Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Final Justice for Major Anderson

 USAF Major Rudolf Anderson, who died when his U-2 was shot down over Cuba on 27 October 1962.  The event pushed the U.S. and the Soviet Union closer to nuclear war; intelligence information discovered later suggests that Fidel Castro may have played a key role in the incident (USAF photo via Wikipedia)

Various pundits and politicians--as they often do--made fools of themselves over the weekend, offering effusive praise for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who finally assumed room temperature at the age of 90.

El Commandante was a hero to leftists around the world, who conveniently ignored his real record as a brutal despot who killed thousands in his gulag, and thousands more through the deprivations that come with a failed, socialist economic system.  Castro was hailed for Cuba's "advances" in education and health care, but such claims masked the reality of everyday life in Fidel's Workers Paradise. The Cuban leader gave everyone a taste of poverty, with little access to basic consumer goods and services that were readily available in other Latin American countries.  No wonder that so many took to the seas in rickety boats, trying to escape Castro's living hell.  We may never know how many drowned attempting to cross the Florida Strait, or disappeared in the regime's prisons after being recaptured by the Cuban coast guard.

Of all the tributes to Castro, none was more pathetic than the eulogy offered by Justin Trudeau, Canada's liberal prime minister.  In a statement released shortly after the dictator's death, Mr. Trudeau noted that the Cuban dictator was a "controversial" figure, but praised his "tremendous dedication and love for his people."  That was too much for Senator Ted Cruz of Texas; the son of a Cuban immigrant who was forced to flee the island because of Castro's tyranny.  As Mr. Cruz tweeted:

Unfortunately, President Obama's comments on Castro's passing weren't much better.  In an official statement, Mr. Obama whitewashed the dictator's decades of killing and enslaving the Cuban people, unwilling to say anything that might jeopardize the recent "normalization" of relations between Havana and Washington.

There were celebrations in Miami (and elsewhere) when Castro's death was announced, and rightfully so.  Virtually everyone in the Cuban exile community--or a member of their family--experienced Fidel's terror first-hand.  For them, his appointment with the Grim Reaper was long overdue, and they can take some solace in the thought that Castro is receiving his eternal punishment.

The same holds true for the friends and family of U.S. military members who perished as a result of Castro's actions.  That list includes eleven airmen who were crew members on RB-47 reconnaissance aircraft that went down during and after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.  The same holds true for members of the Alabama Air National Guard who were shot down during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.  On temporary assignment to the CIA, they flew B-26s that provided air support for Cuban exiles trying to establish a beachhead and begin the liberation of their country.  The Alabamians died while President Kennedy refused to commit a much larger American force to the fight.  Their sacrifice wasn't acknowledged by the CIA until almost 20 years later, and the agency refused to comment publicly on their mission until the late 1990s.    

Castro's passing may also offer some closure for the family of USAF Major Rudolf Anderson, who found himself literally in the cross-hairs of the missile crisis, and became the only American to die in action over Cuba.  A graduate of the Air Force ROTC program at Clemson University, Anderson earned his pilot wings and flew F-86s during the Korean War.  Five years later, he was selected for the U-2 program and quickly established himself as one of the best at piloting that difficult and unforgiving aircraft.

When the missile crisis began, Anderson was part of the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, based at Laughlin AFB, Texas.  With more than 1,000 hours in the "Dragon Lady," it was a given that Anderson would be among the pilots flying the daily, high-altitude missions over Cuba.  Launching from their base in west Texas, the U-2s would head east across the Gulf of Mexico.  Over Cuba, the U-2 pilots would typically fly a long, looping track over suspected missile sites and other facilities before heading north and recovering at McCoy AFB, near Orlando, Florida.  Missions staged from McCoy followed a similar path, with the pilot flying on to Laughlin after photographing targets in Cuba.

The U-2 missions began in early October and by the mid-month, photographs collected by the U-2 confirmed what the CIA had suspected.  Russia had placed nuclear-capable, intermediate range missiles in Cuba, placing much of the CONUS under the threat of nuclear attack.  As tensions mounted and the U.S. implemented a naval blockade, the U-2 flights continued, providing valuable intelligence for President Kennedy and his military advisers.

But there were growing concerns about the potential vulnerability of the U-2s and their pilots.  Along with the nuclear delivery systems, the Russians had also deployed SA-2 surface-to-air missiles.  Two years earlier, an SA-2 downed a CIA U-2 over the Soviet Union, leading to the capture of pilot Francis Gary Powers and an embarrassing international incident.  As the crisis wore on, there was mounting fear that a Cuba-based SA-2 would again engage a U-2.  At altitude, there was little a pilot could do, except fly an S-shaped maneuver, designed to increase the "miss" distance between his aircraft and the early-generation SAM.

Anderson was on the flying schedule for 27 October, one of four U-2 flights scheduled for that day.  Electronic intelligence (ELINT) information confirmed a growing threat to American recce aircraft and three of the U-2 missions scrubbed.  But senior officers at Strategic Air Command (which controlled Air Force U-2 assets) decided to go ahead with Anderson's sortie.  He launched from McCoy, following a mission profile that would carry him over key locations in eastern Cuba, then on to Laughlin.

In the early 1960s, most military pilots had nothing more than their eyeballs to detect enemy missile launches.  The CIA had developed and installed an early radar warning receiver (RWR) in the cockpit of their U-2s.  When a tracking radar (like the one associated with the SA-2) was detected, a yellow light illuminated on the device.  A missile launch was indicated by a bright red light.

American ELINT assets detected a spike in SA-2 radar activity from eastern Cuba, including the site near Banes.  But the RB-47s and other platforms monitoring the signals had no way of providing warning to the U-2 pilots.  Given the escalating SAM threat, the Air Force "borrowed" RWR-equipped U-2s from the CIA, and it is believed Anderson was piloting one of those aircraft on the 27th.

Unfortunately, the spooks were missing key pieces of the puzzle--information that would have likely prompted cancellation of Anderson's mission.  The night before his flight, Fidel Castro visited Russian air defense headquarters in Cuba and urged commanders to put the network on combat status.  Russian officers, increasingly worried about a potential U.S. attack, needed little encouragement.  That's why American ELINT operators noted an increase in "Spoon Rest" and "Fruit Set" radars at SA-2 sites, as Anderson passed overhead.

But Castro's involvement in the U-2 incident may have gone beyond that meeting with Russian air defense commanders.  In 1964, almost two years after the missile crisis, cryptologists at NSA broke a Soviet military cipher and began working their way through old message traffic, hoping to glean additional insights about Russian operations.  A number of messages originated with Soviet forces in Cuba, during the nuclear face-off with the United States.

Some of that traffic provided new--and startling--insights about the status of Soviet air defenses in Cuba.  Several messages alluded to a firefight at the SA-2 site at Los Angeles, near the Cuban naval base at Banes.  Russian commanders at the scene reported the SAM complex had come under fierce attack and their troops responded.  The attackers were never identified, but with no reports of internecine combat among Soviet troops on the island, the assault was almost certainly carried out by Cubans, presumably under the orders of Fidel Castro.

Other reports suggest that Cuba gained joint control of the SAM sites about the same time, a significant change from established Russian operating procedures.  Was the sudden change a product of Fidel's visit to Soviet commanders and the apparent attack on the Banes SA-2 complex?  The answer to that question remains unclear, as does the issue of who was in control when the site launched a pair of missiles against Anderson's U-2.  At least one exploded near the aircraft; shrapnel punctured the pilot's pressurized flight suit; the rapid decompression killed him in a matter of seconds.  Wreckage of the spy plane landed near the SAM complex; some of it remains on display to this day at military museums in Cuba.  Major Anderson's body was returned to the U.S. a few weeks later, after the crisis ended.  He is buried in his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, where an F-86 on static display serves as a monument to Anderson's life and sacrifice.

The issue of who was in charge at Banes on that fateful day is critical.  Word of the shoot down quickly made its way to the White House, where JFK and his advisers assumed the Russians made the decision on their own, dramatically escalating the crisis.  And to be fair, the order to fire was made by Moscow's senior air defense officer on the island.  But if his decision was influenced by Castro's lobbying--or a Cuban assault on the Banes complex--it puts his directive in a completely different context.  Subsequent interviews with Cuban and Russian participants have provided confirmation--and denials--of the attack on Banes, and the role of Fidel Castro.  It remains one of the unanswered questions regarding the darkest moment of the missile crisis.  

