Saturday, December 30, 2006

A Moving Tribute

Watching tonight's ceremony marking the arrival of Gerald Ford's casket at the Capitol, I was struck by the eloquence of Vice President Cheney's remarks. Not surprisingly, this AP dispatch doesn't capture the elegance--and unfailing accuracy--of Mr. Cheney's remarks. Noting his decision to pardon Richard Nixon in 1974, Cheney observed that it probably cost him the election two years later, but it saved us from "wounds uninflicted" that would have further divided the nation.

As the Vice President reminded us, there were plenty of partisans out for blood in 1974, including a certain Congressional aide who proposed that Richard Nixon not be allowed counsel in a Senate trial. Her name was Hillary Rodham.

For quieting the furies that engulfed Washington--and the nation--in that bitter era, Mr. Ford deserves our eternal thanks.

Friday, December 29, 2006

This Isn't News

It happens all the time in Texas--and the rest of tornado alley.

Bush Sheltered During Tornado Alert.

Which headline do you suppose we'll see first:

"Bush Refuses to Ride Out Tornado at Home" (or)

"Why Didn't President Seek Shelter Earlier?"

Tastefully Covering Saddam's Execution

Iraqi officials are now suggesting that Saddam Hussein's execution may be delayed for up to a month, contradicting earlier reports that the death sentence would be carried out soon, possibly as early as this weekend. Obviously, any delay in Saddam's appointment with the executioner is bad news, another indication that senior Iraqi officials are unable--or unwilling--to make the tough calls required to move their country forward.

But, whenever the former dictator finally faces the hangman's noose, you'll be pleased to hear that U.S. news organizations are planning "tasteful" coverage of his execution.

That's right.


According to Reuters, the major broadcast networks are already discussing how to handle Saddam's date with death. Iraqi officials reportedly plan to tape his execution, raising the question of how to handle those images, if they're offered to western media outlets. Earlier this week, the Iraqi government released video of the mass hanging of 13 convicts, an event some described as "gruesome." In regards to airing Saddam's execution, "taste" has become the operative word on broadcast row:

ABC and CBS said they wouldn't air the full execution if the video became available.

"We're very aware that we're coming into people's living rooms and that there could be children watching," CBS News senior vp Linda Mason said.

"We have very, very strict guidelines with how to deal with that," said Bob Murphy, senior vp at ABC News. "If there were pictures made available of the execution, they would have to be viewed by senior management before we would put them on the air, and we would make a judgment of taste and propriety of what we would show."

CNN and Fox News Channel still were discussing what they would do if the footage were made available. It also wasn't clear what the newly launched network Al-Jazeera International would do. An e-mail and phone call to the channel's Qatar headquarters weren't returned Thursday. Despite popular assumptions to the contrary, Al-Jazeera's pan-Arab channel has never shown an execution.

A slight correction, if I may. Al-Jazeera has never aired the execution of a deposed Arab leader, convicted of murdering his own people. But the Qatar-based channel has shown lots of terrorist video of IED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan, depicting the murder and maiming of U.S. soldiers. Ditto for the U.S. networks. Go to their websites and run a search for "video of IED attacks" and you'll get dozens of hits, with links to their stories on that subject. Many of those reports contain footage of IED explosions, or their aftermath.

In other words, it's perfectly acceptable to show a blast that shreds a HUMVEE and kills American soldiers inside, but it's somehow distasteful to air video of Saddam swinging from the end of a rope.

Give me a break.

I wonder if Linda Mason, CBS's arbiter of broadcast news "taste," is concerned about the impact of those HUMVEE explosion on "children who might be watching," particularly those with a mother, father or other relative fighting in Iraq? The answer to that question is apparently "no," because CBS (and its competitors) have made IED blasts a staple of their coverage from Iraq, even if the victims are often Americans, and their pain and suffering is palpable to the U.S. audience. Such hypocrisy from the networks is galling--yet utterly predictable.

As for your humble correspondent, I've never been a fan of televising executions, but for Saddam, I'll make an exception. Getting rid of the Iraqi dictator has required a tremendous investment in U.S. blood and treasure; I believe the troops (and the taxpayers) deserve some kind of payoff, a broadcast affirmation that one key element of the Iraq mission has finally been completed.

The heck with ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and anyone else unwilling to show Saddam's date with death. Stream it live on the web, with the following, scrolled message to those "other thugs" who might be watching in Tehran, Pyongyang, Damascus and Beirut. Provoke the U.S. at your own risk. We've got plenty of rope for more "days of reckoning" in the future.

Faulty Analysis

South Korea's Defense Ministry has released its biennial report on North Korean military power. In many respects, it's a disturbing document, a reminder of how much the hermit kingdom spends on its military forces (at the expense of its citizens), and Pyongyang's ability to wreak havoc and destruction on its neighbors, using weapons of mass destruction.

USA Today has a summary of the ROK report in today's editions. As a long-time Korea-watcher, I didn't find anything particularly new or revelatory in the assessment. However, the paper's "sidebar" analysis does contain a predictable effort to spin the study's findings, with an invalid comparison of the U.S. and North Korean nuclear arsenals, and suggestions that Bush Administration policies have actually worsened the crisis.

First, the comparison:

HOW MANY BOMBS: Estimates of the amount of radioactive material the North possesses vary widely, enough for possibly between four and 13 weapons, and are unverifiable.

The count compares with a U.S. arsenal of more than 5,000 strategic warheads, more than 1,000 operational tactical weapons -- meant for the battlefield and less powerful than the strategic arms -- and approximately 3,000 reserve strategic and tactical warheads.

In other words, why should we be so concerned about North Korea's miniscule arsenal, since the U.S. has enough nukes to flatten the DPRK many times over. But such arguments are specious--and ignore the larger point. The last time I checked, 70% of U.S. military wasn't sitting on the border, prepared to invade our closest neighbors. We don't fire ballistic missiles over Mexico, Canada, Russia, or anyone else to make political points, and the United States hasn't conducted nuclear tests to gain attention on the world stage. As for Pyongyang, guilty on all counts.

Additionally, the United States is not part of a global proliferation network that is actively engaged in the transfer of ballistic missile and (possibly) nuclear weapons technology. Pyongyang, on the other hand, is already the world's largest exporter of ballistic missiles, and there is great concern that the bankrupt DPRK will share its nuclear expertise as well. There is justifiable fear that a North Korean nuke design (or a finished weapon) will wind up in the hands or Iran, Syria, or terrorist organizations--regardless of how large or small the U.S. nuclear arsenal might be.

And, if that weren't enough, USA Today also offers this interesting "history" of North Korea's nuclear program:

HISTORY: North Korea is believed to have been accumulating plutonium for a bomb since the mid-1980s. It froze the program in 1994 as part of an agreement with the United States. Since the breakdown of that agreement in late 2002, North Korea is believed to have ramped up production.

Some experts estimate that at least 80% of the country's stockpile of 44 to 116 pounds of refined plutonium was processed since the end of the freeze in 2002.

Rubbish. The 1994 "freeze" (part of the disastrous, Jimmy Carter-negotiated "Agreed To" framework) was a fraud. After reaching that agreement with the United States and South Korea, Pyongyang never halted its nuclear efforts, they were simply shifted to covert facilities. Even the USA Today timeline suggests that some plutonium processing occurred between 1994 and 2002, contradicting claims of a "freeze." In reality, the North used that eight-year period to continue important work on weapons design and production, setting the stage for a "re-emergence" of its nuclear program in 2002, and last year's abortive test. This "history lesson" is nothing more than another attempt to paper over the failure of the 1994 agreement, and to suggest that the current, Six-Party Talks have made matters worse. Such assertions are no only laughable, they are dangerous.


Readers will note that the paper's analysis was provided by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a supposedly non-partisan think tank. But the institute's executive director, David Albright, is a former senior staff scientist at the decidedly liberal Federation of American Scientists (FAS), and most of his work has appeared in left-leaning publications, including the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Arms Control Today, and of course, The New York Times. And, if that weren't enough, one of Albright's senior analysts, Jacqueline Shire, was part of the Clinton Administration team that negotiated with North Korea in the early 1990s. On the issues of the Agreed To Framework and its "contributions" to regional stability, it's pretty clear where the ISIS stands. So much for objectivity.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Blue Water PLAN?

Chinese President Hu Jintao has called for his nation to build a powerful navy that is "prepared at any time" for military struggle, according to PRC media reports cited by Reuters.

Speaking to a group of delegates at a Communist Party meeting on the navy, Hu described China as a major maritime country whose naval forces must be improved:

"We should strive to build a powerful navy that adapts to the needs of our military's historical mission in this new century and at this new stage... We should make sound preparations for military struggles and ensure that the forces can effectively carry out missions at any time," said Hu, pictured in green military garb for the occasion.

Underscoring the importance of Hu's remarks, his comments were carried on the front pages of both the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the PRC Communist Party, and the People's Liberation Army Daily, the media organ for the Chinese military.

What's unclear (at this point) is whether Hu's remarks will reflect an actual shift in China's naval doctrine and forces. Despite recent modernization efforts, the People's Liberation Army Navy (the official name for Beijing's naval forces) is unable to provide much more than a symbolic presence on maritime approaches to the PRC.

