterans job act tend to grow like weeds, consuming far more tax dollars than anyone originally envisioned, and providing few positive results.  
Case-in-point?  The new Post 9-11 GI Bill, which was passed and signed into law with much fanfare a few years back.  Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, the primary author of the legislation, claimed the new GI Bill would finally provide the same level of support given to veterans who went back to school after World War II.  
Obviously, no one would reject education benefits for veterans.  But there's a dirty, dark secret about the latest version of the GI Bill: it has become a fiscal black hole that is producing almost no graduates.  
Last fall, an official with the Labor Department told a military education group in Colorado that 88% of veterans who become full-time students on the Post 9-11 GI Bill leave school after only one year.  Financial aid officials at various colleges and universities report that some recipients are in school only for the housing stipend, allowing them to survive in a tough economy.  And the total cost of the latest GI Bill is already at $15 billion a year, almost double the original projection.  
Despite the best intentions, the new GI Bill is clearly off the fiscal rails and will continue to waste tax dollars without serious reform.  And there's no reason to believe the veterans job bill would have fared any better.  Some of the "conservation" positions were little more than make-work jobs, totally dependent on more federal funding to keep vets employed.  
Additionally, there are plenty of training programs for veterans who want to work as police officers or fire fighters; in fact, many ex-service members are trained as MPs or military firemen while in uniform, so it shouldn't take a billion-dollar program to prepare vets for those jobs.  Indeed, one could argue that the money would be better spent on finding vets already qualified for such positions.  But that would block the opportunity to create another, massive government bureaucracy, the unstated goal of most new programs.  
Throughout the current recession, unemployment rates for veterans have remained well above the national average, and various federal programs and initiatives have done little to help the situation.  Of course, the best solution is the most obvious: avoid the massive defense cuts that are forcing thousands out of the military and crippling our defense industrial base.  If the Senate is truly serious about unemployment among veterans, they might consider a defense "surge," providing more money for critical military programs that would create thousands of good-paying American jobs. 
Instead, Senate Democrats are playing procedural games while sequestration looms on the horizon.  That would mean an additional $50 billion a year in defense cuts, bringing the annual reduction to $100 billion over 10 years.  If you think a lot of vets are out of work now, just wait until sequestration takes hold. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Crossing the Red Line?

Last month, President Obama warned Syria that "signs" of use or movement of its chemical weapons arsenal would constitute a "red line" that could trigger an American military response.

Now we've learned that if Damascus hasn't crossed that line, it's on the verge of doing so. From Der Spiegel, via the Jerusalem Post:

Syria tested firing systems for poison gas shells at the country's largest chemical weapons research center at Safira, east of Aleppo, last month, German weekly Der Spiegel reported on Monday, citing statements from various witnesses.

According to the report, Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers were flown in by helicopter to witness the testing.

Several empty shells, designed to carry chemical weapons, were fired by tanks and helicopters in a desert location near the research center, Der Spiegel quoted the witnesses as saying.

The timing and location of the test was hardly coincidental. The Safira complex is located near Aleppo, Syria's largest city, and a center of the anti-government violence that has flared for more than a year, threatening the regime of dictator Bashir al-Assad.

By conducting the test, Damascus was sending a message not only to the rebels, but to the Israelis and the U.S. as well. Facing regime survival, Assad is clearly prepared to use weapons of mass destruction against his enemies, foreign and domestic.

Indeed, this is not the first time that Syria has been detected conducting chemical weapons testing and related activities. On several occasions over the past two decades, western intelligence has picked up indications of live chemical weapons testing at various ranges in Syria. On some occasions, the weapons have been dropped by fighter jets, such as the MiG-23 Flogger. Damascus has a large inventory of potential delivery systems for its chemical arsenal, including artillery, attacks helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and ballistic missiles.

It's also a well-known fact that Iran has been an active participant in Syria's WMD activities. In July 2007 "dozens" of Iranian engineers were killed (along with 15 Syrian military personnel) in an explosion at a research complex in the Aleppo region. According to Jane's Defence Weekly, the incident occurred when rocket fuel caught fire and Iranian and Syrian technicians attempted to load mustard gas onto a SCUD C missile. The blast also released a cloud of mustard, Sarin and VX nerve gas across the compound.