Despite the loss of the U-2 and Major Anderson, the U.S. never lost interest in aerial reconnaissance over Cuba, and tweaking Fidel whenever the opportunity arose.  In the 1980s, as a junior intelligence officer, I met an F-4 squadron commander with a background in the SR-71.  On one occasion, he amazed us with 8mm "home movies," shot from the cockpit of the Blackbird (amazing).

And, he would gladly tell the story behind another of his prized possessions.  It was a photograph of Castro, greeting Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev as he stepped off the plane in Havana.  Both men are shaking hands, but they are looking straight up.  Their skyward gaze was caused by our squadron commander, who was at the controls of an SR-71 over Cuba that day.  Brezhnev's arrival ceremony was interrupted by the distinctive double sonic boom of the Blackbird, leaving Fidel to explain why the Yanqui air pirates were operating with impunity in his airspace.

In some respects, those flights--which went on for years--provided a measure of justice for Major Anderson and the other U-2 pilots who risked their lives over the island during the missile crisis.  Our departure from Cuban skies was only temporary.  When we returned, it was with a vengence, and there was nothing El Commandante could do about it.                                       



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Prepare to Board!

J.M.W Turner's famous painting of the Battle of Trafalgar (1805).  The Royal Navy's pending loss of anti-ship missiles on surface combatants will force a return to closer-range engagements, with potentially deadly consequences (Wikipedia image)  

Just another, sad, reminder that Britannia no longer rules the waves.

The Royal Navy--which set the sea power standard for centuries--has announced plans that will further reduce its combat power and leave its ships vulnerable in potential engagements with Russian, Chinese and even Iranian vessels.

From the UK Telegraph:

Royal Navy warships will be left without anti-ship missiles and be forced to rely on naval guns because of cost-cutting, the Ministry of Defence has admitted.

The Navy’s Harpoon missiles will retire from the fleet’s frigates and destroyers in 2018 without a replacement, while there will also be a two year gap without helicopter-launched anti-shipping missiles.


Harpoon missiles are unlikely to be replaced for up to a decade, naval sources said, leaving warships armed only with their 4.5in Mk 8 guns for anti-ship warfare. Helicopter-launched Sea Skua missiles are also going out of service next year and the replacement Sea Venom missile to be carried by Wildcat helicopters will not arrive until late 2020.

Without the Harpoon, the strike range of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers will be effectively reduced by 75%.  The U.S.-built Harpoon, introduced more than 30 years ago, can hit surface targets up to 80 miles away.  Without that capability, RN combatants will be forced to rely on their deck guns, which have a maximum range of 17 miles.   

Needless to say, senior British naval officials, past and present, are more than a bit concerned:

Rear-Adml Chris Parry, said: "It's a significant capability gap and the Government is being irresponsible. It just shows that our warships are for the shop window and not for fighting."

Lord West of Spithead, a former First Sea Lord, said: “This is just another example of where the lack of money is squeezing and making the nation less safe.

“We will have this gap of several years without missiles. Well, that’s fine if you don’t have to fight anybody in the meantime.”

The problem, of course, is that we're entering an era when global sea lanes are becoming a contested environment.  Russia is rebuilding its fleet from the ruin of the early 90s and recently deployed a carrier battle group to the eastern Mediterranean, to support operations in Syria.  China is building its own blue-water navy, and will have 4-5 carrier battle groups (with commensurate power-projection capabilities) within the next 10 years.  Even regional powers like Iran and North Korea have sea and shore-based anti-ship missiles that can out-range the deck guns of Royal Navy surface vessels.  

To be fair, the Royal Navy still has strike options beyond a 4.5-inch naval round.  British attack subs, like their USN counterparts, are equipped with Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM), with a maximum range of up to 1,500 miles, depending on the variant.  But the TLAM is most effective against fixed targets, not maneuvering ships, and U.S. plans to halt its production will limit availability for the RN in the future.   

Another strike option is based on Great Britain's two, new fleet carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales.  The largest warships ever built in the UK, the carriers will embark an air wing that includes F-35 Lightning IIs and helicopters capable of attacking surface targets.  But the weapons employed on those fixed and rotary-wing assets are range-limited, and the aircraft would have to run the gauntlet of advance air defenses (on Russian and Chinese ships) to deliver their ordnance.  And there are a number of operations where Royal Navy destroyers and frigates will not be operating with a carrier.  

What to do in the decade between retirement of the Harpoon and the arrival of replacement weapons? The Brits can increase joint ops with the U.S. Navy, which will retain an anti-ship missile capability for the foreseeable future.  But even the USN's position is far from optimum; the Harpoon variants in widest service are older models and vulnerable to anti-missile defenses.  Work on a replacement (the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, or LRASM) is in development, and won't reach the fleet for years.  

Making matters worse, the range of naval strike aircraft is also dropping, thanks to limitations of the F/A-18 airframe and dwindling tanking capabilities within the fleet, so USN Super Hornets and the F-35 will have to run the same air defense gauntlet to get a crack at the surface combatants of peer/near-peer competitors.  Meanwhile, both Russia and China have fielded advanced, supersonic anti-ship missiles (most notably, the SS-N-22 Sunburn) and Beijing has invested heavily in the DF-21, a ballistic system widely touted as a "carrier killer."  Collectively, these systems could create operational "no go" zones for U.S. and allied naval groups, impacting our ability to control global sea lanes. 

That's not to say that deck guns are completely worthless.  They're still quite useful in supporting troops ashore--as long as you can dodge anti-ship missiles launched from coastal batteries.  But even "revolutionary" gun technology has its limitations.  Case in point?  The Long-Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP), developed for the 155mm main gun on the USN's Zumwalt-class destroyers.  While LRLAP is extremely accurate, it's also very pricey at roughly $1 million a round.  

The projectiles are so expensive, in fact, that the Navy has cancelled the planned buy of 2,000 rounds, to be divided among the three Zumwalts that will be built.  A small number will be produced for testing, but the idea of using the weapon to support Marines ashore seems like a pipe dream. Needless to say, the Royal Navy won't be looking at its own version of LRLAP to compensate for Harpoon's retirement.  

In the interim, the RN may have to dust off employment manuals from the eras of Lord Nelson and Admiral Jellicoe.  As we noted on Twitter (@NateHale), Royal Navy surface engagement tactics from 2018 on may look something like this:

1.  Form battle line.

2.  Engage with main guns

3.  Lure enemy into CIWS range

4.  Distribute cutlasses, small arms and prepare to board!  

And the USN doesn't have much room to brag.  As our favorite naval blogger, Cdr Salamander, recently observed, the number of Burke-class DDGs that can no longer fire a Harpoon is both surprising and alarming.                                              

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Winners and Losers (Election Edition)

The earth is spinning backwards on its axis.  Aliens have landed.  Donald Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States.

Until about 3 am Wednesday morning, most of the media nobility and political elites would have given you better odds on the first two scenarios.  Mr. Trump, the real estate billionaire and reality TV host was someone who could never be allowed to occupy the Oval Office--especially if it denied the presidency to Hillary Clinton, acclaimed by the same elites to be the "best-qualified candidate of all time."  Never mind that she is (arguably) the most corrupt individual ever to seek the nation's highest office, someone who has clearly committed serious crimes that would send an ordinary person to prison for decades.

Trump was also a flawed candidate, described at various turns as a misogynist, bigot, charlatan, liar and worse--an orange-haired carnival barker with no relevant who experience who offered a "dark vision" (to use a favored Democrat talking point) and appealed to our worst fears.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Mrs. Clinton's appointment with inevitability. Despite having huge advantages in organization, fund-raising and decades on the political stage, she was a terrible candidate.  Clinton couldn't run on her record as a senator (she accomplished nothing) or secretary of state, where, in league with President Obama, she literally set the world aflame.  And if that wasn't enough, she promised more of his policies; fixing Obama care, another bloated stimulus, higher taxes and more government regulation.  Her legal and ethical issues were just rancid icing on a rotten cake.

That's why Trump is making plans for his inauguration while Clinton gave a concession speech that supposedly outlined a "way forward."  You read that right.  Is that a hint at another run in 2020?  One shudders at the prospect of another Hillary campaign, but with the Clintons, you can never rule anything out.  Our guess is that Mrs. Clinton and her husband may have some legal matters to work out between now and then, thanks to that little pay-for-play scheme they perfected during her tenure at State.  A new FBI Director and a de-politicized DOJ may have something to say about that.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  There's still the post-election autopsy, complete with our list of those who succeeded beyond expectations and those who failed ignominiously.