Fielding a blue-water navy, capable of sustained operations at great distances from China's shores, will take time, and a considerable investment of resources. As the Defense Department noted in its 2006 edition of Military Power of the People's Republic of China, the shift to blue-water operations (and a "sea control" strategy) would require, among other things:

  • Acquisition of large numbers of nuclear attack submarines
  • Development of a true, area anti-air warfare capability
  • Increased open water training
  • Creation of an effective maritime C4ISR system
  • Development of robust, deep-water anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities
  • Deployment of an aircraft carrier

While Beijing has made progress in most of these areas, it still lacks sufficient naval power to challenge U.S. carrier groups operating east of Taiwan, and that appears to be the sort of capability Mr. Hu is alluding to. China's current maritime strategy is currently based on the concept of area denial, aimed at preventing enemy naval forces from deploying to the Taiwan Strait, where they could disrupt an invasion of Taiwan, reinforce the island's defenses, and conduct sustained operations against the mainland.

One of the more interesting aspects of China's evolving naval strategy is the carrier option. Projecting (and sustaining) maritime power in distant waters dictates development of an aircraft carrier and embarked air wing, and Beijing has been working on that issue for more than 20 years. Most of the recent effort has focused on a partially-completed Russian carrier (the Varyag), purchased by the PLAN in 1998. Recent work on the vessel--and China's interest in naval versions of Russian-built FLANKER fighters--suggest that the Varyag could be used for purposes ranging from a technology testbed, training vessel, or even as an operational carrier. However, most analysts don't believe that Beijing will have an operational aircraft carrier until 2020; Hu's remarks could be an indicator that the carrier project will take on new emphasis (and urgency) in the coming years.

Without a carrier (and the rest of a blue-water fleet), China will continue to rely on its expanding sub fleet, growing numbers of modern surface combatants, shore-based aircraft and even ballistic missiles to defend its home waters against our naval forces. But Mr. Hu and his military advisors clearly recognize the flaws in their current strategy. Taking on the U.S. Navy will require capabilities that Beijing currently lacks. Filling those gaps will apparently be a major priority for China's defense establishment over the next decade.


Addendum: As the Chinese have probably discovered, building a naval air arm is no easy feat. Beyond the construction of a carrier, there's the task of actually training pilots to operate from a heaving deck, in all types of weather. The Russians monitored U.S. carrier operations for years before launching their early, Moskava and Kiev-class "aviation" cruisers in the 1970s. As their name implied, those ships were half cruiser, half carrier, with a small complement of Yak FORGER VSTOL aircraft (on the Kiev-class ships) and ASW helicopters onboard. Yet despite years of study and development, the Russians still learned a few lessons the hard way, thanks to part to their choice of naval aircraft.

The FORGER is best-described as a poor man's copy of the Harrier, with limited avionics and weaponry, and grossly underpowered. On a few occasions, our "shadow" aircraft or surface vessels watched a FORGER pilot descend too slowly. Lacking the power to ascend and try again, the Russian pilot could only watch in horror as the ship sailed out from under his jet, and the aircraft dropped into the water.

Fortunately for Beijing, the Russians learned from their mistakes. The FLANKER variants they may offer for a Chinese aircraft carrier are modern, naval strike fighters, similar to the U.S. F/A-18. But proficiency in carrier ops will take patience and lots of practice. There will certainly be accidents along the way, but the Chinese are willing to pay that price to attain needed military capabilities.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Summer of '76

The shorthand version of history will remember Gerald Ford as the "accidental president" (no pun intended), the only man elevated to the nation's highest office without being elected. Such assessments are not only incomplete, they are also unfair. In reality, Mr. Ford was a thoroughly decent and honorable man who served this country well for much of his life, as a World War II naval officer; a member of Congress; House Minority leader, Vice-President (following Spiro Agnew's resignation), and ultimately as Commander-in-Chief, after Richard Nixon was forced to step down for his Watergate crimes.

Today's lead editorial in The Wall Street Journal provides a nicely balanced summation of the Ford presidency, noting that while history dealt him a weak hand, Mr. Ford played it very well. In the aftermath of Watergate and Vietnam, President Ford provided a steady, healing touch in the Oval Office, at a time such qualities were in short supply. The editorial also raises many of the great "what ifs" associated with Ford's brief tenure in office. What if he had not pardoned Richard Nixon, a decision that caused his poll numbers to plummet, putting him at a disadvantage in the 1976 presidential campaign? What if he had selected someone other than Nelson Rockefeller to serve as Vice-President, a move that infuriated the GOP base, and opened the door for Ronald Reagan's primary challenge? What if he hadn't committed that famous gaffe on Russian domination of Eastern Europe in the presidential debate with Jimmy Carter?

What if, indeed. Such questions provide interesting fodder for presidential scholars and political junkies, but they ignore history's ultimate verdict on Mr. Ford and his time in the White House. While Gerald Ford served admirably during one of the nation's most difficult periods, he will best be remembered as a transitional figure, perhaps the last Republican president elected from the Eisenhower Wing of the party, representing the GOP's eastern establishment and its traditional base in the upper Midwest.

Despite his admirable personal traits, Mr. Ford embodied what was wrong with the Republican Party in the mid-1970s. Forget about Watergate and the post-Vietnam malaise; by the time Gerald Ford entered the White House, the GOP had been a minority in both houses of Congress for two decades. As the party's leader in the House of Representatives during the 1960s, Mr. Ford became a symbol of the prevailing, "me too" brand of Republicanism, going along with most of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs, but at slightly reduced spending levels. It was a formula for a permanent Republican minority, a mindset that still prevailed in some Republican circles after Mr. Ford left the Oval Office. In 1978, a House Republican leader told a newly-elected Newt Gingrich to mind his p's and q's, because the GOP would "always" be a minority in Congress.

Using that frame of reference, the defining moment of the Ford presidency came not with the Nixon pardon, but two years later, when Ronald Reagan challenged the sitting president for the Republican nomination. It was an audacious enterprise, superbly recounted in Craig Shirley's 2005 book, Reagan's Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All. As Mr. Shirley recalls, Reagan's decision to seek the nomination created severe turmoil within the party; while many rank-and-file Republicans were electrified by the governor's passion for smaller government, lower taxes and the defeat of communism, those messages didn't resonate with the GOP establishment. Donald Rumsfeld, Ford's chief of staff in 1976, described the Reaganites as a "bunch of right-wing nuts." Status-quo Republicans greeted Reagan's candidacy with the enthusiasm typically reserved for a root canal.

Despite Ford's advantages in fund-raising and media access, Reagan waged a spirited campaign against the incumbent, losing the nomination in Kansas City by only a handful of votes. It was the only campaign Mr. Reagan would ever lose, but in that defeat, he saved the Republican Party. The future of the GOP was on display at Kemper Arena that summer, and it did not reside with the country club Republicans of the northeast, nor the Midwestern moderates embodied by Gerald Ford of Michigan.

While Mr. Ford waged a skillful, uphill battle against Jimmy Carter in the fall campaign, it became increasingly evident that his time--and his brand of Republicanism--had already passed. The Reagan Revolution would reach full flower four years later, sweeping Carter from office in an electoral landslide, and delivering what Mr. Reagan promised on the stump in 1976: lower taxes (and the greatest economic boom since the late 1940s); smaller government (or, more correctly, curbs on the growth of government) and the collapse of communism. Reagan's popularity also helped his party recapture control of the Senate in 1980, and paved the way for Republican majorities in both houses in the 1990s--something unimaginable during the era of the "go along/get along" GOP.

Here's a better "what if:" Imagine Mr. Ford had won the election in 1976. America--and the world--would have been vastly different. Detente with the Soviets would have remained a cornerstone of foreign policy, postponing the demise of communism, and even emboldening Russian adventureism. The U.S. economy of the late 1970s would have been just as bad under Mr. Ford was it was under Carter (remember those silly WIN buttons?); moreover, it's unlikely that Ford would have prescribed the sweeping tax cuts of the Reagan era that finally unleashed the American economic machine, ushering in two decades of economic growth. Even worse, the Democrats would have maintained their stranglehold on Congress, continuing the marginalization of the GOP, and (perhaps) leading to its eventual demise.

Upon his passing, President Ford should be honored for his decades of public service, and his successful efforts to restore trust to the presidency after Watergate. But we should also be grateful that others had a better vision for the party of Lincoln, and the eventual triumph of that vision over Mr. Ford's ideals. The final legacy of our 38th president may be that of a man who delayed the revolution in that Summer of '76, but thankfully, couldn't stop it.

Stuck in Irak

Kudos to Scott Johnson of Powerline, for posting this "Jon Carry" update from Iraq, courtesy of WDAY (Fargo, North Dakota) talk show host Scott Hennen. As you may have heard, the Massachusetts Senator recently paid a visit to our troops in the Middle East, less than two months after his famous "stuck in Iraq comments." The response he received was less-than-enthusiastic. A friend of Hennen's, currently serving in Iraq, sent this report to the the talk show host:

"This is a true story..... Sen. Kerry found himself all alone while he was over here. He cancelled his press conference because no one came, he worked out alonein the gym w/o any soldiers even going up to say hi or ask for anautograph (I was one of those who was in the gym at the same time), and he found himself eating breakfast with only a couple of folks who areobviously not troops. What is amazing is Bill O'Reilly came to visit with us and the troops at the CSH the same day and the line for autographs extended through the palace and people waited for two hours to shake his hand. You decide who is more respected and loved by us servicemen and women!"

