Loose Canons

Loose Canons

Putin the Humanitarian

By 3.10.14

It’s not at all clear what Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk thinks he can accomplish during his visit with President Obama later this week. It’s a good bet that he’s not coming to urge on Obama the advice offered by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.

I had to read Friedman’s March 4 column twice to be sure I hadn’t fallen for a parody from The Onion. Friedman has a prescription to weaken Vlad Putin that sounds like something written by Al Gore and edited by the folks who publish Mad Magazine.

According to Friedman, if Obama wanted to frighten Putin, we’d invest in (i.e., have the government pay for) facilities to liquefy and export natural gas, making Europe more dependent on us; (2) raise the tax on gasoline; (3) create a national carbon tax and a “national renewable energy standard” all of which, as Friedman admits, would increase the price Americans pay for energy.

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Loose Canons

Crimea River

By 3.3.14

Sometime last Thursday, our intelligence community was telling its bosses that there was little or no chance that Russian President Putin would order his troops to seize control of Ukraine. These are the same guys that are telling us that Iran isn’t building nuclear weapons.

Fortunately, I have better sources. My friend Matt Keegan is a Russia expert and a serious student of their military. On Friday, Matt emailed me to point what should be in the front of the minds of President Obama and the other naïfs trying to figure out what was (and is) going on.

First, he said, Russia wants to control Ukraine because it believes it needs a land bridge to its strategic naval base at Sevastopol on the Black Sea. (The base has been there for about 200 years. When the Evil Empire fell apart, Russia began renting it from Ukraine.) He also pointed out that there are about eight major gas pipeline routes from Russia through Ukraine to reach Europe and Sevastopol. Without controlling Ukraine, Russia risks Ukrainian tariffs on gas or even pipeline sabotage. All of which meant, he said, that the Russians would send military forces into Ukraine to control some or all of that nation.

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Et Tu, U2?

By 2.26.14

Sergeant Hagel did his duty on Monday. The gent who was appointed to be Queen of Hearts for the Defense Department did as he was told and announced yet another round of massive cuts for the defense budget.

Like the Queen — “verdict first, trial after” — Sgt. Hagel announced some very choice cuts without the benefit of any analysis of the threats our nation faces. Gone will be the A-10 attack aircraft, the U2 reconnaissance aircraft, and a host or two of soldiers and Marines. The decision may also be made that the Navy can’t afford to refuel one nuclear carrier resulting in it — and the rest of its battle group — being stuck in port for the foreseeable future. Which is surely okay with the White House because Hagel is matching that with cutting half of the Navy’s cruiser force.

(NB: Obama’s “Pacific Shift” to protect Japan, Taiwan, and the rest of the Pacific Rim nations is now officially a nullity. So is his promise to replace the ground-based missile defense that Bush promised Poland with a sea-based system.)

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Obama’s Assault on the First Amendment

By 2.24.14

The First Amendment provides that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech or of the press. That, in the view of President Obama, is no limitation on his ability to make such laws, even indirectly, through executive branch rules and regulations.

Throughout the 2012 presidential campaign, the IRS discriminated against conservative groups in investigating, delaying and denying the tax-exempt status many had applied for in order to do what similar organizations do on the left side of the political equation. It was enough for Obama’s operatives in the IRS to detect the use of words such as “Tea Party” or “Patriot” in a group’s name for it to be subjected to this discrimination.

When IRS official Lois Lerner was called to testify about this practice before a House committee, she took the Fifth. And during the Super Bowl halftime show, Obama told Bill O’Reilly there wasn’t a trace of corruption in the IRS’s conduct.

Last November, the IRS proposed a change to the tax regulations that would institutionalize this discrimination.

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Obama’s Binge Diplomacy

By 2.17.14

Like a college student losing a weekend inside a tequila bottle, President Obama is going to lose the next month or more in another diplomatic binge. He has lined up a string of summit meetings with Middle Eastern leaders that will put his best foot back between his molars. Perhaps he will succeed for a time, but only in steering the media’s attention away from Obamacare and the latest rope-a-dope he’s pulled on Boehner and McConnell.

