Belmont Club

Sound ... Fury ... Significance?

While the administration hasn’t ruled out an American intervention in Syria it acts as though it might. And if it does, there’s at least an outside chance it won’t consult Congress. “Reuters reports this morning that White House Senior Counter-Terroism Adviser John Brennan ‘did not rule out on Wednesday the eventual creation of a no-fly zone over a patch of Syria.'”

Ward Carrol describes the Administration’s warmaking strategy: fight everywhere and never ask permission from anyone but the United Nations. “The Obama administration’s defense strategy has emerged de facto as one with three major prongs: The first has been a continuation of the Bush 43-era COIN-esque wars in the Middle East. The second has been the high-viz attempt at a pivot to the Pacific Rim. The third has been the prosecution of “proxy wars” — hostilities under banners of things other than declared war. Drone strikes in places like Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan fall into this catagory. And, the largest scale example of a proxy war on Obama’s watch was the no-fly zone over Libya — officially tagged ‘Odyssey Dawn.'”

Will that scenario be repeated in Syria? Ward thinks it might.

As I wrote in a Huffington Post blog piece last fall, from a political point of view, the beauty of these sorts of no-fly zones is in the optics. Fly the NATO flag over the operation and give the lead to a British guy. (Nothing to see here, Fourth Estate.)

Then start the no-fly zone flight ops — defensive in nature, right? Let the opposition make the first move and react. … the Syrian IAD is more robust than the Libyan one, so you can expect a similar rollback strategy this go ’round (if it happens).

The problem with that Ward’s scenario is that both China and Russia have so far show no inclination to go along in the Security Council. As for Congress, well what about Congress? John Brennan, the Administration’s counterterrorism chief described the undeclared war in Yemen as part of a “broader strategy” — one which included more cybersecurity — and said that if Congress won’t back it, then President Obama will simply do it via an executive order.

Among other issues, Brennan said Obama will use executive powers to implement some of the measures contained in cybersecurity legislation that died after a filibuster by Senate Republicans last week.

“If Congress is not going to act on something like this, then the president wants to make sure that we’re doing everything possible,” Brennan said. “Believe me, the critical infrastructure of this country is under threat.” He did not specify the actions the White House might take.

Brennan also said that recent leaks of national security information had been “devastating.” He would not discuss specific examples.

Maybe he ought to know about the seriousness of leaks from the White House. But the urgency evinced by the administration is extraordinary.  To paraphrase Leon Trotsky, you may not be interested in war, but maybe someone else is. The New York Times reports that the administration is creating a missile defense shield around the Gulf States.

WASHINGTON — The United States and its Arab allies are knitting together a regional missile defense system across the Persian Gulf to protect cities, oil refineries, pipelines and military bases from an Iranian attack, according to government officials and public documents …

That would include deploying radars to increase the range of early warning coverage across the Persian Gulf, as well as introducing command, control and communications systems that could exchange that information with missile interceptors whose triggers are held by individual countries.

For that purpose, the Pentagon late last year announced a contract for the sale of two advanced missile defense radars to the United Arab Emirates. And early this year, officials disclosed that a similar high-resolution, X-band missile defense radar would be located in Qatar, as well …

Three weeks ago the Pentagon announced the newest addition to Persian Gulf missile defense systems, informing Congress of a plan to sell Kuwait $4.2 billion in weaponry, including 60 Patriot Advanced Capability missiles, 20 launching platforms and 4 radars. This will be in addition to Kuwait’s arsenal of 350 Patriot missiles bought between 2007 and 2010.

The United Arab Emirates acquired more than $12 billion in missile defense systems in the past four years, documents show. In December, the Pentagon announced a contract to provide the Emirates with two advanced missile defense launchers for a system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, valued at about $2 billion, including radars and command systems. An accompanying contract to supply an arsenal of interceptor missiles for the system was valued at another $2 billion, according to Pentagon documents.

Saudi Arabia also has bought a significant arsenal of Patriot systems, the latest being $1.7 billion in upgrades last year.