Donald J. Trump.  That may seem like a no-brainer, but the president-elect's road to the White House was anything but conventional--or easy.  Despite his vast wealth, Trump was dismissed as a side-show candidate when he entered the race in 2015.  The "experts" predicted he would fade quickly against the likes of political pros like Jeb (!) Bush.  But Trump knows a little bit about staging, marketing and image-making, thanks to those years on The Apprentice and his successful real estate career.  But more importantly, he championed the issues that resonated with ordinary Americans--illegal immigration; stagnant wages, the failure of Obamacare, the mass-exporting of U.S. jobs to locations overseas.  At times, his effort looked like a dumpster fire (Trump went through three campaign managers) and could be his own worst enemy on the stump.  But in the words of one pundit (more on them in a bit), Trump was the candidate who never quit; he hammered his opponent relentlessly and touted his vision relentlessly.  It paid off last night, in spades.  He not only won the presidency, he reshaped the Republican electoral map and re-ordered the adopted party.  Quite a feat for someone who had never run for elected office.

Kellyanne Conway.  Ms. Conway has been a fixture in Republican campaigns--and on the talking-head circuit--for years.  When she was elevated to the post of campaign manager in early summer, she became the third person to hold that title in less than a year.  While acknowledging her competence, most of the experts doubted that Conway and campaign chairman Steve Bannon could keep Trump on track.  There were inevitable problems--and gaffes.  Trump wasted time in dust-ups that could have been better spent touting his message.  But Conway brought a discipline to the campaign that Trump previously lacked; stream-of-consciousness speeches were replaced with teleprompter addresses that helped eliminate unforced verbal errors.  Ms. Conway is also one of the architects of Trump's "rust-belt strategy" that led him to narrow victories in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and (likely) Michigan that shattered the so-called "blue wall" and gave Trump his electoral win.  Regardless of what happens in the White House, Conway's campaign management was a marvel.  Honorable mentions to staffers like Jason Miller and Jessica Ditto, who played leading roles in Matt Bevin's election as Kentucky governor one year ago.  The parallels between Bevin's triumph and Trumph's winning campaign are strikingly similar.  

The Forgotten Man (and Woman).  Many of the voters targeted by Team Trump were outside the demography of post-modern political coalitions.  Mr. Trump aimed his appeal at individuals who had been cast aside in the rush towards a globalist, post-modern world, including thousands of factory workers who have watched their jobs move overseas since the 1980s.  Or those still at work who haven't had an actual pay raise in 20 years; endured the erosion of their savings during last decade's financial collapse of 2008-2009, and now face skyrocketing healthcare costs under Obamacare.  The forgotten men and women of America cast their lot with Trump and paid a price for their support.  As Michael Goodwin wrote in the New York Post:

"...Trump’s voters often took great risks and were routinely insulted and demeaned for their passion.
But they wore those insults as badges of honor, proudly calling themselves the “deplorables” and the “irredeemables.”

The factory workers, the veterans, the cops, the kitchen help, people who plow the fields, make the trains run, pick up the trash and keep the country together and keep it moving — they are all now winners. As one, these cogs of our daily life rose up in a peaceful revolution, their only weapons the ballot box and their faith in the future.

Trump voters had the courage of their conviction to go against all their betters, all the poobahs and petty potentates of politics, industry and, above all, the fraudulent hucksters of the national liberal media."

And for once, their voice was heard.  

Pat Caddell.  While most members of the pollster and pundit class took a beating this cycle, Mr. Caddell was one of the exceptions.  A veteran of presidential campaigns since the Jimmy Carter era, Caddell has been predicting a middle class uprising against the elites since at least 2012.  In various appearances on talk radio and Fox News, Caddell noted the growing anger from working and middle class Americans over declining economic opportunities, including the loss of jobs, and perceptions that the system is "rigged" against them.  Not sure if Donald Trump listened to Caddell or met with him at some point, but many of the arguments from the Democrat pollster made their way into this year's GOP platform, and netted millions of votes, particularly in the upper Mid-West.  

The Homeless.  This might seem like a strange choice until you remember that members of this group virtually disappear during a Democratic administration.  That doesn't mean there are fewer homeless, it's simply that the media doesn't cover the story as often when a Democrat is in power.  Beginning in January (if not sooner) any homeless person living Trump Tower stands a good chance of getting on the evening news, while the press speculates about the new president's sympathy for the downtrodden. 

Roger Wicker.  The Republican Senator from Mississippi had the herculean (some would say thankless) task of supporting re-election efforts for GOP incumbents in the upper chamber this year.  Republicans had to defend 24 seats, and a number of those were considered vulnerable.  Wicker and his team worked tirelessly to support GOP Senate candidates and their efforts were largely successful.  Incumbents like Ron Johnson (Wisconsin); Roy Blunt (Missouri) and Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) were considered all-but-dead just a few weeks ago.  All won re-election.  As of this writing, Republicans have lost only two Senate seats, Kelly Ayotte's in New Hampshire and Mark Kirk in Illinois.  Senator Kirk was considered dead meat a year ago, and Ayotte lost by less than 1,00 votes.  But along with the plaudits, Wicker also deserves some darts for missing opportunities.  Darryl Glenn, the retired Air Force officer who took on Michael Bennett in Colorado, ran an underfunded campaign in a light-blue state and lost by only three points.  Glenn didn't get a dime from the RSCC.  

Trafalgar Research. The Atlanta-based polling firm was very accurate throughout the campaign and they did something no one else could--proved there was a reservoir of "hidden" Trump votes, which was completely missed by Trafalgar's competitors.  Company CEO Robert Cahaly discovered a novel way to identify undetected or "under-developed" Trump voters.  Realizing that many supporters didn't want to admit they were voting for the GOP nominee, Cahaly also quizzed voters on who their neighbors were voting for.  When he found someone with two or more neighbors supporting Trump, he assessed the respondent was in the Trump camp as well.  Mr. Cahaly estimates the hidden vote could have been worth up to three points for the Republican candidate and may have provided the margin of victory in the Rust Belt.  

In fairness, we should also salute two surveys that also got it right, polls from the Los Angeles Times daily tracking and the Investors Business Daily.  The LA Times used a different approach, surveying the same sample group throughout the campaign, and they showed a consistent Trump lead.  IBD has had the most accurate poll for the last four election cycles.  There are lessons to be learned from IBD's approach.

The Kremlin. It was obvious early on that V. Putin had a dog in this year's presidential fight, and his name was Donald Trump.  The GOP nominee tirelessly advocated for closer relations with a Moscow regime that annexed Crimea; is actively supporting an insurgency in eastern Ukraine, and conducted an armed intervention in Syria, in support of the Assad regime (and did we mention that most of the Air Force bombing runs have been conducted against U.S.-backed rebels instead of ISIS).  Better yet, a senior Putin aide admitted yesterday that Russian intelligence services "helped a bit" with the stream of Wikileaks revelations unleashed on Democrats over the past six months.  It looks like Putin has his guy in the White House and the impact of U.S. national security policy could be dramatic.    


Hillary Clinton.  Difficult to underestimate the scope of Mrs. Clinton's defeat.  As the Washington Post noted, the former senator and secretary of state looking like a "President-in-waiting" just two years ago, with vast advantages in fund-raising, party support and organization.  Now, she's just another failed presidential candidate, with serious legal problems that will dog her in retirement.  And she has no one but herself to blame.  Following the time-honored Clinton tradition of flaunting rules, regulations and the law, Mrs. Clinton elected to create her own e-mail system, triggering the scandal that tainted her campaign, and amplified public perceptions that she is corrupt and untrustworthy.  She offered little in the way of solutions for the nation's problems and by her campaign's own admission (via Wikileaks), Clinton was badly out of touch with middle class voters.  People in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennnsylvania already knew that and cast their ballots accordingly.  

The Clinton Foundation.  For decades, the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative were hailed as models of modern philanthropy, delivering financial support and needed services to poor communities arond the world.  But that was a scam, first exposed by author Peter Schweitzer (Clinton Cash) and later by Wikileaks revelations.  Both unearthed a trail of coruption, with Bill and Hill gladly selling access to the U.S. government in exchange for multi-million dollar donations to their charities.  Financial records suggest the organizations were little more than slush funds for the Clintons and their friends.  The list of current/former employees reads like a list of former administration and campaign officials.  Meanwhile, other documents suggest the Clinton charities delivered only 6% of their proceeds to designated programs and there are new revelations that Chelsea Clinton used the foundation to help pay for her lavish $3 million wedding and funded her living expenses for a decade.  While the Clintons touted the FBI's decision not to recommend prosecution for her illegal e-mail activities, they are also aware the agency's probe into the foundation is continuing, and potential indictments/prosecution could shutter the foundation for good.  