In the next weeks, Obama is going to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Saudi King Abdullah, and several other Middle Eastern heads of state. There’s little hope that he will do any good on any front, though he seems poised to poison a few more wells.

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Low Tech Terror on the Grid

By 2.10.14

Sometime before April 16, 2013, one or more people scouted the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s high-voltage Metcalf substation off Highway 101 near San Jose, California. They went around the unmanned power station at a range of 40-60 yards, marking places from which the transformers’ cooling fins were clearly visible through the chain-link fence with piles of stones.

According to a Wall Street Journal report last week, at about 1 a.m. on that April 16, someone cut the telephone lines going to the substation’s location in a manner calculated to be hard to repair. Within about another thirty minutes, shooters took positions by the stone piles and — on a flashlight signal — opened fire. The firing — over about a twenty-minute period, apparently using AK-47 rifles (identified by the empty shell casings in 7.62x39 caliber left behind) — aimed 120 shots at the cooling fins on the transformers, scoring 110 hits. Another flashlight signal called a cease-fire. The shooters were gone long before the first police arrived.

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A Secretary at War With Himself

By 2.7.14

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War
By Robert Gates
(Knopf, 618 pages, $35)

Robert Gates’s memoir, Duty, bridges the gap between the Bush-era memoirs of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Tony Blair and the Obama era. Gates, perhaps the ultimate Washington insider, is the only defense secretary ever to be held over from one administration to another.

Gates gives little insight about himself and if you read Duty, you will come away with many nagging thoughts about unanswered questions.

Having served eight presidents in various national security positions including as Director of Central Intelligence for Bush 41, Gates was serving contentedly as president of Texas A&M when the call came asking him if he would consider becoming Bush 43’s secretary of defense upon the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. Though reluctant to take the job, Gates nevertheless answered the call to duty.

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Debbie Does USAF

By 2.3.14

Poor Deborah Lee James. She’s only been Secretary of the Air Force for about six weeks but she’s been handed the problems of a huge cheating scandal, a $400 billion fighter aircraft that can’t fly in combat and an air force that not only has made some enormous mistakes in the past decade, but seems eager to make another by retiring an attack aircraft the force can’t do without.

She’s a natural for the job, at least by Obama administration standards. She spent 20 years of her 30-year career as a House Armed Services Committee staffer and a Clinton administration Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. Her last ten years were spent at SAIC (a large Beltway consulting firm). She’s not a warrior by any standard, but she reportedly met one once. It’s not your father’s Air Force anymore (or mine, for that matter).

The question is whether her qualifications and experience will enable James to deal with some enormous challenges that face the force. So far, the outlook is pretty bleak.

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Steamroller SOTU

By 1.27.14

If you’re feeling a bit sick to your stomach, it’s probably not due to global warming or the flu. Tomorrow night Congress will hold its annual pep rally for President Obama’s agenda called the State of the Union address. It will be long, tedious, and over-filled with applause lines designed to get Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Chris Matthews to stand up and cheer. But it’s one of those rare Obama speeches that we need to listen to, not just hear. Because we are about to be steamrolled.

This year’s event will be worse than usual, almost certainly not featuring fun counterpoints such as Cong. Joe Wilson’s “you lie” shout or Justice Alito mouthing “not true” at Obama when he makes his rhetorical points. The only things we can be certain of won’t amuse, just abuse.

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Israel to Kerry: Back Off

By 1.20.14

April is the deadline John Kerry has set for himself. By then he aims to negotiate a peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He’s been at it for six months, to the dismay of pretty much everyone, especially the Israelis.

Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon blew his stack at Kerry. Yaalon said, in conversations with American and Israeli officials, that Kerry “operates from an incomprehensible obsession and a sense of messianism — can’t teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians.” He added, “The American plan for security arrangements that was shown to us isn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded, saying “The remarks of the Israeli defense minister, if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate especially in light of everything that the United States is doing to support Israeli’s security needs.” You can read that two ways. What Yaalon said in characterizing Kerry and his actions is entirely accurate.

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