Tag Archives: Frank Gaffney

Robert Gates Resets His Clock

Fred Kaplan at Foreign Policy:

The interview was conducted July 12 in Gates’s office at the Pentagon, several weeks before he announced a sweeping series of cuts to key programs, including the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. Excerpts:

Fred Kaplan: You may remember the last time I was here, which was late in 2007. You had one of these countdown meters. And I asked you at the time — I said, you know, there are some people on the Hill who would like you to stay for whatever the next term is. And this line of yours has been quoted a fair amount. You said, “Well, I never say never, but the circumstances under which that would happen are inconceivable to me.” “Inconceivable” is a pretty absolute word. So what happened? Why are you … here? Why did you stay?

Robert Gates: Once there started being speculation around that time that I might be asked to stay no matter who was elected, I confess that I started what ended up being eight- or nine-months-long covert action. And it was to try and build a wall of clarity that I did not want to stay high enough that nobody would ever ask me.

FK: (Laughs.) Well, “inconceivable” goes quite a ways up there.

RG: And I, you know, I was very consistent for a long period there in saying that, because I really didn’t want to be asked, knowing that if I were asked, I would say, “Yes.” For the same reason I never hesitated — you know, I wrestled with the [director of national intelligence] job a couple of weeks back in January of 2005. The instant [National Security Advisor Stephen] Hadley called me about taking this job, I said, “Yes.” I just — in the middle of two wars, kids out there getting hurt and dying, there was no way that I was going to say, “No.”

And I felt the same way going into 2008 — that if somebody asked, I worried a lot about the baton getting dropped in the changeover between administrations. And so I knew if the president, whoever was elected president, asked me to stay that I would say, “Yes.” Now, you know, the timing was always sort of vague in my mind: six months, a year, just to provide a smooth transition and so on — [it] ended up being longer than that.

[…]

FK: So what would you hope would be your legacy of all this? I mean, are people looking back at the Gates era or whatever —

RG: Well, as a historian, I’m generally inclined to let the historians think about that. Or writers.

FK: Wait, you just contradicted yourself. If you are a historian, I mean, that makes you perfectly capable of commenting.

RG: (Laughs.) Yeah, but at some distance. You remember the old line [Chinese leader Zhou Enlai gave] when asked about the French Revolution?

FK: Too soon.

RG: Well, first of all, I never forget that the primary task that I was given when I took this job was to put Iraq in a better place. And the nation has been engaged in two wars every single day I have been secretary. So the outcome of those two wars I think will be huge elements people look at. And by the way, if I stay just until January —

FK: January of what?

RG: 2011.

FK: Mm, hmm.

RG: Nice try. (Laughs.) If I stay until January of 2011, I will have been in this job — I’m the 22nd secretary of defense, and I’ll have been in the job longer than all but four of my predecessors. And those four are Robert McNamara, Don Rumsfeld, Cap Weinberger, and Charles E. Wilson. (Laughter.)

I think the toughest thing in public life is knowing when to dance off the stage. And to leave when people say, “I wish you weren’t leaving so soon,” instead of “How the hell do we get that guy out of there?” And the other aspect of this is, like I said, two separate wars for every day I’ve been on the job is very wearing. And there’s a certain point at which you just run out of energy.

[Then there’s] this rebalancing and all these initiatives with respect to the budget, trying to get rid of programs that don’t measure up, aren’t needed, or at least cap them in terms of the numbers. And I suppose a third would be — and I certainly didn’t intend this when I came here — a rigorous reinforcement of the principle of accountability. It’s a very, very rare thing for a senior person to be fired in this town, and I’ve done a bunch.

Alan Mascarenhas at Newsweek:

In the dying months of the Bush administration, a weary Robert Gates took to surreptitiously carrying around a clock. Given by a sympathetic friend, it displayed the days remaining until Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009, when he would be relieved of his duties as secretary of defense. Gates’s family has been thought to eagerly await the day the veteran of six presidential administrations could finally step down. The secretary himself scoffed at speculation he might stay on.

We all know how that panned out. Still, with today’s revelations in Foreign Policy magazine that Gates, 66, will retire sometime in 2011, the clock may soon be replaced by a well-earned gold watch.