The 2007 disaster was detected--and analyzed--by western intelligence, as were previous tests involving chemical weapons. Syria has a sophisticated denial-and-deception (D&D) program, but there have been only modest efforts to conceal this activity. Indeed, one could make the case that Mr. Assad wants to remind Israel (and other adversaries) that his regime has a large inventory of chemical weapons and is quite prepared to use them.

It is worth noting that yesterday's test did not involve live chemical agents. That may have been a calculated move to avoid so-called "red lines" that would invite outside military intervention.

Another possibility is that the Syrians were testing some type of new binary shell design, perhaps of Iranian origin. Before filling shells with live agent, it's necessary to make sure they function as designed. If the tests were successful, series production of the "new" rounds could begin in as little as a few weeks.

Tehran has long used Syria as a proxy for the development and testing of chemical weapons, largely avoiding the risk (and international condemnation) that comes with conducting such activity on your own soil. Beefing up the Syrian arsenal also provides another benefit for Iran, forcing Israel to contend with a growing WMD threat, literally on its doorstep.

However, the systems tested at Safira are also useful for domestic applications, such as suppressing rebel forces. That's why the recent drill should be viewed as something of a dry run, both literally and figuratively. As the Assad regime continues to crumble, it is facing the choice of using WMD to retain power. And that decision may come sooner rather than later, based on the timing of the recent test.

When Syria recently confirmed its WMD weaponry (perhaps the worst-kept secret in the Middle East), the Assad government vowed they would only be used against "outside" forces. But that's a hollow vow. Collectively, Bashir Assad and his late father slaughtered tens of thousands of Syrians to maintain their hold on power. The younger Assad has no qualms about using chemical weapons against the rebels in Aleppo or other locations.

The recent test was also aimed at gauging outside reaction, particularly from Israel and the United States. Judging from Israeli media coverage, it's clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his advisers are paying very close attention. As for the U.S., it's difficult to say. so far, there's been no public reaction from the White House or the Pentagon, and with President Obama MIA from recent intelligence briefings, there are concerns about how much attention the activity is receiving at the highest levels of our government.

One thing is certain: Mr. Assad is tip-toeing along the edge of Mr. Obama's WMD red line, and appears poised to cross it in the near future. At that point, we'll learn if the red line is real, or just imaginary.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Who Knew?

What a bitter--and ironic--twist. During the same week that The New York Times lambasted former President George W. Bush for "ignoring" the intelligence warning signs of 9-11, we learned that the current administration missed their cues, too.

Or put another way, now we know why the White House (and the State Department) were so anxious to blame escalating violence in the Middle East on that internet "film" that is offensive to Muslims.

Turns out the Obama team missed (or ignored) intelligence indicators of pending attacks across the Middle East:

Not surprisingly, it was a British newspaper, The Independent, which broke the story.

According to senior diplomatic sources, the US State Department had credible information 48 hours before mobs charged the consulate in Benghazi, and the embassy in Cairo, that American missions may be targeted, but no warnings were given for diplomats to go on high alert and "lockdown", under which movement is severely restricted.


Eight Americans, some from the military, were wounded in the attack which claimed the lives of [Ambassador Chris] Stevens, Sean Smith, an information officer, and two US Marines. All staff from Benghazi have now been moved to the capital, Tripoli, and those whose work is deemed to be non-essential may be flown out of Libya.

Since the account first appeared on The Independent's website last night, there has been a fair amount of speculation about its sourcing. Some have suggested that the information was leaked by members of the U.S. diplomatic corps, upset that senior officials ignored warnings that might have saved the lives of their colleagues. The American diplomats took the information to the British press, knowing U.S. reporters would never print (or broadcast) anything that would reflect badly on the Obama Administration.

But we'll take a different tack. The article wasn't datelined Washington, suggesting it was prepared by the Independent's domestic staff. And, we're guessing their sources were in the British diplomatic community, rather than the U.S. foreign service. If that supposition is accurate, it's even more damning for President Obama and Hillary Clinton, suggesting that warnings of possible attacks were known by several foreign intelligence services, which probably shared their information with the U.S.--and it was apparently ignored.