The United States’ own military forces provide a core capability for ballistic missile defenses in the Persian Gulf, in particular the American Navy vessels with advanced tracking radars and interceptor missiles. According to Navy officials, these Aegis missile defense systems, carried aboard both cruisers and destroyers, are in the region on continuous deployments.

And the United States has deployed a number of land-based missile defense systems to defend specific American military facilities located around the gulf.

We have come a long way from the days when President Obama talked about abolishing unproven missile defense systems. Today they are acting like they can’t get enough of it — though not for Europe, but for the oil states.

Meanwhile the cyberwar that Brennan talked about is going full blast, at least in the Middle East. Thinking about online banking?  Thinkg about Gauss.

Russia-based security firm Kaspersky Lab, which discovered the malware in June … dubbed Gauss after a name found in one of its main files, also has a module that targets bank accounts in order to capture login credentials. The malware targets accounts at several banks in Lebanon, including the Bank of Beirut, EBLF, BlomBank, ByblosBank, FransaBank and Credit Libanais. It also targets customers of Citibank and PayPal.” With that kind of threat on the loose why not turn over more of the Internet to the administration’s watchdogs. And if you don’t agree, they may do it by executive order anyway.

Even though the administration denied there was any war going in Yemen, nobody said anything about elsewhere. The New York Times quotes American and Israeli sources which say that the shadow war is back.

BERLIN — A magnetic bomb detonated on a diplomatic car in New Delhi. The police uncovered a cache of explosives at a golf course in the Kenyan city of Mombasa. Five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed in an attack outside the airport in the Black Sea coastal city of Burgas.

These were just a few of what some Israeli and American intelligence officials say were nearly a dozen plots that form the backbone of a continuing offensive by Iran and Hezbollah against Israel and its allies abroad. But the links seem tenuous at times, the tactics variable, the targets scattered across the globe, from the Caucasus to Southeast Asia to the Mediterranean.

“This is not a spy thriller that necessarily has a plot readers can follow from page to page,” said Matthew Levitt, director of the program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Iran and Hezbollah both thrive on reasonable deniability.”

Like the the tagline in the Bourne movie. “There was never just one”. All this comes at a time when the Administration is doing its level best to downsize the US military. AOL says cuts are slowly driving the Air Force “out of business”. The Army is being given hollowed-out reconnaissance units: more flags and fewer drones. These all go by the name of “sequestration”.

The Administration’s actions have all the appearance of a strategy,  if only one knew what it was. No two aspects of them seem to fit. On the one hand we are seeing preparations for a wider war in the Middle East. On the other hand the administration is cutting back the Armed Forces and marooning large parts of it in Afghanistan. On the one hand the administration talks about a comprehensive war on al-Qaeda, on the other hand it is hardly even speaking to Congress about it.

You would expect at the least that if the President were going to face some huge crisis, that he would try to create a bipartisan government of unity, not accuse Mitt Romney of murder and felony and launch political ads showing Allen West punching white women.

What gives? The situation superficially resembles 1940, but without a Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan to confront. Jerome O’Connor, writing for the US Naval Institute, described Roosevelt’s “undeclared war”. Back in the day, FDR, like a tongue-tied suitor, was working up to the punch line. What he wanted to say was that America was in for it. And so he beat and beat and beat around the bush.

On the day of the 29 December 1940 “fireside chat,” the world waited in anticipation of what the President of the United States would say about national security. Unknown to the public was that months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy was secretly hunting German and Italian warships in the North Atlantic …

In the White House at 2130 on 29 December 1940, an audience of twenty sits expectantly on wobbly, gilt wooden chairs before a desk drilled with holes for the wires of seven microphones. On the desk are two sharpened pencils, a blank notepad, two glasses of water and an opened pack of Camels. Among the invited guests are matinee idol Clark Gable with his wife, blonde Carole Lombard. She wears a “simple black afternoon dress” and a funnel-shaped black hat and veil. Sixty-nine year-old Secretary of State Cordell Hull, fingers his pince-nez ribbon. Print and broadcast reporters casually smoke. And in the first row, dressed in a gray-blue evening gown, Sara Roosevelt awaits her son, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States.