Obama's Legacy.  Voters chose Trump to repudiate the Obama agenda.  Eliminating Obamacare, enacting a pro-growth economic plan and restoring America's military strength will go a long way towards reversing the Obama legacy and (rightfully) relegating him to the dustbin of failed presidents.  

Democratic Party.  While Democrats basked in the glory of Obama--and awaited the "third term" with Hillary--something was happening to their party outside of D.C.  Republicans have redoubled efforts to take over more governorships and state legislatures since 2008, and they've been hugely successful.  As Obama and Hillary exit the stage, the GOP controlls 33 governorships and both houses of the legislature in more than 30 states.  Not only does that provide a tremendous advantage in enacting low-tax, low-regulation, pro-growth legislative agendas that are popular with voters, it also gives the GOP a leg up on re-districting and provides a tremendous incubator for rising talent.  Losses at the state level have dramatically thinned the Democratic bench.  As of today, the leading Democratic contenders to take on Trump in 2020 are Hillary Clinton (who will be 73); retiring Vice President Joe Biden (who turn 77) and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who will be 79.  The "kid" of the bunch is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who celebrates her 71st birthday in 2020.  To be fair, Trump will be 74 at the time of a re-election bid, but he presents a far more vigorous image than his Democratic challengers.  And beyond Trump, there is a wide and deep pool of experienced Republican governors and senators who have their own oval office ambitions and many are only in their 40s and 50s. 

Media, Pollsters and the Pundit Class.  This is the post-mortem equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, but there isn't a more deserving group.  Over the past 36 hours, members of the political press; the number crunchers that drive their coverage and "analysts" of all stripes have been forced to admit they got campaign 2016 completely wrong.  We'll begin with polling that offered up a steady diet of surveys based on 2012 turnout models that assumed members of the Obama coalition would turn out in similar numbers for Hillary Clinton.  Even a Poly Sci 101 students would have a hard time buying that argument, but flawed turnout predictors gave us polls that (at varying points) told us the election was in the bag for Clinton.  The LA Times and IDB were viewed at outliers, and could not be trusted. Making matters worse, virtually all pollsters missed the "hidden" Trump vote that carried him to victory.  

As for the media, their coverage was blatantly slanted, at least when it came to Trump and his supporters.  Since Election Night, there have been a fair number of mea culpas from more honest members of the press, confessing they missed the year's biggest electoral trend--the disaffected, working class voter--and didn't do much to look for it.  To be fair, there were exceptions; Salena Zito of the New York Post drove more than 70,000 miles across battleground states and spoke with hundreds of residents who were angry and fed up with politics as usual.  Back in August, she offered growing evidence of a rising Trump tide in places that usually go Democrat:

"..In interview after interview in all corners of the state, I’ve found that Trump’s support across the ideological spectrum remains strong. Democrats, Republicans, independents, people who have not voted in presidential elections for years — they have not wavered in their support.

Two components of these voters’ answers and profiles remain consistent: They are middle-class and they do not live in a big city. They are suburban to rural and are not poor — an element I found fascinating, until a Gallup survey last week confirmed that what I’ve gathered in interviews is more than just freakishly anecdotal.


The study backs up what many of my interviews across the state have found — that these people are more concerned about their children and grandchildren.

While Trump supporters here are overwhelmingly white, their support has little to do with race (yes, you’ll always find one or two who make race the issue), but has a lot to do with a perceived loss of power.

Not power in the way that Washington or Wall Street boardrooms view power, but power in the sense that these people see a diminishing respect for them and their ways of life, their work ethic, their tendency to not be mobile. (Many live in the same eight square miles that their father’s father’s father lived in.)

Thirty years ago, such people determined the country’s standards in entertainment, music, food, clothing, politics, personal values. Today, they are the people who are accused of creating every social injustice imaginable; when anything in society fails, they get blamed.

Ms. Zito will testify that evidence of these trends was abundant and readily observable.  So, why did so much of the media miss it?  For starters, there's the inconvenient fact that virtually all of the national media was in the tank for Hillary.  Remember this little happy snap from inside her campaign plane a few weeks ago?  



Take a look; you may see some familiar faces, including NBC's Andrea Mitchell on the right.  Most of the reporters are wearing looks of absolute adulation, affirming that Secretary Clinton was, indeed, their candidate.  There were also surveys indicating that 86% of donations from reporters (and other members of the media) went to Democrat.  It's more difficult to provide fair and honest coverage when you're already invested in one particular party.   

The other problem stems from the media "bubble" that envelops the press contingent on the campaign plane. Many grew up aspiring to be one of the boys or girls on the bus, and having achieved that goal, they don't want to give it up such a plum assignment.  So, they travel with the candidate from one stop to another, fed a constant diet of leaks, press releases and statements from the campaign.  They arrive at the event site, gather their information, then it's on to the next stop.  There is often minimal contact with the ordinary folks who show up to the candidate, though many reporters expressed "concern" after some Trump supporters yelled crude comments at members of the press, accusing them of being unfair (among other things).  There wasn't much effort--at least, until after the election--to find out why those average Americans were also mad at the media.  

Our guess is the introspection won't last very long.  The media elites who live and work in places like New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles really don't have much appetite for dealing with the common folk, who are contemptuously viewed as Bible-thumping, ignorant hayseeds or worse.  Much better to retreat to the comfortable suburbs that surround their urban bubble and start focusing on what a hash Donald Trump will make of things, and tell voters their 2016 insurrection was a mistake.  After all, the folks who anchor and appear on cable news shows or write for Politico are so much smarter than the rest of us, and those rubes in Jesusland will never learn.  

Just one more sign of how divided this country is between the elites and everyone else.  And why members of the chattering class may have been the biggest losers on Tuesday.                                                        

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Gathering Storm (Russia Edition)

This post is being written late Sunday afternoon, about three hours before the second presidential debate from Washington University in St. Louis.  At this point, we (officially) don't know what questions will be posed to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump by moderators Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC, along with members of the studio audience.  But you don't need to be a political pundit to discern that many of tonight's queries will focus on Mr. Trump and his contemptible remarks about women, made to Billy Bush (then a co-host of "Access Hollywood") almost 12 years ago.

Conversely, we'll be greatly surprised if Mr. Cooper, Ms. Raddatz and the audience questioners spend much time outside the realm of the salacious, and actually inquire about issues that actually matter to the nation's security.  And we're not referring to the border, immigration or other issues that are clearly security-related, and have dominated much of the campaign season.  Instead, it's time for a discussion on equally-pressing matters that are reaching the crisis level at hot spots around the globe.

The logical starting point is Russia.  As John Schindler recently noted in the New York Observer, we are facing a likely nuclear standoff with Russia in the Baltics region, probably before President Obama leaves office.  It's no secret that Vladimir Putin has no regard for the American leader, and he is determined to inflict another humiliation on Mr. Obama before he leaves office.

It’s long been obvious that Vladimir Putin and his inner circle view Barack Obama with utter contempt. To the hard men in Moscow, who got their schooling in the KGB, our diffident, wordy Ivy League lawyer president is a weakling—almost a caricature of everything they despise about the postmodern West.

Here the Kremlin mirrors most Russians, who find Obama a puzzling and contemptible man. This is nothing new. I’ve heard remarkable put-downs of our commander-in-chief for years, going back to 2008, even from the mouths of highly educated Russians. Their comments are invariably earthy, insulting, and nowhere near politically correct.

It’s therefore no surprise that Russians view Obama with contempt—and so does their leader. As our president winds up his second term and prepares to move out of the White House, the Kremlin simply isn’t bothering to hide that contempt any longer, even in high-level diplomacy, where a modicum of tact is expected.

Of course, Mr. Obama hasn't exactly helped his cause by ignoring Russian provocations and refusing to make tough choices--and stand behind them.  That non-existent "red line" in Syria was followed by Putin making (and keeping) his own vow to support long-time ally Bashir Assad.  Pentagon analysts claim Russia's military efforts in Syria have been far from a victory, but that misses the central point.  Putin didn't go to war to defeat ISIS; his primary objective was to prevent Assad's military collapse and weaken the U.S.-backed rebel groups trying to depose his regime.  By those metrics, the deployment has been successful.

The Russian President has derived additional benefits by showing off his modernized arsenal, and vowing to challenge the U.S. and NATO.  In recent months, Moscow has deployed two advanced surface-to-air missile systems to Syria, to protect its forces and Assad's troops from western air attack.  Shortly after the second system (the SA-23) arrived, a senior Russian military official vowed to attack U.S. aircraft over Syria, if they pose a military threat.  