Again I say..."GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS!!"

A photograph of Senator Kerry, virtually alone in the dining hall, can be found at both Powerline and Scott Hennen's website. Absolutely priceless.

Monday, December 25, 2006

It's About Time

According to today's edition of The New York Times, U.S. military forces in Baghdad have captured at least four Iranians who have aided in attacks against Iraqi security forces. Sources tell the Times that two of the men are high-ranking military officials. The Iranians were captured in a series of raids last week, aimed at insurgents who have conducted recent attacks against Iraqi security personnel.

The fact that Iran has been aiding insurgents in Iraq is hardly a secret. Recently, U.S. military spokesmen reported that Iranian-made weapons had been seized in raids around Baghdad, providing hard evidence of Tehran's complicity in the insurgency. But last week's raids mark the first time that Iranian personnel have been captured by coalition forces, and their detention has been leaked to the press.

The names of the Iranian detainees have not been released, and details on the raids remain sketchy. Iraqi officials told the Times that two of the captured Iranians were in Iraq at the invitation of the county's president. One of the raids took place at the compound of a senior Shiite politician, who met with President Bush in Washington three weeks ago. Elements of the Iraqi government are reportedly trying to secure the Iranians' release, as is Tehran's ambassador in Baghdad.

We certainly hope that the Bush Administration and our military commanders in Iraq will not cave to pressure and free the Iranians. Tehran's handiwork is evident on the streets of Baghdad every day, and there is little doubt that Iran is using a variety of organizations, including its Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Qods force and diplomatic personnel to funnel money, material and expertise to the insurgents.

The arrest of those Iranian officials will put a dent in the support network, at least for a while. More importantly, the detention will give the administration some needed leverage with Tehran in reducing assistance for the terrorists in Iraq, and give us better insights into how the support system functions. I'm guessing there are some nervous Iranians in Baghdad right about now, wondering if that next knock at the door is one of their Iraqi contacts, or a U.S. military raid. Rounding up Iranian facilitators and agitators in Iraq is something that is long, long overdue. Kudos to our intel personnel for developing the leads that identified the Iranian agents, and to our commanders for pulling the trigger, with less concern for the political ramifications.

If these raids are an early indication of a "new approach" in Iraq, we're all for it. Iran has been killing Americans in Iraq for years, and paying no price for its actions. More arrests, some videotape confessions and a public trial in the U.S. (if the Iranians can be linked to attacks that killed American soldiers) would be welcome developments in the New Year. It would be nice to see Tehran sweat a little bit over its continued adventurism in Iraq.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Yes, Virginia, There Really is a Santa Claus

His name is Larry Dean Stewart, and he lives in Kansas City.

Read Mr. Stewart's story and be inspired.

Thank You, Ambassador Bolton

U.N. Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran.

Without Bolton's tireless efforts, it's doubtful that the U.N. would have done anything, except pass another, meaningless resolution.

Mr. Bolton will be sorely missed.

Affirming Our Worst Suspicions

Kudos to Richard Miniter, who has obtained--and posted--the National Archives Inspector General's report on Sandy Berger's theft of classified documents from one of the agency's "reading rooms." The report can be reviewed in full at Pajamas Media, along with his always-insightful editorial comments.

Reading the IG report tends to affirm our worst suspicions about the Berger affair. In other words, the former Clinton national security advisor got a proverbial slap on the wrist for security lapses that would land most military personnel (and intelligence officials) in federal prison. Mr. Berger pleaded guilty in late 2005 to misdemeanor offenses related to illegally taking, retaining and destroying classified documents. His "punishment" consisted of a $50,000 fine (chump change to a man of Berger's means); loss of his security clearance for three years, and 100 hours of community service. And, as we've noted before, the Bush Justice Department didn't exactly cover itself in glory through its prosecution of Mr. Berger. Their recommended sentence was even lighter than the punishment actually imposed.

Reviewing the IG report, it seems clear that the charges and sentence didn't fit the crimes. On page 3 of the report, we learn that Berger was the only Clinton Administration official with the necessary clearances for reviewing highly classified "W" files relating to Osama bin Laden, Al Qaida, the terror organization's relationship to the Sudan, and related events. Mr. Berger had been designated to review the material, in preparation for his testimony before the 9-11 Commission.

The identification of "W" files in the Berger case is a major revelation, in our estimation. Previously, we theorized that the material pilfered by Berger was probably at the Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (TS/SCI) level, representing some of the most classified information in our intelligence archives. Designation of the stolen files at the "W" level suggests that they were classified at an even higher level, restricted to only the most senior government officials.

Within the realm of TS/SCI information, there are various sub-compartments and special access programs (SAR/SAP) that require additional clearances. Information disseminated in these channels is sometimes identified by a single letter. During my career, I had access to three alpha-designated programs, plus others identified by a particular codeword. I won't reveal those designations in this forum, but they are familiar to those who have held TS/SCI clearances. Security for this information is extremely tight; in some cases, anyone reading a particular document must sign a review sheet; in other cases, you can only access the data by entering a special vault within a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility). In my years as a spook, I never held a "W" clearance, suggesting (again) that the caveat covers extraordinarily sensitive information.

And remember, this is the same intelligence data that Sandy Berger removed from the National Archives, hid under a construction trailer, and later moved to his office. Berger also tried to destroy duplicate copies of particular documents, by tearning them into pieces. Then, when confronted by officials, he lied about his actions.

Equally puzzling is the IG's disposition of this matter. According to the report, archive employees did not believe that Berger removed the documents to disburse their contents, or commit espionage. This assertion seems to contradict one of the basic tenents of security investigations, i.e. material that is lost or illegally removed from designated storage facilities is considered compromised until proven otherwise. It also seems odd that the IG would simply rely on the opinion of archive employees to determine whether the material was compromised. And their "opinions" were based solely on observation of Berger's actions.

To this day, we have no idea who might have stumbled across those files during their time under that construction trailer. Ditto for the fragments placed in the trash container, and the 10-20 pages of notes that Berger removed during his first visit to the reading room. There's also the issue of those private cell phone calls that Berger made during his visits. Cell phones, PDAs, digitial cameras and other electronic devices are normally forbidden in SCIFs. Why was Berger allowed to bring his cell phone inside and make those calls--without supervision from archive staffers?

Sadly, the Berger affair is likely to be buried by the new Democratic Congress and the Bush White House, which apparently consider the matter closed. We'll see how long the stonewalling persists. The entire matter stinks to high heaven, and there needs to be a full, independent investigation of what Sandy Berger did inside the National Archives, and how it may have compromised the nation's security.

Tempering the Good News From Afghanistan

U.S. officials have confirmed the death of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, a top Taliban military commander who died in a coalition airstrike last Tuesday. News of Osmani's departure was apparently delayed several days, until his identity could be confirmed, and intelligence operatives had a chance to examine the site where he died.

Osmani was a big fish in terrorist circles, reportedly the highest-ranking Taliban official ever killed by coalition forces. A close associate of both Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Osmani played a leading role in planning terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, including the recent surge in suicide bombings. His death will create at least a temporary void among the Taliban's military leadership, and cause potential setbacks in the short-term planning and execution of future attacks. If there's an "up side" for the Taliban, it's that Osmani died during the winter months, when weather conditions produce a lull in the fighting. That will give Mullah Omar and his associates more time to pick and groom a successor before the Taliban's expected spring offensive.

At the time of his elimination, Osmani was reportedly traveling in a single vehicle with only two bodyguards, near the Afghan-Pakistan border. He was apparently unaware that the U.S. military had been tracking his movements for "a while," and did little to conceal his travels. Indeed, with the recent drawdown of Pakistan military operations on the southern side of the border, Osmani may have become complacent. A U.S. military spokesman indicated that the Taliban military commander had been observed on both sides of the border in recent months, and his activities allowed our forces to begin active tracking. The time and place of his elimination were apparently selected because Osmani was away from populated areas, eliminating the possibility of collateral damage--and the removal of bodies and other forensic evidence by terrorist sympathizers.

Tuesday's successful strike marks at least the third operation of its type over the past 15 months. In earlier efforts, U.S. Predator drones fired Hellfire missiles at compounds believed to house Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qadia's #2 leader. One of those operations narrowly missed Zawahiri because the terror mastermind decided--at the last moment--not to attend a dinner held at the targeted hourse.

The elimination of Osmani--and close calls with Zawahiri--suggest that our intelligence in Afghanistan is improving and may yield ever better results in the future. But such optimism should be tempered with a word of caution: we got Osmani (in part) because he got a little too comfortable. Such complacency is partly the result of the garrison strategy employed by some NATO forces in southern Afghanistan. By refusing to patrol actively and search out Taliban and Al Qaida elements, some of our allied partners are ceding portions of the countryside to the terrorists. That may provide an opening for additional strikes against high-value targets, but it also raises the possibility of greater problems in the spring, when the next Taliban offensive could result in a NATO base being overrun by the enemy.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Berger Case

It's been a couple of days since the National Archives Inspector General released his report on the theft of classified documents by former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. That assessment clearly casts Mr. Berger's activities in a different light, and raises new questions about why he got off with only a slap on the wrist.