To be fair, no one knows what was in those reports, beyond vague warnings of a possible attack. But the Brits have long had better HUMINT in the Middle East, given their colonial and military history. And there's something else that tells us London was not only a source for U.K. press account, it was likely a source of the original intelligence.

Consider this: with the exception of Friday's attack against its embassy in Sudan, Britain has been largely immune from the current wave of anti-U.S. and anti-western violence. Do the Islamists simply like the Brits better than Americans? Hardly. Within hours the the Khartoum incident, Taliban fighters attacked a base in Afghanistan where Prince Harry is serving alongside U.S. Marines. Maybe the British have simply done a better job of reading the intel tea leaves and improving security at their diplomatic compoumds.

There's also the matter of exactly how the warnings were shared. The U.S. and Great Britain exchange plenty of raw intelligence data, but the report seems to suggest that attack predictions circulating before the Libyan massacre were in the form of finished intelligence. That raises other questions regarding the classification of the information, which government officials had access to it, when it was received, and why it was--or wasn't conveyed--to our staff in Benghazi.
In the wake of this week's tragedy, there have been bi-partisan calls for a Congressional investigation into what we knew before Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues were slaughtered in Benghazi. The American people have a right to know why Mr. Stevens and his associates were left so vulnerable when there were warnings of potential danger. We may learn the same thing we discovered about the intelligence before 9-11: it was so vague, there was little that could be done.

But Congress--and the public--have a right to make that judgment for themselves. So far, the State Department has refused to brief the House Intelligence Committee on what "it knew" before the slaughter at the U.S. consulate in Libya. Rather than getting at the truth, it looks like some in the administration would prefer to stonewall, for reasons that could be politically devastating.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The "Logistics" of Intelligence

***UPDATE/17 Sep 2012***

Mitt Romney finally received his first national intelligence briefing on Monday. A campaign spokesman said the GOP presidential nominee met with "members of the intelligence community" at a federal building in the Los Angeles area. The briefing lasted for more than two hours (emphasis ours). Romney's update came more than three weeks after the Republican convention in Tampa, raising questions about the apparent delay. During recent campaigns, presidential challengers have typically received their first intel briefings within days of the nominating convention.

While initial intel updates for presidential candidates are often long, the Los Angeles meeting suggests that Mr. Romney had lots of questions for his briefers. That's reassuring, when you consider the current commander-in-chief has skipped more than half of his intel updates, and didn't receive a single intelligence briefing in the week leading up to the current unrest in the Middle East. A (potential) President who is actually attends his intel briefs? That would be a refreshing change.

Gee, I never knew the "logistics" of intelligence briefings were so difficult.

Amid the kerfuffle over Mitt Romney's comments about anti-American violence in the Middle East (and the murder of our ambassador to Libya), we also learned this rather interesting fact:

Almost three weeks after accepting his party's nomination for President, Mr. Romney was yet to receive an intelligence briefing.

Given the gravity of issues facing a prospective commander-in-chief, it has become customary for each party's nominee to receive regular intelligence updates during the run-up to the fall election. In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama received his first briefing just five days after accepting the Democratic nomination.

So why hasn't Mitt Romney received the same courtesy? According to a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence, it's a matter of "logistics."

As the nominee, Romney should receive classified briefings on U.S. intelligence, but administration officials said that hasn't been arranged yet.

"The intelligence community is working closely with the Romney campaign to finalize the logistics for the candidate briefings," said Shawn Turner, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Incidentally, that information was buried deep in an Associated Press article that followed the media "theme of the day," suggesting that Mr. Romney somehow misspoke on the Middle East, spoke too soon, or violated the old dictum that "politics ends at the water's edge."

I'll leave that debate to others, but it is rather curious that John Kerry repeatedly criticized George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq War during the 2004 campaign, and even Barack Obama used the deaths of nine American soldiers to criticize President Bush and the 2008 GOP nominee, John McCain.

Equally curious is the "logistics" argument that has supposedly prevented Mr. Romney from receiving intelligence updates. While details of these briefings have not been disclosed, they are believed similar to the Presidential Daily Brief (PDB), which is provided to the commander-in-chief.