[…]

The surprise, of course, is not that Gates is leaving, but that he stayed so long. With unfinished wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, he simply couldn’t bring himself to turn down the request he always feared was coming from President Barack Obama. “In the middle of two wars, kids out there getting hurt and dying, there was no way that I was going to say, ‘No.’ ”

Even then, he initially expected to stay only a year. But he has since become an indispensable member of the administration, pressing reforms to the Pentagon budget and implementing Obama’s Afghanistan plan of trebling troop numbers to 100,000 with a view to commencing a drawdown next summer. Yesterday, General David Petraeus, commander of the joint U.S. and NATO effort in Afghanistan, stressed that stabilization would be gradual and refused to rule out requesting a delay in the withdrawal date.

As an expected reshuffle of administration personnel occurs after November’s midterms, Gates may well find 2011 is the best time to depart. Yet as the servant of a president potentially forced to fine-tune his Afghanistan strategy, he may just as easily find himself facing fresh calls to stick around. Of course, this is a man who obviously has changed his retirement plans before.

Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time:

Set your countdown clocks to 2011, when Robert Gates, Defense Secretary to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, plans to step down. “It would be a mistake to wait until January 2012,” he tells Foreign Policy, in an exclusive interview. “This is not the kind of job you want to fill in the spring of an election year.”

[UPDATE: Fred Kaplan, the author of the Foreign Policy article, emails to point out that Gates may be bluffing. Indeed Gates has done it before. Writes Kaplan:

Gates did not tell me that he is leaving in 2011. He said that he’d like to leave, and thinks he should leave, in 2011. However, I begin the piece by noting that, in my last interview with Gates, at the end of 2007, I asked him if he’d consider staying on in the next administration. He replied, at the time, that the circumstances under which he’d do that were “inconceivable.” So when I interviewed him for FP last month, I asked him what changed. He confessed that he’d been engaging in a “covert action.” He was telling everybody that he really wanted to go, in hopes that this would discourage the next president from asking him to stay – but all along he knew that if the next president did ask him to stay, he would.

Read the entire Kaplan piece here.]

Considering that the 2012 election season is set to begin at the end of 2010, this may suggest an early 2011 exit for Gates. Gates departure may be felt less on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where there are many cooks in the kitchen, than in his personal crusade to bring some level of rationality to the defense budget. It’s an uphill slog that now depends significantly on Gates own credibility and star power. Fareed Zakaria asks today, “Can anyone seriously question Gates’s ideas on the merits?” Probably not. But with Gates gone, it will be that much easier for the approriators and the lobbyists to gain, once again, the upper hand.

Peter Brookes and Mackenzie Eaglen at The Corner:

In the coming months, lots of people will be cranking up their computers and burning up the airwaves with commentary on the just-announced departure of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates sometime in 2011.

Evaluating his legacy as SECDEF when he ultimately leaves next year will be important for the historical record, but the challenges his yet-to-be-named successor will face are more important.

For instance, there’s little doubt that the war in Afghanistan will still be a major focus in 2011 — not to mention the challenge of managing the White House’s mandated drawdown next summer. Don’t forget about Pakistan. Plus, with lots of American trainers likely still in Iraq next year, attention will need to be given to that region as well.

And there’s Iran, which will either be a nuclear-weapons state or darn close to being one by the time Gates leaves the E-Ring for the last time. Unfortunately, the current policy approach just isn’t making headway. The new secretary is going to face the less-than-amusing task of handling Tehran’s atomic ayatollahs.

Frank Gaffney at The Corner:

Secretary Gates has the unenviable task of presiding over the latest “hollowing-out of the military,” as Jimmy Carter’s Army chief of staff Edward C. “Shy” Meyer once described it. Even before the announcement by Gates, the Bush-appointed Republican technocrat kept on by President Obama, of his intention to cut $100 billion from the defense budget over the next five years, the secretary had already eliminated what were arguably each of the armed services’ highest-priority programs: the Air Force’s F-22 fighter, the Navy’s DDG-1000, the Army’s Future Combat System, and the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

What do these have in common, besides their being crucial to the modernization of the sponsoring service? They are all indispensable to the projection of power by the United States. Secretary Gates has made it fairly clear that that’s not his priority; he wants to retool the military to fight today’s counterinsurgency operations and not much more. If history is any guide, the result is going to be a vacuum of power that will be filled by America’s enemies and one-time allies — to our extreme detriment.