When Berger's theft was originally disclosed, his former colleagues in the Clinton Administration dismissed it as a case of "slopiness." In fact, that seemed to be the official "talking points" description of the matter. When talk show host Sean Hannity returns from his holiday break, we hope he will again play his audio montage of Democratic big-wigs who used that same word to categorize Berger's actions.

But the IG report refutes that notion once and for all. As we now know, Berger deliberately removed classified documents from the National Archives, hid them under a construction trailer, removed them under the cover of darkness, destroyed copies some documents, tried to retrive classified materials from the trash, and when confronted by authorities, lied about his actions. For his efforts, Berger eventually pleaded guilty to the relatively minor charges of removing and illegally retaining classified documents; he was sentenced to 100 hours of community service, a $50,000 fine and loss of his security clearance for three years.

Extracts from the IG report were buried on page A31 of today's Washington Post, which has adopted the same, ho-hum approach in reporting this case as the rest of the MSM. True, Mr. Berger received his punishment a year ago, but it wasn't until the release of the inspector general document that we learned the degree of Berger's deceit. It also took the IG to inform us that the information removed by Berger was a highly classified assessment, distributed to only about 15 people in the U.S. government, all presumably high-ranking members of the Clinton national security team. I haven't seen the report (obviously), but the restricted readership suggests it was a limited distribution (LIMDIS) or even a Special Access Required/Special Access Program (SAR/SAP) document. That would make the theft--and potential compromise--even more damaging to national security.

But neither the Post (nor any other MSM outlet) really bothered to follow up on what exactly transpired during Berger's visits to the National Archives, in preparation for testimony before the 9-11 Commission. While his illegal activities were readily observed by archives personnel--and reported to supervisors--there is no evidence that anyone from the WaPo or other media outlets actually bothered to interview those personnel. Why? The theft of classified documents is a serious offense. Moreover, any time such material is lost--particularly a high-level "after action" report--investigators must assume that the information has been conpromised. To this day, no one has any idea who else might have viewed the documents during their sojourn under that trailer, or could have obtained the pages that Berger placed in the trash. So much for the "watchdog" press.

As you might imagine, the issue of security is near and dear to my heart. For much of my adult life, I held a Top Secret/SCI security clearance, with additional access to various SAR/SAP programs that represented some of the crown jewels of our intelligence effort. If I had attempted the stunts that Mr. Berger pulled, I would still be a guest at the Military Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, and rightfully so. From Day One at intelligence school, I was taught to protect classified information at all costs, and learned that the penalties for mishandling or misplacing such data--deliberate or accidental--would be severe. Those penalties are supposed to be enforced uniformly among the ranks of all who have access to classified information.

But obviously, such rules don't apply to former national security advisors. Mr. Berger received minimal punishment for offenses that would put mere mortals in grave legal jeopardy. Long-time readers of this blog may also recall that the federal judge who sentenced Berger actually imposed a "harsher" punishment, since the recommended sentence from the Bush Justice Department was even milder. As we observed at the time, the department's "go easy" approach smacked of insider politics, an example of high-ranking officials taking care of another member of the club, even if he worked for a Democratic Administration.

Sadly, those same practices seem to be in effect today, more than a year later. Was it any accident that the report was released less than a week before Christmas, when much of official Washington (including the press corps) is out of town? And why did it take so long for the IG to conclude his examination? The events were observed, reported and summarized years ago, and the criminal case against Mr. Berger was concluded last year. Given its glacial pace, we should be thankful the archives IG doesn't handle "pressing" matters.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's observed famously that the "rich are different from you and me." No where is that more evident that inside the Beltway, where the rich and powerful sometimes go to great lengths to assist one another, with little concern for the gravity of offenses committed, and the example it provides to "the rest of us."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Something's Up

It remains one of the essential questions in the Middle East: At what point--and under what circumstances--would the U.S. or Israel launch a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities?

Obviously, no one can answer that question (yet), but the potential for military action in 2007 is inching closer to reality. Over the past week, the chief of the Mossad has offered a much more definitive timeline for Iran to obtain the bomb, the U.S. has announced plans for a possible naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, and today, there's this tidbit from Ahmadinejad:

Iran now nuclear power.

The whack-job in chief was apparently referring to Iran "gaining access to the nuclear fuel cycle," whatever that means. Tehran started the process of uranium enrichment earlier this year, and recently expanded its centrifuge cascade, allowing it to produce more fuel. Ahmadinejad's comments could indicate that Iran is producing enriched uranium in higher quantities, or at a higher purity level. As we noted earlier this year, Tehran's initial enrichment efforts were probably sufficient for producing nuclear reactor fuel, but not for the short-term production of atomic bombs.

Has Iran achieved some sort of break-through that would nuclear weapons at an earlier date? At this point, no one is saying that on the record, but the convergence of these three "developments" seems to be more than a mere coincidence. Stay tuned.

As one of our readers once observed, "I can almost hear the whine of GE turbines in Knob Noster right now." If that reference seems a little obscure, look here.

We Wish You A Merry Christmas

Blogging will be light over the next week or so, as I take some time off for a Christmas vacation, and time with family and friends. Early tomorrow morning, Mrs. Spook and I will put our oldest daughter and our granddaughter (a.k.a. "The Princess") on a plane, then begin our drive to the Land of Faulkner, with the World's Fattest Dog along for the ride.

Before hitting the road, I wanted to wish all of you a Merry Christmas, and a joyous and prosperous New Year. Whatever success this blog has obtained is because of your readership, and support. We're not the most popular blog out there, but we try provide commentary, news and insights you won't find anywhere else. Based on your feedback, we're providing analysis and opinion that a lot of people enjoy, and for that, we're eternally grateful.

I'll try to keep an eye on things during my travels, and may offer a post or two, as time permits. See you next week.

General Abizaid Stepping Down

General John Abizaid, commder of U.S. Central Command and the leader of U.S. military forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to retire in March, according to the LA Times.

The paper describes General Abizaid as "the primary architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan" since assuming the CENTCOM post in July 2003." That's a bit of an overstatement, since our strategy in the Middle East (or any region) is based on inputs from a number of officials, including the President, SecDef, and various component commanders. A more correct way of phrasing it would be "General Abizaid was the commander of U.S. military forces in the Middle East, and the principal advisor for strategy in that region."

But that doesn't fit the story's template, which goes something like this: with Rumsfeld's departure as Secretary of Defense, Abizaid is being pushed out, too, clearing the way for the "new" direction in Iraq. The Times reports that the military brass is split on General Abazaid's replacement and a revised strategy for military operations. Some generals apparently favor a more aggressive counter-insurgency operation (and troops increases), while others prefer Abizaid's approach of training Iraqis to handle security, and turning those responsibilities as soon as possible.

Selection of the CENTCOM's next commander will, obviously, hinge on the new course President Bush chooses in Iraq. If current speculation is any indication, I'd put my money on a surge in troop strength and heightened counter-insurgency operations, led by Lt Gen Peter Chiarelli, or (if I had my druthers) Lt Gen David Petraeus. We've written about General Petraeus in the past; he has served two tours in Iraq already, commanding the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 invasion, and later, as the man in charge of rebuilding the Iraqi Army. By all indications, General Petraeus is a brillant man, and one of the true counter-insurgency experts in the U.S. military. General Chirarelli has similar credentials; he most recently served as director of day-to-day operations in Iraq.

But there's no guarantee that Mr. Bush will support the type of aggressive operations advocated by Generals Chiarelli and Petraeus. New Secretary of Defense Robert Gates--who will have a major say in the CENTCOM appointment--is a former member of the infamous Iraq Study Group, which advocates that so-called "broader" strategy, including includes talks with regional adversaries on Iraq, and an accelerated transfer of security operations to the Iraqis. To implement sort of strategy, Mr. Gates might support General George Casey, our top commander in Iraq, who is viewed as a member of the Abizaid camp.

We'll probably learn the name of General Abizaid's successor about the time that Mr. Bush announces his new approach for Iraq. The President has not shyed away from bold choices in the past, and given the current security situation, it's probably time for a similar move. Under that scenario, the "right" combination would probably be Petraeus at CENTCOM, Chiarelli back in Baghdad (as General Casey's replacement), and Casey as the next Army Chief of Staff. Casey is an able administrator, and sending him to Washington would get him out of the operational chain in Iraq. The chief's job is to organize, train and equip forces for combatant commanders, not run combat operations in Baghdad.

One final thought: General Abizaid's time at CENTCOM was up, no matter how you slice it. The Times notes that his term was set to expire in July, but in reality, CINCs rarely serve more than three. Running a unifed command is an all-consuming, exhausting job, particularly when the theater is 8,000 miles from your headquarters, and you're fighting two wars, to boot. General Abizaid gave it his all, served his country honorably, and we wish him a long and happy retirement.

Addendum: The choice for Abizaid's replacement will be an early indicator of how much clout Mr. Gates (and the Bush #41 alumni association) really have in setting policy for the rest of W's administration.