And, upping the ante even more, Putin is dispatching a carrier battle group to the eastern Mediterranean, extending his air defense network well beyond the Syrian coast, and posing a potential threat to U.S. naval forces in the region. Defense analysts have speculated that any American attack against Assad would likely be a cruise missile strike, mounted by ships and submarines assigned to the 6th Fleet. 

Mr. Putin is also on the move in Europe.  Elite airborne units--potentially useful in operations against Ukraine and the Baltics--have been training west of Moscow, near Russia's borders with Poland, Latvia and Estonia.  In some instances, airborne elements have deployed out of garrison with a full complement of equipment, rehearsing mobility skills that would be useful during future operations.  The most recent airborne drills come on the heels of a command post exercise involving many of the same units; it's a textbook example of the building-block approach favored by the Russian Army (and other military elements around the world).  Start off with the command units, then broaden the exercise to include troops in the field.  

But the airborne drills aren't the most disturbing aspect of Russia's on-going military activity.  Concurrently, Moscow is holding a massive civil defense drill, involving more than 20,000 Radiological, Chemical and Biological defense troops and other first responders, along with upwards of 40 million civilians.  The exercise scenario is reportedly based on a limited nuclear conflict between Russia and the west, a concept Russia has embraced in military doctrine developed over the last 20 years.  With the loss of massive conventional forces that were disbanded with the fall of the USSR, Russian doctrine is now built around the potential first use of nuclear weapons, and employment of defensive measures to protect key military, economic and leadership assets.  

While this doesn't mean a nuclear conflict is Miminent, there are other, troubling signs that should give everyone pause.  In recent days, Moscow has deployed SS-26 Iskander ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave that lies between Poland and Lithuania.  The SS-26 has a maximum range of 435 NM; it is extremely accurate and (as you might have guessed) it can carry a nuclear warhead.  From launch positions in Kaliningrad, the Iskander can strike targets throughout Poland and even reach Berlin--a fact that isn't lost on our increasingly nervous NATO allies.  

This is not the first time the SS-26 has been dispatched to Kaliningrad, but given the current tensions, Putin is using the deployment to send a very clear signal.  With Obama in the White House, he views NATO as rudderless and weak, and Putin ratchet up the pressure to further divide the alliance during the run-up to our presidential election.  

So far, the response from Washington has been muted, to say the least.  There was a blistering comment from the Army Chief of Staff, General Mark Milley, who warned "those who wish to do us harm" that the U.S. military, "despite all our challenges," will stop you, and we will beat you harder than you have ever been beaten before."  But Milley's superiors, including the Commander-in-Chief, have been remarkably silent in the face of Russia's latest provocations.  

Maybe it's the long holiday weekend (our hard-working federal bureaucrats are enjoying a three-day break for Columbus Day).  Or perhaps the president's political advisers counseled against a high-level statement ahead of last night's debate.  Or maybe our latest bluster over Syria will go the same way as that infamous red line of a few years ago.  Put another way: we don't have anything beyond rhetoric, and Mr. Obama leaves office in less than 100 days.  He is quite happy to play out the string and leave the Baltics as yet another mess for his successor.  

But he may not get off that easy.  Putin is quite aware of how America is now perceived on the world stage and he understands the potential impact of one last humiliation before Obama exits the White House.  A Baltic version of the Cuban missile crisis?  Don't discount that possibility.
ADDENDUM:  As predicted, the Baltics didn't make the cut for questions in last night's presidential debate.  Russia was mentioned, in the context of hacking and trying to influence the U.S. election next month.  But the looming crisis on NATO's eastern flank was conveniently ignored--rather curious considering that one of the moderators, ABC's Martha Raddatz, has reported extensively on national security issues.  Then again, Ms. Raddatz (along with CNN's Cooper) seemed to abandon at pretense at impartiality, interrupting Trump five times more often than they challenged Clinton.  Against that backdrop, it's no surprise that Russian moves in the Baltics never entered the debate.             


Sunday, October 09, 2016


Before he heads out the door, President Obama is pushing a few of his pet initiatives, with little regard for their long-term impact on the nation.

Let's begin with global warming, climate change or whatever catch-phrase is now being used to perpetuate that hoax.  As the Washington Times recently reported, Mr. Obama is claiming that rising temperatures (and sea levels) will trigger new waves of massive migration, creating problems far beyond those now being experienced in the Middle East and Europe.

Never mind that the "science" behind climate change has been notoriously politicized--and global temperatures haven't risen a single degree over the past 18 years; President Obama has never been one to let the facts stand in the way of a convenient narrative.  Just the other day, he suggested that droughts (brought on, of course, by global warming) were one of the factors that caused the Syrian civil war.  So. stop blaming Bashir Assad; those barrel bombs being dropped on civilians in Aleppo are a by-product of climate change, and not the repressive tactics of a brutal dictator.

Mr. Obama has also jumped back on the diversity bandwagon.  On Wednesday, the President directed national security agencies to "strengthen the talent and diversity of their organizations."  More from the Washington Post:

National security agencies “are less diverse on average than the rest of the Federal Government,” including at the senior leadership levels, Obama said in the memorandum. “While these data do not necessarily indicate the existence of barriers to equal employment opportunity, we can do more to promote diversity in the national security workforce.”

Obama told the agencies to take a series of steps to improve diversity, including collecting, analyzing and disseminating workforce data, providing professional development opportunities and strengthening leadership accountability. He said his directive “emphasizes a data-driven approach in order to increase transparency and accountability at all levels.”

In other words, agencies like the CIA, NSA, DIA, the State Department--and others--need to hire more minorities.  Decades of affirmative action programs, specialized recruiting efforts and other initiatives have failed to place enough individuals of color in the senior ranks of the military, the diplomatic corps and the intelligence community.  

National Security Adviser Susan Rice (of Benghazi infamy) is the administration's point-person for the diversity push.  In recent remarks, she described the need to recruit and promote more blacks, Latinos and Asians as a "national security imperative."  Dr. Rice expressed disappointment that people of color represent about 40% of the nation's population, but only 15-20% of the nation's senior diplomats, military officers and intelligence officials.  So, it's a safe bet that a candidate's race will play an even more important role in future hiring and promotion decisions. 

And not surprisingly, the military is rushing to re-embrace diversity as well.  Last Friday, the Air Force released a memo--signed by service secretary Deborah James; chief of staff General David Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody--outlining 13 new "inclusion" initiatives.  According to Air Force magazine, the new mandates include diversity requirements for certain promotion candidate pools; membership on command selection boards and panels considering airmen for recruiting duty. Additionally, the Air Force will create a new "human capital analytics office," which will use microtargeting capabilities to better attract and retain talent.

But the diversity push doesn't end there.  Air Force ROTC will receive an extra $20 million over the next five years to fund 200 new scholarships for students from "under-served and under-represented population centers.  One of the primary goals is to increase minority representation in career fields that have historically "lacked diversity," including pilot, air battle manager, missile and space operations and intelligence.  Leaders in those fields have been tasked to submit plans to reverse those trends.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with getting more minorities into the cockpit, behind a radar console, or as part of a missile or space operations crew.  But certain words are often missing from such discussions, including "standards" and "qualifications."  When the military needs more bodies, there is often a temptation to lower standards; it happened at the height of the Iraq War, when the Army was struggling to meet recruiting quotas.  Minimum scores were lowered on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), and standards were relaxed in other areas as well, to get enough recruits into uniform.

Recruiting someone to be a pilot or intelligence officer is a different matter, but many of the same issues persist.  In the rush to get more people with the "right" background into selected AFSCs, there is tendency to relax requirements.  Minority applicants with lower scores on the Armed Forces Officer Qualification Test (AFOQT) may be admitted, in hopes of achieving diversity goals.

To be fair, there have been no reports (yet) about a serious erosion of standards among candidates who will be recruiting for those new ROTC scholarships.   But such slippage has occurred during the past.  During the mid-1990s, your humble correspondent was an Air Force ROTC instructor at an SEC school.  One of our "sister" detachments was at a historically black college and university, about 75 miles away. We met with the instructor cadre from the other school on a periodic basis, to share best practices and lessons learned.

At the same time, the USAF was in the middle of another diversity push, trying to send a minimum number of minority candidates to pilot and navigator training each year.  I remember asked the commander of our sister detachment about his thoughts on the efforts.  His answer was shorting and stunning: "it's a dumb idea," he told me, and "doomed to fail."

As the Lieutenant Colonel recounted, his detachment had sent an average of two cadets a year to pilot and navigator training during the previous four years, a period that predated his arrival at the school. Most of the cadets were African-American, though some were white, students at a third school who completed ROTC at the HBCU.