Even so, Gates has let it become known that he would like to cut even further. He’s been bad-mouthing the Navy’s aircraft carriers, even though he told Kaplan he wasn’t crazy enough to attack them frontally. On the other hand, he seems to be signaling that he is crazy enough to think we no longer need an amphibious warfare capability or even the U.S. Marines Corps.

Chuckie Corra at Firedoglake:

I first saw this reported by Ben Smith for Politico.com and was a bit surprised. Robert Gates is the current Secretary of Defense for the Obama Administration, and had been for George W. Bush as well. This could be a crucial decision made by Gates as much of the attention in Obama’s presidency is now focused on the two wars started by the Bush Administration, but expected to be finished by Obama.

Robert Gates, pillar of Obama’s national security policy, tells Fred Kaplan he’ll leave some time next year, ensuring that the decision about replacing him is shadowed by Obama’s re-election campaign.

There’s no obvious replacement for Gates, certainly none with the same capacity to silence Republican attacks on the administration’s security policy. The most politically logical replacement may be HIllary Clinton.

[Source: Politico (cited from Foreign Policy Magazine)]

Ben Smith is right. This could be yet another thing brought to the table by Republicans to admonish Obama and his handling of National Security issues, especially if a Democrat is appointed to take Gates’ place. Appointing Hillary Clinton, as Smith suggested, seems to me to be more of a tumultuous effort. This would involve having to find someone else to head State Department. Two crucial changes in two of the arguably most important cabinet positions could be costly politically and as far as his policies are concerned as well.

Robert Gates’s position as Secretary of Defense is about the only thing the Republicans haven’t extensively chastised Obama for in his first two years in the Oval Office. The RNC is certainly looking at this news and salivating.

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What Was Said At A Ramadan Celebration

James Hohmann, Maggie Haberman and Mike Allen in Politico:

The White House on Saturday struggled to tamp down the controversy over President Barack Obama’s statements about a mosque near Ground Zero — insisting Obama wasn’t backing off remarks Friday night where he offered support for a project that has infuriated some families whose loved ones died in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Obama’s comments placed him in the middle of the controversy over a Muslim group’s plans for a mosque near the site of the 2001 attack — and in turn, transformed an emotion-laden local dispute in New York into a nationwide debate overnight.

Republicans pounced, amid early signs that the issue would seep into some state and congressional contests. “It is divisive and disrespectful to build a mosque next to the site where 3,000 innocent people were murdered at the hands of Islamic extremism,” said Florida GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio. His opponent, Charlie Crist, a Republican turned independent, came out in support of Obama’s comments.

And Democrats — at least some who were willing to comment — could barely contain their frustration over Obama’s remarks, saying he had potentially placed every one of their candidates into the middle of the debate by giving GOP candidates a chance to ask them point-blank: Do you agree with Obama on the mosque, or not?

That could be particularly damaging to moderate Democrats in conservative-leaning districts, already 2010’s most vulnerable contenders.

“I would prefer the president be a little more of a politician and a little less of a college professor,” former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who once ran the House Democratic campaign arm, wrote in POLITICO’s Arena. “While a defensible position, it will not play well in the parts of the country where Democrats need the most help.”

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

We now have official Washington’s response and take on the President’s speech last night stating that Muslim-Americans have every right to build an Islamic center on private property near Ground Zero. It comes in the form of Politico’s ubiquitous and closely followed “Playbook” email. As the author puts it, the statement poses a basic choice: is it “Obama delivering on his status as a breakthrough figure on American history”, by which we mean a feel-good affirmative action president with a foreign-sounding name or “elitist arrogance.”

It continues with various responses — mainly from chortling but unnamed Republican operatives marveling at the president’s being out of touch or courting a backlash from regular Americans but also one from Michael Bloomberg and a circumspect response from a White House aide.

The stand out for me was the response from what the author labels a “middle American” …

“This is too much. It’s not insensitivity that’s leading these guys to build this mosque. It’s a monument to their conquer of the site — just like the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem or the conversion of the Hagia Sophia (former primary church of the Byzantine empire in Istanbul) into a mosque”

There’s also what’s titled a “flashback” to what is apparently the most apt comparison, President Bush’s impromptu speech at Ground Zero two days after the attack: “”I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

It’s a quite a moment. We’re still hung up on the Turks turning the Hagia Sophia into a Mosque in 1453? Soon after 9/11 we marveled at how the bin Ladenites could still be so aggrieved over the abolition of the Caliphate in 1923 and the loss of Muslim Spain in 1492. But I guess times change.