As a former command intelligence briefer, I'm wondering why it has become so difficult to get information to Mr. Obama's Republican rival. In reality, the "logistics," cited by Turner are rather simple. As noted in previous posts, the intelligence community has invested heavily in secure communications networks for the dissemination of Secret and Top Secret information. Data classified up to the Secret level can be posed on SIPRNET (Secret Internet Protocol Router Network), while TS/SCI material is hosted on the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS).

Terminals for the JWICS (read: desktop or laptop PCs with the right comm connections and security systems) are located at all intelligence nodes and most military installations. Regardless of where Mr. Romney is campaigning, he's never more than a couple of hours from a sensitive compartmentalized intelligence facility (SCIF), where intelligence briefers can access the latest information and provide it to the Republican candidate.

Shouldn't be that difficult. Today, for example, Governor Romney is campaigning in Fairfax, Virginia, barely 16 miles from ODNI headquarters in nearby McLean. Yeah, traffic on the Beltway or I-66 can be a bear, but it wouldn't be that difficult to dispatch a briefer to Mr. Romney's hotel and allow him to review a hard-copy or computer version of the daily summary.

The same drill applies at more remote locations. On Friday, Mr. Romney will be on the road in Painesville, Ohio, near Cleveland. One of the largest intelligence organizations in the Air Force, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), is located at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, 235 miles away. A DNI briefer could easily access intel information at that node and ferry it to Mr. Romney at Painesville. Intelligence material is also available through JWICS terminals belonging to the Ohio National Guard and Air National Guard, along with federal law enforcement agencies. And thanks to the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS), the security clearance and identity of anyone with access to classified information can be instantly verified.

But let's say the intel update contains Special Access Program/Special Access Required (SAP/SAR) material, or ODNI doesn't want to coordinate working from someone else's facility. In those situations, the ODNI briefer still has the option of preparing the briefing in McLean, and flying to Mr. Romney's destination on a government jet. It's hardly a problem for the DNI to schedule such a flight and coordinate it with the Romney campaign, so the information reaches the candidate at the scheduled time.

Truth be told, the "logistics" of getting intel information to Governor Romney are pretty simple. It's really a matter of professional courtesy, one that was readily extended to candidate Obama in 2008, but one that has been denied to Mr. Romney this time around. It's a subject you'd think the mainstream media might be interested in, but they're too busy trying to stretch the Libya e theme into multiple news cycles.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

A Nation of Flukes

...Today's reading assignment from the great Mark Steyn, writing at National Review. A couple of excerpts:

According to Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke, invited to address the Democratic convention and the nation, America faces a start choice this November. "During this campaign, we've heard about two profoundly different futures that could await women in this country--and how one of those futures looks like an offensive, obsolete relic of our past," she cautioned. "That future could become real."


With respect to Sandra Fluke, I think there’s a third future looming. The paperback edition of my book comes out in a week or so, and you can pretty much get the gist of it from the title: After America. For me, the likely scenario isn’t that the Republicans will be terrorizing rape victims or that the Democrats will finally pass the necessary legislation to make contraception available for the contraceptively starved millions crying out for it, but that America will be sliding off the cliff — literally, as Joe Biden would literally say. And when America slides off the cliff it lands with a much bigger thud than Greece or Iceland. I’m not certain that the Republicans will be able to prevent that happening. But I know that the Democrats can’t. America owes more money than anybody has ever owed anyone in the history of the planet. But millions of Americans don’t see it, and millions of those who do see it don’t see it as a problem.

Sandra Fluke is one of them. She completed her education a few weeks ago — at the age of 31, or Grade 25. Before going to Georgetown, she warmed up with a little light B.S. in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Cornell. She then studied law at one of the most prestigious institutions in the nation, where tuition costs 50 grand a year. The average starting salary for a Georgetown Law graduate is $160,000 per annum — first job, first paycheck.

If you want another analogy, Sarah Palin summed it up nicely on Fox News last night. The choice for Americans, she said, is between "freedom and free stuff." Unfortunately, at least 100 million Americans have already decided on the latter, with no regard for the fiscal consequences. Sandra Fluke, that taxpayer-financed product of Cornell and Georgetown law, figures she can ride out the storm, as long as abortion remains legal and someone else pays for her contraception.