From the Colonel's perspective, most of those young people heading to UPT and UNT were doomed to fail, and it had nothing to do with their skin color.  But it had everything to do with their educational background and preparation for pilot and nav training.  Virtually all of the young officers had graduated from high school in the state--a state with notoriously poor public schools.  Many had struggled to complete their undergraduate studies, but they met the requirements for ROTC and earned their commissions.  And with the diversity push of that era, one or two headed off each year to pilot or navigator training, among the most demanding training courses in the Air Force.

According to the commander, not a single lieutenant from his detachment had completed UPT or UNT during the previously-cited four-year period.  Most of the pilot candidates washed out during the first half of UPT (a year-old program); roughly half were retained by the Air Force and trained in a different career field.  The rest were discharged, after hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent on their training.  According to the detachment commander, most of the selectees from his school were marginal candidates, with AFOQT scores that were borderline for pilot and navigator.  Obviously, the test results weren't the only predictor of potential success, but they were a useful barometer.

The Air Force persisted in its effort for a few more years, but the number of minority pilots, navigators, missileers and intel officers remained relatively low.  The detachment commander who warned about marginally-qualified candidates being thrown into the fire at UPT and UNT suggested better screening of candidates, with additional funds to help them complete ground school and earn some "stick time" towards a private pilot's license, since Air Force data shows that applicants with flight experience tend to do better in undergraduate pilot or navigator training.  His idea was rejected due to the projected cost and the perceptions that the service would be giving minority applicants an unfair advantage.

Fast forward 20 years, and the USAF appears to be back as square one.  So far, the Air Force hasn't offered any details on how it plans to meet its diversity goals, but the effort is getting off on the wrong foot.  Consider those 200 additional ROTC scholarships.  What service leaders fail to mention is that minority applicants who meet requirements for those awards are typically bombarded with scholarship offers from top schools--with no requirement for military service.  And, for a student accepting a four-year ROTC scholarship out of high school, there is no military commitment until the end of their sophomore year.  Not surprisingly, many quit the program before their service obligation begins, getting two free years of college on the taxpayers' dime.  For those who remain, the overall washout rate for the four-year scholarship program is 70%, since many can't handle the rigors of an engineering curriculum (ROTC schollys are heavily weighted towards engineering and the hard sciences).  

So, the Air Force faces a tough choice: lower academic standards (and hope some of those students make it to the cockpit, an intel billet or cyber unit, regardless of race, sexual preference or gender), or try to convince more highly-qualified minority applicants to become USAF officers.  But the odds of success for either option are decidedly slim.  It's quite likely that the Air Force secretary and chief of staff will face the same "diversity" issue in 2025 that they're facing in 2016 (and previously confronted in the 1990s).  And did we mention that the percentage of young Americans who qualify for military service is decreasing, even among those who might be competitive for a commissioning program? 

Ironically, there are more viable options for increasing diversity in the Air Force officer corps, but (so far the service hasn't shown much interest in them.  We refer to those "13-week wonders" who earn their commission through Officer Training School, the USAF version of OCS in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.  There are thousands of minority NCOs who have earned their college degree on active duty and are candidates for OTS, but most will never earn a slot in the program for various reasons.

First, there's the academic factor.  As noted previously, the Air Force has always had a preference for officers with degrees in engineering, mathematics, computer sciences, physics and similar disciplines.  Many of the NCOs who complete their bachelor's while on active duty major in business, liberal arts or other subjects that are available on-line, or through classes at the base education center.  Of course, there is a certain irony in the service's preference for technical degrees.  While no one doubts the rigor associated with an engineering, math or IT curriculum, completion of those degrees is no guarantee of success in pilot training, as a missileer, or as an intel officer.

Age can also pose a barrier.  Candidates for OTS must be commissioned by their 35th birthday, allowing them to complete 20 years of service by their 55th birthday.  And, individuals who want to be pilots must enter flight training by the age of 30.  Unfortunately, by the time most NCOs finish their degrees, they are at (or past) that age limit.  And here's the ultimate irony: Air Force OTS only commissions about 500 officers a year (roughly one-sixth of the production rate during the Reagan era) and half of the current slots are reserved for civilian applicants.  So, it's very difficult for active-duty NCOs--from the groups the USAF is targeting--to trade their stripes for a second lieutenant's bars.  Never mind that these individuals already have outstanding service records, and are more likely to make the military a career.  The existence of these obstacles make little sense if the service is truly committed to "diversity."

Expanding the OTS pool would also address issues about experience and competence among junior officers, particularly if the service selects airmen and NCOs from high-demand career fields to serve in officer positions in those same vocations.  Obviously, that won't work for pilot (the USAF only recently approved the training of enlisted drone pilots), but the enlisted-to-officer pipeline works very well in the intel career field and air battle manager, where enlisted surveillance technicians can easily make the transition to surveillance officers and weapons directors.  The Air Force would also do well to consider other possible solutions, such as a reintroduction of the warrant officer ranks, and following the lead of other services in creating limited duty officers, who provide exceptional technical expertise in various career fields.

Unfortunately, those concerns often become secondary when service secretaries, agency heads and general officers sign on for the latest diversity gambit.  The fanfare associated with the launch of such initiatives is rarely followed by the same level of enthusiasm in measuring the success (or failure) of the current scheme to increase minority representation in critical career fields.  However, there is a silver lining for members of those groups who enter the service and make it a career.  Under the new promotion systems being developed, a select number will be virtually guaranteed command slots.  That will make this latest initiative less of a outreach effort and more of a quota system.  Not that anyone at the White House or the Pentagon really cares.        


Thursday, September 15, 2016

"Sea of Fire"

At some point in the upcoming presidential debates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will (again) square off on the issue of national security.  Recent polls indicate that security concerns--such as terrorism--rank low on the list of voter priorities, but that doesn't lessen their importance.

And you don't need to be a foreign policy wonk to understand why.  As he ambles toward the exit, Barack Obama is leaving a world in shambles.  His signature foreign policy achievement (the Iranian nuclear deal) has put the Islamic republic squarely on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons, along with missiles capable of delivering those weapons to targets in Israel, Europe and eventually, the United States.

Elsewhere, Vladimir Putin is also on the march, considering more mischief in Ukraine, the Black Sea or the Baltics.  Beijing is openly challenging the U.S. in the South China Sea, expanding its network of man-man islands, many of which have been fortified.  Chinese leaders are even exploiting a personal rift between President Obama and his Filipino counterpart, cozying up to Manila which (until recently) was expressing grave concern about the PRC's expansionist policies.

And did we mention the war against ISIS is far from won? 

But in some respects, the most pressing security concerns can be found on the Korean peninsula.  Last week, Pyongyang conducted its fifth nuclear test and the most powerful since Kim Jong-un took power in 2011.  Intelligence analysts put the blast in the 10 kiloton range, roughly twice the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. 

If that isn't troubling enough, the situation on the peninsula may get worse--possibly much worse.  According to the UK Sun, some experts believe the DPRK may have enough material for up to 20 nuclear weapons by the end of the year.  That would lend credence to Pyongyang's claims that it could conduct additional nuclear tests "at any time."

To be fair, such claims represent the upper range of North Korea's potential nuclear capabilities.  But it is clear that the Hermit Kingdom has made tremendous progress in its nuclear program; from the early tests that were only marginally successful almost a decade ago, Kim Jong-un's scientists and engineers have created a system that can produce multiple devices each year, demonstrating greater explosive power with each succeeding generation of weapons.  It is also likely that Pyongyang is making progress towards miniaturizing warheads, making it easier to fit them atop land and sea-based ballistic missiles, giving it more options for hitting targets in South Korea, Japan and beyond.

North Korea's heightened WMD activity has clearly caught the attention of its neighbors.  During a recent spate of DPRK missile tests, Japan threatened to shoot them down if they threatened its territory.  Tokyo has made such vows in the past, but as North Korea launches missiles into the Sea of Japan with greater frequency, those promises have taken on a new urgency.  The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has six destroyers equipped with the Aegis system and standard missiles designed to shoot down ballistic missiles.  Japan's Aegis destroyers have been regular participants in joint missile defense exercises with the U.S. Navy, and Tokyo plans to upgrade its Patriot land-based SAMs before 2020.  With over-lapping coverage, the Japanese are capable of engaging various types of North Korean missiles.  The question becomes: when does Tokyo finally determine the missile tests post a sufficient threat to pull the trigger?

