Loose Canons

Lame Duck SGO

So many squandered opportunities -- where does one begin?

By 12.20.10

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What was I thinking when I wrote last week that if Republicans stuck together they could have a clean sweep of the lame duck session? I admit it was wishful thinking, as others did in speculating that the Republican equivalent of Silvio Berlusconi -- Michael Steele -- wouldn't run for another term as RNC Chairman.

So far, there's some good and much awful, but there's so much SGO that the supposedly limping mallard must be doing wind sprints to limber up every day just to keep up with the schedule. (For those just joining us, the acronym SGO was invented by my pal and ex-SEAL Al "the Heckler" Clark, and stands for S***Goin' On.) And so much of the SGO is not even taking place in the hollowed halls of the Capitol.

On the good side, Harry Reid wasn't able to muster a sufficient number of lemmings to overcome a Republican veto on the "DREAM" Act, which would have given amnesty and a path to citizenship to young illegal immigrants who go to college or serve in the U.S. military. The tax deal -- which the House hyperlibs were against -- was good enough to cause Pelosi to snub Obama's signing ceremony and bad enough to fuel posturing by a lot of 2012 presidential wannabes.

The tax deal won't boost the economy: it prevents the damage that would have been caused by tax increases, but there are enough phony tax breaks -- such as more tax "rebates" for those who don't pay taxes -- that it's a significant spending loss. Republicans were able -- with some help from Democrats -- to stop the "omnibus" spending bill that would have dumped another $1 trillion or so into our debt, and would have begun funding Obamacare to the tune of over $1 billion.

But it was more, so much more that even some Democrats couldn't swallow it. They remembered the Bush-McCain fiasco of immigration "reform" in 2007 and the fate suffered by the House "blue dogs" for supporting Obamacare. Had "DREAM" passed, it would have been the personal nightmare of many candidates in 2012.

Which the weekend repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law will be for some of the seven RINOs who voted for it and a bunch of Democrats who are running in two years. Most of the Senate RINO caucus -- Olympia Snowe, bill co-sponsor Susan Collins, Scott Brown, George Voinovich, Lisa Murkowski, Mark Kirk joined by Nevada's John Ensign -- all voted for the repeal.

Democrats -- such as Virginia's Jim Webb and Missouri's Claire McCaskill -- are going to be targeted in 2012 by conservative religious groups because they voted for repeal. (Some of these groups -- citing what they characterize as an attack on religious belief inherent in the DADT repeal -- are already mobilizing.) Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen -- credited yesterday for the repeal by Andrea Mitchell for his "moral" stand -- may have his confirmation blocked for a second term as Chairman for the same reason.

The Democrats are threatening to go nuclear, not just on the misbegotten START treaty with Russia but to change the Senate rules to enable a simple majority to end debate and force votes on bills and nominations. (The last time the "nuclear option" was proposed was back in 2005, when then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist thought it was time to break the blockade of Bush judicial nominations. Media hysteria derailed it. Reid and Durbin may try it -- to assured media acclaim -- next year.)

Harry Reid has promised a confirmation vote on Obama's new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty in the coming week. He'll need 67 votes to get it, and enough Republicans are hard over against it that they may delay confirmation until the next Congress when they can get answers to some really important questions. Such as, what does the treaty really mean in limiting the number of delivery systems? If you strap the right bomb racks on almost any fighter-bomber you can deliver a nuke. How many tactical weapons will we lose under this treaty?

The fighter-bombers -- F-16s, F-15s and F-18s -- are heavily engaged right now in Afghanistan. The president's new Afghanistan strategy, announced last week, slipped past in the media frenzy covering the lame duck quackery. Obama says we're on track to meet our objectives. Which is patently false: the Afghan government is entirely deficient in establishing the local governmental institutions in areas where our troops have been fighting to clear out the Taliban. We're not making progress in Afghanistan: nation-building is failing, as it always does, to establish any permanent or even semi-permanent gains.

As the Financial Times wrote, Obama's Afghanistan strategy can be summed up in three words: "surge, bribe and run." Which was confirmed yesterday by Vice President Biden on Meet the Press when he said that "come hell or high water" we're out of Afghanistan in 2014. Defeating the enemy isn't even a footnote to the strategy. House Republicans should plan their own review of the Afghanistan strategy -- and all other Obama defense strategies -- as a headline effort next year.

Another part of the Republican review should be how the Obama administration has failed utterly to deal with two of the more dangerous characters on the world stage: Kim Jong-Il and Julian Assange. The UN is in emergency session to consider the North's promise of catastrophe if the South conducts more military exercises. The UN will accomplish nothing, as it has on Iran's nuclear program and pretty much everything else since the Suez Crisis of 1956.

Cyberanarchist Assange has been bailed out of a Brit jail and may be extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault charges. Attorney General Holder has apparently empanelled a secret grand jury to indict Assange for publishing the leaked Defense and State Departments documents. Under the Espionage Act (Title 18 US Code Section 793), Assange could be convicted and imprisoned for up to ten years for having unauthorized possession of classified information and publishing it for the purpose of injuring the United States.

But what about the other publishers of classified information -- such as the Washington Post, the New York Times and others -- which have published information that wasn't just "secret" as Assange published, but "top secret" information such as the NSA's Terrorist Surveillance program, the CIA's secret prisons for terrorists abroad and the Belgian "SWIFT" consortium helping trace terrorist financing? They are as guilty as Assange.

The answer to Assange -- as I've written often -- should have been a cyber attack to prevent publication which the Obama administration failed to mount. Assange is beyond the jurisdiction of American courts. Indicting him will be an empty gesture because the Europeans aren't likely to extradite him here.

The answer to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the rest isn't prosecution: the answer is to punish the leakers.

There are only two legitimate uses of the power of government against the American press.

First, as the Supreme Court said in the Pentagon Papers case, there are some circumstances when prior restraint against publication can be justified under the First Amendment. When another situation like the NSA program leak arises, the courts should be asked to prevent publication when, as in that case, the media refuses a proper government request to refrain from publication.

The second is where reporters can and should be compelled to reveal their sources as in the crusade against the leakers in the Valerie Plame leak case. Punish the leakers, not the press. U.S. courts cannot restrain publication by foreign outlets such as WikiLeaks. For that, self-defense by cyberwar is not only proper, but our government's duty.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. You can follow him on Twitter @jedbabbin.