Sadly, she is not alone in her thinking. Will Rogers once observed, famously, that America would be the first nation to drive to the poor house in a "brand new car." On our current trajectory, with Barack Obama at the wheel--and 100 million along for the ride--we're rocketing past the poor house, and over the cliff.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Changing of the Guard (San Antonio Edition)

Fresh from his "triumph" at Lackland AFB, Colonel Eric Axelbank is headed for bigger and better things at the Pentagon.

For just over a year, Axelbank served as Commander of Lackland's 37th Training Wing, the unit that provides basic military training to all new Air Force enlisted recruits. Axelbank's tenure coincided with the eruption of the worst sex scandal in the history of the unit, and perhaps the service as a whole. At least 17 military training instructors (MTIs) have been accused of sexual misconduct with recruits in their charge. Two have already been court-martialed and more will face justice in the coming months.

While factors that led to the scandal preceded Colonel Axelbank, he was charged with the initial response and by most indications, botched it. As the number of accused MTIs continued to grow, his response was slow. The first officer in the basic training chain-of-command wasn't relieved until this summer. Nine of the accused MTIs worked for Lt Col Michael Paquette, the former commander of the 331st Training Squadron at Lackland. Amazingly, Paquette's reassignment was described as "administrative" in nature, rather than punitive.

A few weeks later, Paquette's immediate supervisor, was relieved as Commander of the 737th Training Group, which supervised the 331st. About the same time, the Air Force announced that Axelbank would relinquish command of the 37th Wing to Colonel Mark Camerer, former head of the 436th Airlift Wing at Dover AFB, Delaware. The handover took place yesterday, in a ceremony that was (uncharacteristically) closed to the media. A spokesman for the USAF's Air Education and Training Command said he "didn't know" why the media was excluded. And presumably, he said it with a straight face.

Obviously, the command media flack knows darn well why the ceremony was off-limits to the press. They didn't want reporters button-holing Alexbank (or other senior officers) about the ever-widening sex scandal and the service's slow response. Axelbank cancelled a press interview scheduled for 15 August, after reviewing questions that reporters planned to ask.

As a reformed journalist, I can't imagine anyone submitting questions to an interview subject in advance. Maybe the media operates a little differently in San Antonio, or perhaps Colonel Axelbank backed out after a prep session with his public affairs staff, realizing that "real" reporters would ask much tougher questions. Whatever the case, it was clear the Air Force wanted Axelbank out of San Antonio without facing the media, and they apparently achieved that goal.

But perhaps the Pentagon press corps will follow up with a few basic questions: first, why was Axelbank allowed the PCS to Washington and not move to an administrative billet in San Antonio, as Paquette and Palmer did? Is Axelbank facing any disciplinary action for his failures as a commander? And just for kicks and grins, they might ask if the Colonel's former boss, Major General Leonard Patrick, was serious when he described Axelbank as a "great wingman."

They might also ask about the results of a study, conducted by a female two-star, into problems at Lackland that caused the scandal. The inquiry, led by Major General Margaret Woodward, has been completed but details have not been released. Many believe the study will highlight a long pattern of misconduct by MTIs with female airmen in basic training or technical school. A recent article by the San Antonio Express-News revealed that two dozen training instructors faced charges over the past decade for illicit conduct with trainees.

Colonel Axelbank didn't create the problems at Lackland, but his tepid response allowed the scandal to fester. And for that effort, the "great wingman" is being sent to the Pentagon? Apparently, the Air Force is trying to hide him in the bureaucracy, or he's someone's fair-haired boy, and they want him out of San Antonio before his career is completely destroyed. As we've noted in the past, the USAF has managed some rather amazing resurrections, rehabilitating officers who presided over other scandals. Given the mess at Lackland, we'd say that Axelbank's career is over, but you never know. And that's part of the larger problem that still faces the Air Force.

Monday, September 03, 2012


An Israeli Air Force F-16I. Recent policy decisions by the Obama Administration may actually hasten, rather than deter, an Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities (photo via

The Obama Administration has (reportedly) come up with a plan that will supposedly deter an Israeli strike against Iran, while at the same time, prevent Tehran from attacking U.S. interests in the region.