Broadside at the Blogosphere

Joseph Rogo, Assistant Editorial Features Editor at the WSJ, has launched a broadside at the blogosphere over at OpinionJournal. Some sample quotes from his op-ed:

"The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think."

"The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps."

"The larger problem with blogs, it seems to me, is quality. Most of them are pretty awful. Many, even some with large followings, are downright appalling."

Rogo's assertions are easy enough to knock down. Is the blogosphere significant? Ask Dan Rather and Mary Mapes. Minimal reportage? Who exposed fraudulent photographs published by the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Reuters? Who is leading the push to verify the existence of the mysterious Captain Hussein, so often cited in AP dispatches from Baghdad. I'll give you a hint: it wasn't the editorial staff at the Wall Street Journal.

Quality? Submitted for your consideration, look at our post from this morning, outlining the difficulties associated with expanding our ground forces, as proposed by President Bush. True, it may not match the literary stylings of Henry James or even Joe Rogo, but we think it's well-reasoned and informative, providing context and fact that you won't find elsewhere in the MSM or the blogosphere. Oh, and by the way, many in the blogosphere hold down other jobs, so we post whenever we can. In other words, we don't have the luxury of being a paid scribe, able to spend hours writing and rewriting a 750-word op-ed, with a team of editors standing by to further refine the product.

We'll agree with Mr. Rogo's assertion that there is a lot of crap in the blogosphere. But the same problem exists in the MSM, where the piety and sanctimony of many outlets is simply nauseating and redundant. No matter where the article, editorial or op-ed appears, the underlying message seems to be the same: We really are smarter than you, and we'll tell you what to think. The blogosphere is the natural--and inevitable--response to media elites who think they're more significant than they really are.

And, unlike the media dinosaurs, blogs exist in a cut-throat world of competition for readership and feedback. For every new blog that appears, scores of them die every day because they don't reach an audience, or their message fails to resonate with readers. The same rules don't apply to the big media, where corporate subsidies and misguided advertising revenue will keep them afloat long after their logical expiration date.

As for charges that the blogs tend to repeat the same themes? Yes, you could say that the blogosphere is often an echo chamber, but so is the mainstream press. How much deviation do you find when comparing the editorials of The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times? Is there really any difference in the way ABC, CBS and NBC will report today's news from Baghdad? And yet Rogo refers to the blogosphere as a "mob!"

Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

It's the Force Structure, Stupid

There are at least two major headlines from yesterday's interview between President Bush and the Washington Post. In a wide-ranging discussion, Mr. Bush outlined plans for expanding our active duty military forces, and admitted for the first time that "we're not winning" in Iraq.

We'll tackle President Bush's assessment of the war in a separate post. While that will get most of the headlines, the big news (from a military perspective), is President's plan to add another 70,000 personnel to active duty units, primarily in the Army and the U.S. Marine Corps. While Mr. Bush offered no specifics during the interview, he has reportedly instructed his new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to prepare a plan for expanding active duty forces, hard-pressed to sustain on-going deployments and operations in the global War on Terror.

The decision to add more troops to the military represents a significant policy shift for President Bush. Running for re-election in 2004, he rejected a proposal from Democratic candidate John Kerry to expand the military for 40,000 personnel. More recently, administration officials have attempted to increase the number of combat forces by "outsourcing" support functions to civilian contractors, and attempting to entice former members of the Navy and Air Force (which are still downsizing), to join the Army and Marine Corps.

Mr. Bush's announcement of the expansion plan indicates that the Pentagon has hit something of a wall in those efforts. The inter-service transfer program (nicknamed Blue to Green) has been something of a bust. At one point, DoD hoped to persuade more than 10,000 former airmen and sailors to join the Army; so far, less than 2,000 have made the switch. The Fiscal Year 2006 goal for inter-service transfers was only 200; while that target was met, the numbers suggest that expectations for Blue to Green have been greatly tempered, and the program will never yield significant numbers of new soldiers.

There are also limits to the outsourcing option. A civilian contractor, handling security or transportation duties in Iraq, typically earns $100,000 a year--or more--about five times the salary of a buck private performing the same chores. Beyond that, there's the problem of retaining trained personnel and keeping them happy. The Air Force learned a hard lesson about outsourcing when it turned over aircraft maintenance functions to a civilian contractor at pilot training bases in the late 1990s. At Columbus AFB, MS, the newly-hired civilian mechanics promptly staged a wildcat strike against the contractor, shutting down the training mission at a time when the service was short of pilots. So far, there haven't been any labor actions in the combat zone, but outsourcing doesn't always produce the cost or labor savings that are usually promised.

President Bush has apparently been told that outsourcing and the reassignment/transfer of existing personnel have reached their limits, prompting the call for additional troops. That plan will (obviously) address a couple of key concerns in the war against Islamofacism. First, it will give commanders (and the commander-in-chief) greater flexibility in "surging" combat deployments to meet changing threats, such as the security situation in Baghdad. Secondly--and most importantly--it will take some of the burden off existing units and personnel, many of whom have completed at least two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But adding more soldiers and Marines is a difficult task, particularly in the era of an all-volunteer military. The biggest (and most obvious obstacle) is finding enough young men and women to fill additional units, and keeping them in uniform. After hitting a rough patch in 2005, recruiting efforts for the Army and Marine Corps are back on track, and both services are meeting, even exceeding, their enlistment quotas. Increasing the number of Army brigades and Marine regiments will put increased pressure on recruiters to meet higher recruiting goals, and possibly lower standards. Currently, the Army must attract about 80,000 new soldiers a year, to sustain an active duty force of about 495,000.

Let's say the Bush Administration wants to add another 50,000 personnel to the Army, enough for another 12-15 brigades. That would raise recruiting quotas by roughly 10%, and require that recruiters sign up another 8,000 soldiers a year. Is that target sustainable amid the steady drumbeat of bad news from Iraq? If current recruiting trends are any indication, the answer is probably "yes," but meeting those goals will require more bonus money and education incentives. Personnel costs already account for roughly half the military budget. In an era of tightening defense budgets, there are legitimate questions about how much more the Pentagon can spend to bring more people into the service.

Beyond that, there's the question of what you do with those young men and women once they sign up. To relieve pressure on existing units, the military must, at some point, begin to organize new companies, battalions and brigades. Even with a cadre of experienced officers and NCOs from existing formations, those units won't be ready for combat for at least a couple of years, after receiving the required resources to "fill out" their table of organization and equipment (TO&E). Given the time--and money--required for recruiting, training and equipping tasks, many of the new units wouldn't arrive in the field until the 2010-2011 timeframe, at the earliest. That would be a welcome development, but it does little to provide short-term relief to existing units.

Mr. Bush's proposal acknowledges something we've been sayaing all along: one of our biggest challenges in fighting the War on Terror is the force structure imposed on the White House and Pentagon by previous administrations. Twenty years ago, the Army had 18 active duty divisions; today, that number is 10. The troop strength from those "missing" divisions is about 160,000--roughly the same number we would supposedly need to secure Iraq. Most of those units were cut during the Bush #41 administration (two divisions) and Bill Clinton's tenure in the White House, when another four divisions were inactivated. The record shows that those cuts received bi-partisan support in Congress, and there was nary a peep from the Pentagon, either.

Obviously, no one envisioned the 9-11 attacks and simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan back in 1996. But in hindsight, political and military leaders were a little too anxious to cut our ground forces. The politicians kept talking about a peace dividend and more money for other programs, while the generals were looking for ways to fund the next generation of high-tech weapons programs. In that environment, Army and Marine ground units were a convenient target for the chopping block, because they're labor-intensive and expensive to equip, train and maintain. Never mind that those formations might be needed somewhere down the road. Many of the politicians and retired generals now calling for more troops were conspiciously silent 10 years ago, when our ground forces were gutted. Hypocrisy? You be the judge.

By pushing for an increase in the size of our ground forces, Mr. Bush is doing the right thing. We only wish he'd done this sooner, given the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. And better yet, we wish our political and military leaders of the past--the same ones now cited for their "wisdom"--had exercised better judgment when they eliminated all those expensive ground units after the Cold War.


As for the "other" manpower option--bringing back the draft--the answer is still a resounding "no."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gunboat Diplomacy

According to NBC News, the U.S. is planning an expansion of our naval forces in the Persian Gulf, possibly as early as January. The build-up will include another carrier group, which would add about a dozen vessels (and up to 90 combat aircraft) to our military forces in the region.

In justifyng the build-up, military officials cited Iran's continued interference in Iraq, recent naval exercises in the gulf, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. If I had to guess, I'd say the two latter events are the primary reasons for the projected deployments. Naval power can't do a lot to halt the overland transit of terrorists and IEDs from Iran to Iraq, although the additional airpower would be helpful in supporting an expansion of our ground forces--and their operations.

The addition of a second carrier will certainly get Iran's attention, though it's impossible to predict exactly how Tehran will react. In the past, such deployments have been greeted mostly with propaganda blasts, although other, calculated events (such as missile and rocket tests) cannot be ruled out. And despite recent boasts about "new" weapons and improved naval capabilities, it's doutbful that Iran would directly challenge our forces. The Iranians would lose that engagement swiftly and decisively, and on the heels of this week's election results, the Ahmadinejad regime can't afford another major embarassment.