The issue is even more critical for South Korea, which lies just across the 38th parallel from Kim Jong-un's growing nuclear and missile arsenals.  In the wake of last week's nuclear test, Seoul borrowed a page from the North Korean playbook and promised retaliatory strikes that would "erase" Pyongyang from the map, if the DPRK fired a nuclear missile at South Korea. 

Seoul also announced plans for "decapitation" strikes as a part of its response, aimed at eliminating Kim Jong-un and other senior North Korean officials.  While South Korea has a growing capability to conduct precision strikes, its ability to locate and eliminate North Korea's supreme leader is doubtful, at best.  Dictators have a knack for survival and resources that improve their odds of living to see another day.    

It's a lesson the U.S. learned during the first Gulf War, when we tried--and failed--to take out Saddam Hussein with a specially-planned decapitation mission.  An eight-inch artillery shell, modified to function as a laser-guided bomb, was flown non-stop from California to Saudi Arabia, where it was uploaded on an F-111 that would target a bunker where the Iraqi dictator was believed to be hiding.  Timing was so critical that the F-111 had already started its engines when the C-141 arrived with the weapon.  The pilot and WSO were literally briefed in the cockpit on employing the weapon, and they did their job--the artillery shell-turned-LGB burrowed deep into the ground worked as advertised, destroying the bunker. 

But there was only one problem.  Saddam had moved to another location before the strike occurred. With almost limitless intelligence and operational resources, the U.S. found it almost impossible to accurately pin-point the location of the most important target in Iraq.  South Korea would find it even more difficult to locate Kim Jong-un, who almost never announces his movements in advance, and has a vast network of underground facilities that offer protection from U.S. and ROK strikes.

Beyond plans to take out the North Korean dictator, it is very clear that Seoul is deeply concerned about its enemy's rapidly-expanding nuclear arsenal and is willing to consider "unusual" steps to counter the threat.  According to Ashai Shinbaum, the South Korean government approached the U.S. about "re-deploying" nuclear weapons to the peninsula, during bi-lateral talks conducted in May. A source familiar with the talks told the paper that ROK officials suggested an arrangement similar to those in western Europe, where NATO partners allow the U.S. to maintain nuclear weapons on their soil, at American-controlled installations.  The host nation helps provide security for the weapons and offers advice on potential employment, but the ultimate operational decision rests with the U.S.

It is difficult to underestimate the gravity of the South Korean offer.  The United States removed its nuclear weapons from the peninsula 25 years ago, and there was little consideration about a re-deployment--until the DPRK joined the nuclear club.  Officials familiar with the recent talks say the U.S. rejected Seoul's offer, fearing the reintroduction of nukes would further destabilize the region.

This may come as a surprise to members of the Obama national security team, but east Asia has devolved into a strategic mess during their watch.  North Korea's nuclear program has stoked new fears in South Korea, Japan and even Taiwan, raising whispers that some of those countries--perhaps all three--might develop their own nuclear weapons in response.  Further south, China's aggressive posturing in the South China Sea threatens trade routes used to carry trillions of dollars in raw materials and finished goods each year.  Outside of diplomatic rhetoric--and a slight increase in military patrols--there has been little response from Washington.

And that's a major reason regional tensions are boiling over from the Korean peninsula to the Malacca Strait.  With American leadership largely absent, hostile regime are aggressively pursuing their agendas.  Meanwhile, our allies feel betrayed and alone, forcing them to consider options that were unthinkable a few years ago.

That's why a debate moderator should ask Clinton and Trump if they would support a re-deployment of nuclear weapons to South Korea, along with our willingness to use WMD to protect our allies in the region.  It's a choice that will face the next president, perhaps very early in their administration. 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Hillary's Unnoticed Revelation

Let's be charitable and say both presidential candidates were less-than-impressive during last night's Commander-in-Chief forum, which was broadcast by NBC and hosted by the Today's show's Matt Laurer.  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appeared separately, fielding questions about national security and foreign policy from Mr. Laurer and an audience comprised of military retirees and veterans.

There had to be moments when those in the audience--and at home--were asking themselves: is this the best we can do? (Or) is there another option?  Sadly, the answer to that one appears to be "no."  Anyone thinking of voting for Libertarian Gary Johnson might want to reconsider after his disastrous answer on the Syrian civil war during an interview on MSNBC this morning.  It will be Hillary versus Trump for the big prize in November; the Queen of Lies versus the King of Exaggeration.  Your choice between a candidate who promises more of the same, failed policies of the last eight years, or a national security novice who needs desperately to get up to speed on a host of critical issues.     

Mrs. Clinton appeared first on the forum and right out of the gate, Laurer began pressing her on the e-mail issue.  Her body language and tone suggested Clinton was angry at Mr. Laurer for mentioning the scandal.  But she tried to muddle through, repeating the tired excuse that none of the classified messages sent or received on her "home brew" server had security "headers" at the top of the page, or paragraph markings identifying the highest classification of material.

What a crock.  While some systems automatically generate a header and declassification instructions for e-mails or reports produced at the classified level, most of the markings are created by the originator.  It's their responsibility to determine the overall classification level of the document and its  various sections and mark it appropriately.  Additionally, U.S. government security regulations make it very clear: individuals with access to classified should recognize and protect that information--even in the absence of security markings--and immediately report any violations to the appropriate authorities. By that standard, Hillary and her staff failed miserably, and contrary to James Comey's "assessment," they clearly broke the law.

But there was also a new revelation from Mrs. Clinton last night.  In her response to a question from Jon Lester, a retired Naval Flight Officer, the former Secretary of State claimed that she also used secure systems to discuss classified material:

I communicated about classified material on a wholly separate system. I took it very seriously. When I traveled, I went into one of those little tents that I’m sure you’ve seen around the world because we didn’t want there to be any potential for someone to have embedded a camera to try to see whatever it is that I was seeing that was designated, marked, and headed as classified.     

Lieutenant Lester wasn't allowed a follow-up and Mr. Laurer didn't seem interested in pursuing the matter, but the answer was an eye-opener for anyone who's ever held a TS/SCI clearance.  Mrs. Clinton's referral to a "wholly separate system" was an apparent reference to the classified intranets used by DoD, the intelligence community and the State Department to share extremely sensitive material.  The systems have been renamed in recent years, but they are widely known by their original designations, SIPRNET, which handles information up to and including the SECRET level, and JWICS, for material up to and including TOP SECRET/SCI level.  

Clinton's answer suggests she was viewing material or one or both networks.  Her access to SIPRNET and JWICS also suggests she had accounts on both systems, which is standard practice for anyone with that level of clearance and the need-to-know.  And did we mention that access to those systems also comes with an e-mail account?   

Mrs. Clinton's admission invites an entirely new line of relevant questions which (to our knowledge) have not been discussed, either in Congressional testimony, or the FBI's "review" of her e-mail practices.  Here are just a few of the queries that demand immediate answers: 

(1) When she went into one of those "little tents" (apparent reference to a temporary Sensitive Compartmentalized Intelligence Facility, or SCIF), did the Secretary of State access SIPRNET, JWICS, or both?  

(2)  During those "communication" sessions, was she logged onto the network using her own account, or someone else's?  And if the account(s) belong to others, who were those individuals?  

(3)  Did Mrs. Clinton have her own SIPRNET and JWICS accounts, as anyone with her position should?  Did she have e-mail accounts on those networks?  

(4)  If she was accessing SIPRNET and JWICS for classified matters, why did she find it necessary to set up her own, unsecure network, and use that system to transmit extremely sensitive material, up to the TOP SECRET/SI-GAMMA level?  (The answer to that one is painfully clear)

(5)  Did any of Clinton's inner circle utilize SIPRNET, JWICS and e-mail accounts on those networks.  If so, what material did they review and how does that compare to what appeared on the unsecure system? (The classified material on the Clinton network was obviously lifted from SIPRNET and JWICS, but the question of how it migrated (file transfer, paraphrasing) has never been explained.  

(6)  How did Clinton factotum Sidney Blumenthal--out of government service for more than a decade--gain access to TS/SCI information, which he relayed to Mrs. Clinton in his intelligence "assessment" of the situation in Libya.  As John Schindler has noted in the New York Observer, Blumental's information is almost a verbatim copy of National Security Agency (NSA) assessment on the same matter.  Blumenthal's memo, sent to Clinton on her unsecure system, even duplicated the unique reporting format used by NSA.  As far as we know, Mr. Blumenthal is not under investigation for any security violations, and strangely enough, the FBI notes on the Clinton e-mail probe never mention the GAMMA material that found its way onto that infamous bathroom server.  Note: the official FBI probe found only one government e-mail account associated with Hillary Clinton, which was operated "on her behalf" and used to send routine, unclassified administrative messages to the State Department staff. 