All over the country, unnecessary activity comes to a halt as millions of families gather in their living rooms next to bulky, polished-wood Philco, RCA, and Emerson radio consoles. Five minutes before the broadcast, attired in a dark blue serge suit and black bow tie, the President glides into the oval Diplomatic Reception Room on the rubber tires of a small wheelchair, amiably greets guests and clears his throat. Ready to deliver one of the most important speeches in his political career and in the lives of 132 million fellow citizens, FDR begins his 16th fireside chat, entitled “On National Security.” “Never before…has our American civilization been in such danger as now,” he says in the familiar rolling resonance. “By an agreement signed in Berlin, three powerful nations, two in Europe and one in Asia, joined themselves together…that if the United States of America interfered with or blocked the expansion program of these three nations – a program aimed at world control – they would unite in ultimate action against the United States.”

The obvious problem with this historical analogy is the absence of a titanic threat facing the United States. But there is a gigantic threat facing Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Muslim world. They are in a crisis, but not except indirectly, are American interests involved.

Either the dimensions of the true threat to America have not been been forthrightly described by National Command Authority, or the administration is essentially engaging in extraordinary prosecution of a conflict whose importance has so far been downplayed.

If events in the Middle East are as well in hand as described, what’s the rush? But if they are not well in hand, then what is the truth? Probably the worst aspect of the administration’s policy regime has been the opacity which has descended on everything. The Diplomad, authored by a former staffer at the State Department describes the problem succinctly.

As noted before, I began my career in the Foreign Service during the Carter presidency, and ended it during the Obama presidency: two horrific bookends.

Jimmy Carter should not have been president. He was incompetent beyond belief; angry about America’s success in the world; wanted us to get our comeuppance; and was and is a mean, reptilian and graceless little man …

We now are saddled with another abomination as president: one worse than Carter. The damage Obama has done to our economy and global standing, while immense, can be relatively easily fixed. The real damage he has done is more pernicious and perhaps permanent. He has participated fully and deliberately in undermining the essence of what it means to be an American. Let me explain.

Anybody remotely interested could know Carter, what he had done with his life, and what he advocated. He had an easily accessible public record.  Obama, of course, is the most secretive and closed off president we have ever had. Only after years of badgering did he even release his birth certificate. We are not allowed to know about his education except that, like the absurd Elena Ceausescu, he is “brilliant.” How did this self-admittedly mediocre high school student, from a relatively modest background, growing up in remote Hawaii and Indonesia as part of an apparently very dysfunctional family, manage to get into three expensive and “elite” universities? How did he come to their attention? Who vouched for him? Who paid? Did he claim to be a foreign student? What were his courses and grades? Who were his friends and teachers? In a celebrity obsessed world where we know everything about Tom Cruise and Britney Spears, we know next to nothing about the man who encumbers our presidency.

His political rise is shrouded in mystery. After Harvard, he suddenly moves to Chicago. Why? He becomes a “community organizer” there, and rapidly rises in the corrupt and crony-filled Democratic machine. He becomes the darling of gangsters such as Rezko, close friends with known terrorists and hate-mongers, and presto he is taking down opponents right and left and soon is in the White House.  We can’t ask anything about it all. To do so risks charges of racism. His ascendency is a liberal Hollywood fable and it must remain unquestioned and unexamined. He is our anointed leader. He is our Athena. …

Obama has become the incarnation of a troubling trend in our country that has accelerated over the past 40 or so years. He has become the head of what passes for modern progressivism: the alliance between tax-supported university faculties, lawyers, government bureaucrats, journalists, NGO “activists,” and Hollywood. This alliance has promoted the politics of envy and resentment, and launched a sustained attack on traditional American values. Our country is now filled with the half-educated idiots who emerge from our universities with no real knowledge but with feelings of entitlement and resentment. We should stand in awe of people with PhDs regardless of whether what they say corresponds to the reality we see, because they know what’s good for us. They are the “experts.”

We are in the hands of the experts, and they can’t explain why they’re doing things.


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