But there's a danger in assigning too much rationality to the Tehran government. Amid U.S. troubles in Iraq and Hizballah's recent "victory" over Israel in Lebanon, Mr. Ahmadinejad is certainly feeling his oats, and under the right circumstances, might decide to press his luck with the 5th Fleet. By sending another carrier to the gulf, the Bush Administration is obviously trying to send a signal to Iran, but the question is: will Ahmadinejad get the "right" message?

The Key to Regime Change in North Korea

From Monday's Opinion Journal, Melanie Kirkpatrick notes that producing regime change in the DPRK may hinge on helping those who want to flee the communist hell-hole. It's an idea that we advocated in this space a couple of months ago, and one that has clear merit. Thousands of North Koreans have attempted to leave their country over the past decade, yet there are only a few individual "rescuers" or aid groups that provide support.

In her piece, Ms. Kilpatrick profiles Phillip Buck, a Korean-American pastor who has risked his life to help people escape the worker's paradise. We can only wonder how much more Pastor Buck could accomplish with a little (indirect) assistance from the U.S. government. We've wasted millions in the past on "opposition groups" (remember the Iraqi National Congress) that did little more than hire lobbyists and issue press releases.

By comparison, Pastor Buck's shoestring operation is achieving results--and putting pressure on the government in Pyongyang--one refugee at a time. Legislation passed in 2004 has made it easier for North Korean refugees to find sanctuary in the U.S., but as Pastor Buck notes, it takes money to literally "buy" a North Korean's freedom. In this case, a little cash could go a long way toward furthering his efforts--and producing regime change in Pyongyang.

Joe Barbera and Chris Hayward, RIP

Cartoon fans were saddened by yesterday's passing of animation legend Joe Barbera. With his long-time partner William Hanna, Mr. Barbera was (arguably) the best-known creator and producer of cartoons this side of Walt Disney. Describing Hanna-Barbera as cultural icons would be a gross understatement. They entertained millions--perhaps billions of people--around the globe, during a partnership that lasted for more than 60 years.

Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera joined MGM's animation division within a month of each other in 1938, and soon hit upon the idea of a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry. Despite initial doubts from the studio ("Cat and mouse, that's old stuff"), their animated creations went on to win seven Academy Awards, more than any other series using the same characters. Jerry's on-screen dance with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh remains one of the finest film sequences blending live action and animation.

But baby boomers will best remember Hanna-Barbera as the team that supplied entertainment on thousands of Saturday mornings, stretching across three decades. When MGM shuttered its animation studio in the late 1950s, the two men turned their efforts to that relatively new medium--television--and began churning out cartoons that aired on the weekend and during prime-time. While TV imposed tighter budgets and production schedules, many of their shows (Yogi Bear, Deputy Dawg, Huckleberry Hound) became pop classics. The team also pioneered successful, prime-time animated shows with The Flintstones and The Jetsons in the early 1960s.

But Hanna-Barbera also contributed to the decline of American animation in the 1970s and 80s. By that time, most of their cartoons were variations on tired themes, and the actual, limited animation had been farmed out to foreign studios. If Huckleberry, Yogi, and Jonny Quest were examples of their best work, then Hanna-Barbera's later efforts, such as Shirt Tales, Snorks and Ed Grimley were second or third-rate embarrassments. Over the years, actual ownership of Hanna-Barbera had passed through several corporate hands, and while much of the creative work was in the hands of less skilled writers and artists, both men remained regular figures at their production house well into the 1990s. But the Hanna-Barbera of that era was only a tired shadow of its former self, and when Mr. Hanna passed away in 2001, their company was completely absored into Warner Bros' animation division. Today, the Hanna-Barbera name is essentially a tool for marketing their old shows and characters.


If Hanna-Barbera represented both the best--and worst--of television animation, then Jay Ward's creations fell on the former half of that divide. One of the last members of the Ward creative team, writer Chris Hayward, passed away last month at age 80, but his death wasn't reported until this week.

Mr. Hayward contributed scripts (and deliciously bad puns) for such classics as Rocky and His Friends, The Bullwinkle Show and the various "features" that aired on those programs, including Fractured Fairy Tales, Dudley Do-Right, and my personal favorite, Peabody's Improbable History, starring the dog genius, Mr. Peabody, and his pet boy, Sherman. Through the adventures of their characters, Hayward, co-writer Allan Burns and producer Bill Scott relentlessly skewered the Cold War, history, popular culture, television and anything else that attracted their fertile imaginations.

Like all great animated shows, Rocky and Bullwinkle worked on a number of levels, attracting kids through zany situations and slapstick humor, while adults laughed at dialogue that was surprisingly sophisticated and literate. Hayward and Co. were probably the only writers in history to use "The Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayan" as a punch line in a cartoon. Bullwinkle has sometimes been described as a radio show with pictures because the animation (outsourced to Mexico's Gamma Productions) was, in a word, awful. Watch a few episodes on DVD and you'll see Bullwinkle's antlers change color and shape from scene to scene, while Boris's mustache disappears and reappears.

But fans didn't watch the show for its animation; they tuned in for a program that was often outrageously funny and original, thanks to the talented writers and a superb "voice" cast that included the great Paul Frees, June Foray (the voice of Rocky), William Conrad (listed as Bill Conrad in the credits), Edward Everett Horton, and producer Scott, who gave voice to the dim-witted moose.

After Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mr. Hayward graduated to prime time programs, including the 1970s sitcom Barney Miller. But his contributions to Jay Ward's productions were enough to secure Hayward a place in the pop culture pantheon, and help influence later generations of animators and writers. It's no accident that many of the male characters on The Simpsons have the same middle initial as Bullwinkle ("J"). On the freeway of classic animation, it's a straight shot from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota to the suburbs of Springfield.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Within Four Years

Israel's spy chief estimates that Iran will have its first nuclear weapon in "three or four years," if the program continues on its current pace.

General Meir Dagan, head of the Mossad, made the comments in an address to the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defense commission, according to Army radio.

Dagan's timeline on the Iranian nuclear program was one of the most specific offered by a senior Israeli official. In previous estimates, Israel's political and military leaders have been deliberately vague in their assessments, observing that Iran would have the required "technology" or "know how" in a matter of months, but rarely offering a specific timetable for when Tehran might actually have a nuclear device. General Dagan had previously described the Iranian nuclear program as the "greatest threat" to Israel since its founding in 1948.

The Mossad Chief apparently did not reveal what the timetable was based on. The assessment suggests that the Israelis may have obtained better information on Iran's nuclear program, or have elected to reveal that data for the first time. The Israeli timeline is much shorter than some U.S. estimates, which believe Iran may be a decade away from its first atomic weapon.

Interestingly, the Mossad estimate seems to jibe with an assessment we published earlier this year, suggesting that timeline of 2009-2010. We certainly don't claim to be clairvoyant--or have a pipeline into Israeli intelligence; indeed, our assessment was based on Iran's public statements about the size of its centrifuge array, and plans to expand it. Based on those numbers, Iran might have enough fissionable material to produce its first bomb by the end of this decade.

Of course, there are still significant technical hurdles to overcome, including successful design/testing of a trigger device, and making the entire package small enough to fit inside a gravity bomb and (eventually) a missile warhead. But General Dagan apparently believes that those problems can be overcome relatively easy, meaning that Iran will have a nuclear weapon soon, and a decision for potential military action may be required in a matter of months, rather than years.

As always, we must offer the standard caveats. There is the possibility that Iran has a parallel, covert program that could produce a bomb relatively soon, and General Dagan may be referring to such efforts. Additionally, Israeli statements of this type are always aimed at Washington, and Dagan's comments may be a not-so-veiled hint to the Bush Administration: keep you eye on Iran, and don't put too much hope in those European diplomatic efforts.

Quid Pro Quo

It didn't get a lot of play in this country, but the Brits have cancelled their investigation into the alleged bribery of Saudi officials, to allow Riyadh's planned purchase of Eurofighter jets to go through.

Defense Industry Daily had an excellent summary of the scandal--and its apparent cover-up--in this article, which was published last week. U.K. investigators were looking into an apparent "slush fund" that was sent up by British Aerospace (BAE) in the mid-1990s for senior Saudi officials. The fund was apparently established in support of another British military sale to the Saudis. According to the British press, Saudi Arabia threatened to halt its planned $ 12 billion purchase of Eurofighters, unless the bribery probe was quashed.

Compliantly, Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced last week that the bribery probe would be closed.

Of course, there is more than a hint of irony (and hypocrisy) in all of this. The Saudi deal has become critical for the Eurofighter consortium, which has been largely shut out of the export market so far. A number of European countries--including Italy, Norway, the Netherlands and even the U.K.--have committed to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, limiting potential buys for the Eurofighter, while other potential Typhoon customers (notably the United Arab Emirates) have opted for upgraded versions of the U.S. F-16.

And, if the Saudis had their druthers, they'd rather buy the F-22 or JSF. Both are vastly superior to the Eurofighter, which offers slightly improved performance/capabilities over late-model F-15s and F-16s. But the U.S. has nixed the idea of F-22 exports to anyone, including such allies as Israel and Japan. The JSF has been approved for export, but so far participation in the program (and projected sales) have been limited to NATO allies and Australia. Faced with a need to replace its aging Tornado fleet--and with state-of-the-art U.S. jets unavailable, the Saudis opted for the Typhoon.