While there's a steady drip of new information about e-mail gate almost every day, Mrs Clinton may not have to answer many questions about it.  Amazingly, the subject never came up during a hastily-scheduled presser this morning, just before Hillary flew to a campaign stop.  Congress is still looking at the matter, though it's doubtful anything will happen before the election, and FBI leadership considers the matter closed.  So, Clinton will try to keep avoiding the issue, right up until--and after--November 8th. 

As for Mr. Trump, last night was not his finest hour, underscoring the need for him to dig deeper (and solicit more advice) on issues relating to national security.  Defeating 16 opponents in the primary is quite a political feat, but it doesn't mean you're immediately qualified to be commander-in-chief.  We agree that judgment is an important quality for a a president, but without experience--or the willingness to surround yourself with advisers with the right expertise--presidents can make critical mistakes.  Mr. Trump also needs to re-think his mutual admiration society with Vladimir Putin; just hours before the forum, a Russian SU-27 fighter came dangerously close to a Navy P-8 patrol aircraft over the Black Sea.  Trading compliments will only encourage Russia's aggressive posturing against the west.  

Currently, Trump enjoys a solid lead among military personnel and veterans; most figure he can't be worse than the last eight years, while others reject Clinton for her criminal behavior.  As they contemplate a Flight 93 election, read this recent piece by someone who truly understands today's global environment and the hard choices that must be made by the next commander-in-chief.  Mattis 2016.  What might have been.       


Friday, August 26, 2016

What Might Have Been (Iran Edition)

For the second time in three days, there has been a confrontation between U.S. and Iranian naval vessels in the Persian Gulf.  During today's incident, an American patrol craft fired three warning shots into the water after four Iranian boats harassed U.S. and Kuwaiti Navy vessels in the northern Persian Gulf. As CNN reports: 

"At one point, the Iranian boat came within 200 yards of one of the US Navy boats. When it failed to leave the area after the Navy had fired flares and had a radio conversation with the Iranian crew, the US officials said, tthree he USS Squall fired three warning shots. Following standard maritime procedures, the Navy fired the shots into the water to ensure the Iranians understood they needed to leave the immediate area."  

The episode came just two days after four Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels staged a "high-speed intercept" of the guided missile destroyer USS Nitze in the Strait of Hormuz.  

American officials said two of the vessels slowed and turned away only after coming within 300 yards of the US guided-missile destroyer as it transited international waters near the Strait of Hormuz, and only after the destroyer had sent multiple visual and audio warnings.  In response, a senior IRGC naval officer said Iran will continue its close-quarters intercepts of American vessels, maneuvers deemed "unsafe" and "unprofessional" by the U.S. Navy.  

The most recent showdowns in the Gulf are merely the latest in a string of dangerous incidents involving Iranian military forces.  Last December, one of its vessels fired a rocket near the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman; that was followed by the capture and brief detainment of 10 American sailors whose Riverine broke down during a transit from Kuwait to Bahrain and drifted into Iranian waters.  And just last month, one of Iran's naval craft sailed close to the USS New Orleans while the Commander of US Central Command, General Joseph Votel, was on board.   
And, did we mention recent revelations that the Obama Administration paid a $400 million ransom to secure the release of four American hostages from Iran last year?  Or that more money is on the way, helping Tehran finance its own military modernization program, and fund terrorist proxies around the world. 

Then, there's the nuclear deal, which places Iran squarely on the path to developing those weapons.  Iran's partnership with North Korea will provide the expertise needed to extend the range of Tehran's ballistic missiles, so an Iranian ICBM--capable of a nuclear warhead to the CONUS--is a virtual certainty, and perhaps by the end of this decade.

Against that grim backdrop, it's a fair question to ask what might have been, particularly if the U.S. had pursued regime change as a priority in Iran.  And there were opportunities, most recently during the so-called "Green Revolution" in 2009.  After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his faction won the presidential election ("stole" is probably a better term), thousands of Iranians took to the streets, demanding change. 

The widespread unrest threatened to topple the Tehran regime, which responded brutally.  Between 800 and 3,000 protesters were killed in the street; hundreds more disappeared and were executed in Iranian prisons.  President Obama refused to lift a finger in support, claiming the demonstrators--which represented a broad cross-section of Iranian society--didn't represent "real change."  He never admitted publicly that the Iranian election was riddled with fraud, aimed at keeping Ahmadinejad and the mullahs in power.

Why was Obama so insistent on letting the Iranian revolution die on the vine?  We finally have some answers, thanks to Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon and his new book, The Iran Wars.  Eli Lake of Bloomberg devoted a recent column to Solomon's work and its revelations.  He affirms what many long suspected; Obama's obsession over reaching some sort of deal with Iran overruled any other considerations; he was quite willing to let the Green Revolution die on the vine, to preserve his then-secret overtures to Tehran.  As Mr. Lake writes:

It's worth contrasting Obama's response with how the U.S. has reacted to other democratic uprisings. The State Department, for example, ran a program in 2000 through the U.S. embassy in Hungary to train Serbian activists in nonviolent resistance against their dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic, too, accused his opposition of being pawns of the U.S. government. But in the end his people forced the dictator from power.

Similarly, when Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met with popular protests in 2003 after rigged elections, George W. Bush dispatched James Baker to urge him to step down peacefully, which he did. Even the Obama administration provided diplomatic and moral support for popular uprisings in Egypt in 2011 and Ukraine in 2014.

Iran though is a very different story. Obama from the beginning of his presidency tried to turn the country's ruling clerics from foes to friends. It was an obsession. And even though the president would impose severe sanctions on the country's economy at the end of his first term and beginning of his second, from the start of his presidency, Obama made it clear the U.S. did not seek regime change for Iran.  

And, as Mr. Solomon reveals, the president's over-arching desire to strike a deal with Iran influenced critical decisions in other areas.  It's the main reason he walked away from the infamous "red line" in Syria three years ago.  Iranian negotiators told their American counterparts the nuclear talks would end if the U.S. intervened against Syrian dictator--and Iran ally--Bashir Assad.  Obama blinked.  The President also took the unusual steps of ending U.S. programs that documented human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic and wrote letters to Iran's Supreme Leader, assuring him that the we had no plans to overthrow him.  

In the end, Obama got his badly-flawed nuclear deal--and a lot more.  Iran is more belligerent and aggressive than ever before, as evidenced by the recent naval encounters in the Gulf.  And the situation isn't likely to improve anytime soon.  Tehran got everything it wanted in the nuclear accord, and the return of long-frozen Iranian assets in the U.S. will provide a funding stream for new military hardware, the nuclear program and various terrorist allies.  

To be fair, there is no guarantee that American support would have guaranteed the success of the Green Revolution.  But as Mr. Lake writes, it was definitely worth a gamble.  Installing a new Iranian regime would have been a game-changer across the Middle East, likely resulting in a nuclear deal that effectively dismantled the Iranian program and eradicated the emerging threat.  The situation in places like Syria might have become more manageable and there's even the possibility that Tehran's support for groups like Hezbollah would fade.  Without that assistance, the group would become less of a threat to Israel and its stranglehold over Lebanon might decrease as well.  

Unfortunately, all of those scenarios are permanently banished to the realm of what "might have been," thanks to the obsessive and feckless behavior of Barack Obama.  Mr. Solomon's book is on our reading list, since he clearly breaks new ground in reporting one of the story's most important diplomatic stories.  One thing we're wondering about: what role did Presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett play in all of this?  Ms. Jarrett, the president's closest confidante was born in Iran to American parents and, by some accounts, retains a certain affinity for the land where she grew up.  

Nothing wrong with that, but Jarrett seems to be an invisible hand in the diplomatic activity that pursued the nuclear deal to the exclusion of everything else.  One report indicates that Ms. Jarrett played an active role in secret talks with Iran before the public negotiations began.  Never mind that the presidential adviser has no real experience in diplomacy or national security matters.  But she does have Mr. Obama's ear, and some observers believe that Jarrett played a role in the departure of Ambassador Dennis Ross from the president's national security team early in his tenure.  Ross, a veteran Middle East hand, favored a much tougher approach in negotiations with Iran.  Needless to say, that didn't sit well with Mr. Obama or Ms. Jarrett. 

In the end, the president's singular focus on "winning over" Iran--encouraged by members of his inner circle--spelled doom for brave Iranians who rose up during the Green Revolution.  Some of them still languish in prison to this day.  Not surprisingly, the Obama administration isn't doing anything to help them, since we no longer track human rights abuses in Iran.