Someone alert the Nobel Peace Prize committee. Mr. Obama wants another one.

Here's how the plan would supposedly work, according to The New York Times. The U.S. is considering new "curbs" against the Iranian regime (and its nuclear program), hoping to forestall an Israeli attack. The administration hopes the same measures will persuade to resume nuclear talks with the west that have been all-but-stalled for many months. From today's report in the Times:

Already planned are naval exercises and new antimissile systems in the Persian Gulf, and a more forceful clamping down on Iranian oil revenue. The administration is also considering new declarations byPresident Obama about what might bring about American military action, as well as covert activities that have been previously considered and rejected.

As part of a planned show of strength, the U.S. is planning a major mine sweeping exercise in the Persian Gulf later this month. Ships, aircraft and personnel from 25 nations will participate in the drill, rehearsing skills that would be used to re-open the Strait of Hormuz in the event of a conflict between Iran and its enemies. Tehran has repeatedly vowed to block the strategic waterway in the event of an Israeli strike, or in retaliation for western military action.

The Times also reports the administration is considering a public declaration of so-called red lines that would prompt a U.S. response (if Iran crosses them), and the employment of covert measures that have been previously ruled out. Collectively, the U.S. proposals are designed to buy time, illustrating that Washington is serious about dealing with Tehran and its nuclear program, and dissuading Israel from launching a near-term strike. Concurrently, the tightened sanctions are supposed to put the screws to the Iranian regime and force them back to the bargaining table.

But Israel is hardly reassured. An article posted at the Israeli site puts a completely different spin on the matter. Diplomatic sources tell Israeli journalists that the U.S. is scrambling to distance itself from the Israel and appears to be giving Iran the green light to launch a counter-strike, if Israel attacks first:

The United States has indirectly informed Iran, via two European nations, that it would not back an Israeli strike against the country's nuclear facilities, as long as Tehran refrains from attacking American interests in the Persian Gulf, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Monday.

According to the report, Washington used covert back-channels in Europe to clarify that the US does not intend to back Israel in a strike that may spark a regional conflict.

To anyone outside of Foggy Bottom, this "proposal" is the height of fecklessness--a veritable fool's errand that will almost guarantee the opposite results.

Consider the position of Israel. Based on this "offer," the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will (rightly) conclude it has been sold down the river again, leaving it with no option but striking Iran before that nation's nuclear program reaches the point of no return. The U.S. plan comes on the heels of an announced down-sizing in a planned exercise between American and Israeli forces, scheduled for early this fall. Based on these developments, Israel views itself as "alone" in facing the Iranian menace, adding more urgency to reported attack preparations.

From the Iranian perspective, the proposal is an open invitation for Tehran (and its surrogates) to hit back in retaliation for an Israeli strike, using all the resources at their disposal. In return, the U.S. only asks the Iran, Syria, Hizballah and Hamas simply refrain from hitting our interests in the region.

Yet once again, the administration is deluding itself. The Israeli Air Force will use U.S.-built aircraft and weaponry to carry out any raid against Iran's nuclear facilities. American intelligence has provided some of the data used to formulate Israeli attack options. When IAF F-15s and F-16s head east, there will be claims of U.S. complicity in the attack, even if we distance ourselves from the Israelis, as evidenced by President Obama's new policy options. Against that backdrop, it will be almost impossible for Iran to resist the temptation to strike out at us. calculating its has little to fear from an Obama Administration and a response that will likely be quite measured.

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was quite right today when he described Israel as alone, with no other option than military force for dealing with Iran. From Big Peace:

There is no way at this state to prevent iran from going nuclear without the use of fore. It is very unfortunate in my opinion, but I see no possibility that Obama will use military force, and therefore it falls upon Israel. I think that even though the Administration says that containment is not its policy, it will become its policy the day after Iran possesses nuclear weapons."

Mr. Obama's latest geopolitical machinations remind us of another politician who worked to avoid conflict at all costs, yet only hastened its onset. We speak, of course, of British Prime Neville Chamberlain, architect of the infamous appeasement scheme that was supposed to contain the ambitions of Adolf Hitler. Of Chamberlain and his policies, Winston Churchill aptly observed:

"You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war."

And so shall we, sooner rather than later.