Anxious to maintain a toe-hold in the fighter export business, the Eurofighter consortium was apparently willing to do anything to preserve the Saudi deal. So, the investigation was quashed, the Saudis get to keep their cash, the Typhoon assembly lines will stay open a bit longer, and BAE shareholders will be a bit happier.

It's how the game is often played in the world of defense contracting, and believe me, American firms are no strangers to such tactics.

Expecting More of the Same

The Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear program resumed today in Beijing for the first time in 13 months. But, judging from the first day of the renewed talks, it was like the negotiations never ended. True to form, Pyongyang used the resumption of talks to issue a familiar list of demands and threats. According to the Associated Press, North Korea made the following demands, as "preconditions" for ending its nuclear program.

  • The lifting of all U.N. sanctions
  • An end to U.S. financial restrictions
  • Delivery/construction of a nuclear reactor to allow the DPRK to generate more electricity
  • Energy aid until the reactor is built

If those demands are not met, Pyongyang vowed to increase its nuclear deterrent. DPRK representatives also reminded other participants (representing the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China) that it "is" a nuclear power, a not-too-subtle reference to its recent (if largely unsuccessful) test of a nuclear device.

So far, the other delegations seem unimpressed with North Korea's rhetoric and appear to be standing firm against Pyongyang. Japan's led negotiator said North Korea's position is "unacceptable," and a Chinese spokesman said it was time for "action for action," indicating that even Beijing is growing tired of the North Korean game. But another Chinese official emphasized the need for "patience," suggesting that the DPRK's most important ally is prepared to give Pyongyang--and the diplomatic process--more time. It's an angle that Kim Jong-il has exploited before, and he almost certainly try that tactic this time around, too.

As for the U.S., Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who is leading the American delegation, said that existing sanctions against Pyongyang will remain in place until the North disarms. He also voiced hope that the Six Party group can soon begin implementing a "de-nuclearization" agreement that was reached in September 2005. Under that agreement--the only one reached in the Six Party process--the North agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees.

Mr. Hill also suggested a slightly different tack in the new round of negotiations, saying that "The supply of our patience may have exceeded the international demand for that patience, and we should be a little less patient and pick up the pace and work faster."

Dick Morris--among others--has advocated some sort of agreement with North Korea as a means for President Bush to "get his presidency off the mat." But obviously, the last thing we need is another diplomatic disaster along the lines of the 1994 Agreed To Framework, which gave Pyongyang virtually everything it wanted, in exchange for a shell game at the Yongbyon Nuclear Facility. While IAEA inspectors and cameras monitored an apparent lull in activity at that site, North Korea simply took its program underground, completing technical work for the device detonated earlier this year.

While the Six Party process has been both maddening and slow, the Bush Administration deserves credit for sticking with it, and keeping our regional partners involved. Keeping multi-lateral pressure on Pyongyang is probably the best hope of reaching some sort of accord that is enforceable and verifiable, even if it takes years to complete the process. As the latest round of talks continue, we can expect more of the same: Korea will continue to bluster, stall, and pull various military and diplomatic stunts. But at some point, Pyongyang will be faced with a hard choice: will it sign on to an agreement that gives it some hope of staying afloat (in some form or fashion), or will it abandon the process and risk everything on a political-military roll of the dice, a move that would almost certainly guarantee its destruction.

Normally, the choice would be obvious for any nation-state facing potential oblivion, but with Kim Jong-il calling the shots, you never know. That's why the Bush Administration needs to keep all options on the table--including military power--if Pyongyang won't do the rational thing. At this point, there is reason to believe that North Korea can be eventually prodded into a workable agreement, but there's also the risk that DPRK will jump off the deep end, too. We need to be prepared for that eventuality--and communicate that to North Korea in no uncertain terms.

Getting Rid of Bad Apple Pickers

We've often stated that the military must make its first quality cuts "up front"--at the recruiting office. Better screening and selection of future military personnel can save problems and embarassment down the road, as evidenced by the Air Force's newest JAG scandal (the service commissioned--and routinely promoted--a lawyer who was disbarred by two states more than 20 years ago). And, not long after that scandal broke, the Air Force suspended a Catholic chaplain at Barksdale AFB, LA, amid charges that he had molested altar boys as a civilian priest in Arizona, before joining the service.

The fact that both men were allowed to enter the service is a black mark against the military recruiting process. For almost everyone entering the military--officer or enlisted--the first stop is a recruiting office, where the uniformed representative explains opportunities and benefits in the armed services, while initiating the process of gathering background information on the potential recruit. While the JAG and chaplain cases have not been adjudicated, we can only wonder how much time--and embarassment--might have been saved with a few inquiries by the recruiter. Afterall, the military does consider past conduct in selecting future soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and the recruiter is the first step in that filtering process.

Of course, it's much tougher to weed out potential bad apples, if your "apple pickers" (in this case, the recruiters) are corrupt. That was apparently the case in Tucson, Arizona, where local Army and Marine Corps recruiters ran a cocaine distribution ring out of their office complex. At least seven active-duty military recruiters were involved in the drug gang, along with five recruiters from the Arizona Army National Guard. The recruiters are at the heart of an FBI operation called Lively Green, one of the largest public corruption scandals in Arizona history.

The Arizona Daily Star has been looking into the scandal, and they uncovered even more disturbing facts. Many of the recruiters remained on the job after FBI surveillance cameras caught them counting bribe money next to stacks of cocaine bricks. In some cases, the recruiters were still visiting local high schools three years after they were identified in the Lively Green investigation, which unfolded between 2002 and 2004. Some of the recruiters retired honorably from the military during that period. Most of those accused in the scandal have pleaded guilty to federal charges, and will be sentenced in federal court in March 2007.

According to the Daily Star, the military was at something of a disadvantage in dealing with the corrupt recruiters. Military officials either didn't know the recruiters were involved in drug dealing, or they were told by the FBI to leave them alone, to avoid compromising the investigation. That allowed the recruiters to keep making the rounds at Tucson-area high schools. While there is no evidence that the recruiters offered or sold drugs to students, parents are understandably upset over the presence of those recruiters at local schools.

While I can understand the FBI's desire to see the investigation through, allowing the corrupt recruiters to remain on the job raises clear ethical and legal issues. The bureau admits that the recruiters were not under continuous surveillance, so we may not be aware of the full scope of their illegal activities. Given their frequent contact with young people, it would seem that tighter surveillance should be mandatory in this type of case.

On the military side, we wonder why commanders who were aware of the investigation didn't implement available tools for restricting (or even eliminating) contact between the corrupt recruiters and young people. Recruiters under suspicion could have been moved to the local recruiting squadron or battalion headquarters, placed in charge of recruiting-related programs that didn't require meetings with young people, or simply reassigned to their "old" MOS and returned them to the "real" Army or Marine Corps. The on-going War on Terror and combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could have easily explained the curtailment of a recruiting tour, particularly if the solider or Marine came from a "high demand" career field.

Having worked as a recruiter during my ROTC days, I can assure you that there is no more demanding--or rewarding--duty in the U.S. military. But recruiting also requires tremendous ethics and integrity, qualities that extend well beyond the "white lies" about jobs and opportunities that recruiters are accused of telling. For a young officer or NCO, serving as a recruiter often means working by yourself, hundreds of miles from your supervisor, or the nearest military installation. Suddenly, you're in charge of thousands of dollars in government resources, you're the "local face" of your service, and you're basically on your own.

Thankfully, 99.5% of of military recruiters meet these challenges, and perform their jobs admirably. The remaining fraction succumb to temptations, and cross over the ethical and/ or legal line, engaging in behavior that brings shame and dishonor upon the uniform.

The "dirty dozen" in Arizona deserve the maximum punishment when their sentences are handed out next spring. But the federal judge in this case ought to raise an an obvious concern with both the FBI and federal prosecutors: why was it necessary to keep those recruiters on the job--without full-time surveillance--allowing them to continue their school visits and other contacts with young people? Sure, the final sweep netted at least 80 suspects in the case, but the feds took an awful chance in letting the military crooks run free for so long.


It will be interesting to see what punishment the military hands out to the "retired" recruiters implicated in the Lively Green investigation. Normally, conviction on federal felony charges is grounds for termination of a military pension, though such determinations are made on a case-by-case basis. For example, the family of convicted Air Force spy Brian Reagan still receives his military pension (he retired as a Master Sergeant), though he will spend the rest of his life in prison. Continuation of Reagan's pension was part of a plea deal he cut with federal prosectuors, on charges of attempting to pass spy satellite data to various foreign countries. Reagan's espionage efforts occurred after his retirement from active duty, apparently providing grounds for continued payment of the pension to his family.

Similar justification could also be used for continuation of Duke Cunningham's Navy pension. The disgraced former California Congressman--now serving an eight-year sentence on corruption charges--is also a retired Navy Commander, drawing an annual pension in excess of $30,000 a year. Since Cunningham's criminal activity occurred long after retirement (he left active duty in 1988), the Navy has grounds for continuing his pension, which would probably be paid to the Congressman's ex-wife. Cunningham is also entitled to his Congressional pension; there is no record of Congress denying its generous pension benefits to anyone, regardless of their transgressions. No wonder Twain referred to them as "America's native criminal class."

We've long maintained that stripping high-ranking criminals of their rank and pensions would send a powerful message to everyone who wears the uniforms, including those in charge of recruiting new members of the armed forces.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The View From Above

Viewers of this weekend's rescue drama on Mount Hood heard numerous references to "National Guard C-130s" that are circling the mountain around the clock.

Those aircraft are actually specially-configured C-130s, assigned to the 152nd Airlift Wing of the Navada Air National Guard, and based in Reno. The C-130s are equipped with an advanced surveillance system called Scathe View, which provides real-time electro-optical and infra-red imagery. Images captured by the system are down-linked to stations on the ground, allowing instant analysis of unfolding events. At least one of the ground stations is man-portable, and wieghs less than 10 pounds. It's unclear if one of those devices was being used by Air Force pararescuemen conducting the search on Mount Hood. At a minimum, the Scathe View C-130s can radio information to search personnel and helicopters, helping them target their efforts more efficiently.

Scathe View was developed by Alliant Techsystems, a Minneapolis-based defense contractor. While the systems origins pre-date the War on Terror, the fielding of Scathe View received an added impetus with the advent of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, the system's value in search-and-rescue (SAR) operations was demonstrated during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when Scathe View helped direct rescue teams in New Orleans and other locations.

Since the conclusion of SAR efforts in the Gulf South, Scathe View assets assigned to the 152nd have been deployed to Iraq, where the sensors have been highly useful in detecting insurgent activity. Participation of the platform in the Mount Hood operation was almost an accident, the product of a low-density/high-demand aircraft and sensor system that was streched thin by a prolonged combat deployment.

With its unique capabilities, the 152nd also serves as its own "school house," training crews in the employment of Scathe View, including the imagery operators who control the on-boad sensors. But the extended stay in Iraq wreaked havoc with unit training programs, aircraft depot maintenance and crew rotations. Making matters worse, some members of the unit were reportedly reaching their deployment "limit" under the regulations that govern ANG assets. Earlier this year, the Guard Bureau and the Air Force decided to bring Scathe View home for a spell, allowing the platform and crews to take a break, and catch-up on required maintenance and training. The Scathe View-equipped C-130s returned from the desert last summer, and they'll probably redeploy sometime in 2007.

Had the powers-that-be not decided to give the 152nd a needed "break," those aircraft would likely still be in Iraq, and unavailable for the Mount Hood rescue mission. Results of that mission have been tragic so far, but the search would have been infinitely more difficult without those Scathe View C-130s.


Addendum: those "parajumpers" the TV anchors kept referring to are Air Force pararescue jumpers (or PJs), assigned to the 304th Rescue Squadron. Members of the 304th (which is part of the Air Force Reserve) have served extensively in Afghanistan, further honing their mountain rescue skills. The PJs and helicopter crews of the 304th deserve tremendous credit for their role in getting rescue teams to the summit, despite the dangers associated with mountain operations. Those dangers were captured by a TV news helicopter in May 2002, when a 304th helicopter crashed on Mount Hood while trying to rescue a stranded climber. Minutes later, a second HH-60 braved swirling winds to rescue the hiker and the first crew, who survived the crash.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Drudge Joins the Fray..

...with a link to a story we first noted on Tuesday, concerning the possible murder of Ukranian babies for stem cells.

Making this matter even more tragic: medical science has yet to develop a single, effective treatment from embryonic stem cells. On the other hand, stem cells harvested from umblical cord blood are now being used in more than 70 medical trials.

We still wonder is Senator-elects Claire McCaskill and Ben Cardin of Maryland will call for an investigation of this matter. Both shamelessly exploited the issue in the recent campaign, insinuating that the GOP opposed stem cell research. That was a lie, of course, and both candidates said nothing about the dark side of embryonic cell research, now apparently on display in the Ukraine.

We'd also like a comment from their spokesman, actor Michael J. Fox. It would be nice if the BBC (which broke the Ukraine story) could track him down, and ask if this growing scandal has affected his views on stem cells, and the sometimes-ruthless effort to acquire them.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Fisher DeBerry Steps Down

Fisher DeBerry, the long-time football coach at the Air Force Academy, announced his retirement this afternoon, after 27 years at the school, 23 of them as head coach.

Regrettably, this article from FoxSports focuses on the controversies that dogged Coach Fisher at the end of his tenure. In 2005, he was criticized for his comments following a 48-10 loss to TCU, when he remarked that his team didn't have enough "Afro-American athletes...that run very well." A year earlier, Academy officials forced him to remove a sign from the Falcons' locker room that included the lines: "I am a Christian first and last...I am a member of team Jesus Christ." Fisher, a dedicated Christian, made no apologies for his faith, and the role it played in his life.

The media--and academy critics--may have disagreed with DeBerry's faith-based approach, but it worked magic with his teams. As we noted in October 1995, Coach DeBerry achieved amazing success at an institution that doesn't compromise academics to admit talented athletes. His overall record was 169-107-1, making he the most successful coach in Academy history, and the winningest coach at any of the service academies since the days of Red Blaik's legendary Army teams in the 1940s. DeBerry dominated the other academies during his tenure, logging 35 victories against West Point and Annapolis, against only eleven defeats. His teams won the Commander-in-Chief Trophy a total of 14 times; the award is given annually to the service academy with the best won/loss record against its rivals.

But DeBerry's real legacy is measured in the leaders he helped produce for the Air Force--and the nation. His former players have served in every conflict since Vietnam, many with great distinction. DeBerry's early graduates are now reaching the flag ranks; the rest can be found among the Colonels, Majors, Captains and Lieutenants that wear the Air Force uniform around the world, and those who have pursued a civilian career. Many will tell you that Coach DeBerry made an indelible impression on their lives.

Thanks, Coach DeBerry for a job exceptionally well done. You earned the admiration and respect of your peers in the coaching profession, and many of us who wore the uniform--even if we didn't graduate from "The Zoo."


At the time DeBerry was under fire for his supposedly "racist" remarks, we noted that the under-representation of minorities at the service academies raises serious questions about athletics, academics, and the expectations often assigned to minority youngsters. As far as we can tell, those questions remain unanswered.

Bad Place to Hide

Last month, we reported on a major battle between U.S. forces and terrorists near Baghdad. We've since heard from one of the participants in that engagement, who offered this interesting sidelight. In an effort to hide from coalition forces, the insurgents moved through the canals that criss-cross the area (about 50 miles from Balad AB) , and used the waterways for cover.

The tactic worked--up to a point. With embankments on either side, it was difficult for U.S. forces to spot the terrorists in the canals. But from the air, it was a different story. During one skirmish, a U.S. drone spotted a platoon-sized group of insurgents hiding in a canal. An air liaision officer (ALO) assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division called in an airstrike. Moments later, an F-16 dropped cluster munitions on the assembled terrorists, killing all of them.


Today's Reading Assignment

From Dean Barnett, posted at Dean hits the nail squarely on the head, but sadly, I don't see any American Churchill(s) on the horizon.

For the sake of this country--and western civilization--I hope I'm wrong.

And Not a Moment to Soon

We don't normally root for someone's demise, but we'll make an exception for Fidel Castro. And, the moment of departure for the Cuban dictator appears to be drawing near. The Director of National Intelligence, Ambassador John Negroponte, reports that "El Commandante" is "very ill and close to death."

"Everything we see indicates it will not be much longer ... months, not years," Negroponte told The Washington Post.

Castro has not been seen in public since late July, when he underwent emergency intestinal surgery, and temporarily handed over power to his brother, Raul. Various medical experts--including physicians who work for the CIA--believe that Castro has an advanced case of rectal or colon cancer, with no chance of recovery.

That diagnosis is a bit ironic; the Cuban government devotes extensive resources to protecting Castro's health, yet he is dying from an illness that could have been easily detected--and treated--if caught in its early stages. Cuba's state-run health care system, long been touted as one of Castro's "successes," apparently failed its most important patient in his hour of need. It may be a fitting capstone to Castro's failed experiment in communism, which has left Cuba far behind other Latin American nations.

The Washington Post (of all media outlets), noted Fidel's failure the other day, in an editorial contrasting the legacies of the Cuban leader, and his right-wing Chilean nemesis, Augusto Pinochet. While making no excuses for his human rights record, the Post notes that Pinochet's dictatorship helped pave the way for a vibrant economy and a return to democracy. Over the past two decades, Chile has emerged as the most successful nation in Latin America, and Pinochet had a hand in that success.

When Castro expires, he will leave behind a nation that is economically ruined and politically oppressed. The Post observes that the Cuban dictator spent the last years of his life reversing minor liberalization reforms--sealing his nation's economic fate--while maintaining the gulags that have tortured, killed and imprisoned thousands of his countrymen.

Fidel remains a hero to many on the left, and I'm sure that his MSM obit has already been written. It will tout his "leadership" of the non-aligned movement, defiance of the United States, and his personal charisma. But the real legacy of Fidel Castro can be found in those ancient cars creeping down the streets of Havana; the poverty and despair that afflicts much of the Cuban populace, and a bankrupt health care system that might have actually hastened his demise.