John Hinderaker at Powerline

Frank Gaffney at Big Peace:

At a White House celebration of Ramadan tonight in the company of representatives of several of the Nation’s most prominent Muslim Brotherhood front organizations, President Obama announced his strong support for one of their most immediate objectives: the construction of a mega-mosque and “cultural center” at Ground Zero.  In so doing, he publicly embraced the greatest tar-baby of his presidency.

In the process, Mr. Obama also inadvertently served up what he likes to call a “teachable moment” concerning the nature of the enemy we are confronting, and the extent to which it is succeeding in the Brotherhood’s stated mission: “…Eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”

As the AP reported, “President Barack Obama on Friday forcefully endorsed building a mosque near Ground Zero saying the country’s founding principles demanded no less. ‘As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country,’ Obama said, weighing in for the first time on a controversy that has riven New York and the nation. ‘That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.’

“Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us—a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.”

So much for the pretense that, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had previously declared, the President would not get involved because the Ground Zero mosque (GZM) controversy was “a local matter.” (As opposed, say, to the arrest of a Harvard professor on disorderly conduct charges.)

Gone too is the option of continuing to conceal an extraordinary fact: the Obama administration is endorsing not only this “local matter,” but explicitly endorsing the agenda of the imam behind it – Feisal Abdul Rauf.  Rauf is the Muslim Brother, who together with his wife Daisy Khan (a.k.a. Daisy Kahn for tax purposes, at least) runs the tellingly named “Cordoba Initiative.”   He is believed to be on a taxpayer-underwritten junket and/or fund-raising tour of the Middle East, courtesy of the State Department, which insists that he is a “moderate” in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary. Interestingly, the President’s rhetoric – like that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other apologists for and boosters of the GZM – tracks perfectly with the Muslim Brotherhood line about why we need to allow what Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin has correctly described as an “Islamist victory arch”  close by some of America’s most hallowed ground.  It is, we are told, all about “religious freedom” and “tolerance.”

Glenn Greenwald:

What makes this particularly commendable is there is virtually no political gain to be had from doing it, and substantial political risk. Polls shows overwhelming opposition to the mosque nationwide (close to 70% opposed), and that’s true even in New York, where an extraordinary “50% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans, and 52% of ‘non-enrolled’ voters, don’t want to see the mosque built.”  The White House originally indicated it would refrain from involving itself in the dispute, and there was little pressure or controversy over that decision.  There was little anger over the President’s silence even among liberal critics.  And given the standard attacks directed at Obama — everything from being “soft on Terror” to being a hidden Muslim — choosing this issue on which to take a very politically unpopular and controversial stand is commendable in the extreme.

The campaign against this mosque is one of the ugliest and most odious controversies in some time.  It’s based purely on appeals to base fear and bigotry.  There are no reasonable arguments against it, and the precedent that would be set if its construction were prevented — equating Islam with Terrorism, implying 9/11 guilt for Muslims generally, imposing serious restrictions on core religious liberty — are quite serious.  It was Michael Bloomberg who first stood up and eloquently condemned this anti-mosque campaign for what it is, but Obama’s choice to lend his voice to a vital and noble cause is a rare demonstration of principled, politically risky leadership.  It’s not merely a symbolic gesture, but also an important substantive stand against something quite ugly and wrong.  This is an act that deserves pure praise.

UPDATE: To anyone wanting to quibble with what was done here — the timing, the wording, etc. — I’ll just pose this question:  when is the last time a President voluntarily entered an inflammatory public controversy by taking a position opposed by 70% of the public?

Tom Maguire:

I have an idea our President will love – maybe we can open an Islamic Waffle House in a building damaged in the 9/11 attacks.  Obama can be the first customer.

On Friday night President Obama explained tolerance and the Constitution to We The Rubes, drawing this headline from the Times:

Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site

With uncanny prescience AllahPundt explained that the media was reporting on their fantasies, and that Obama was actually splitting the difference:

So what’s a poll-readin’ president to do? On the one hand, he’s at a Ramadan dinner and doesn’t want to alienate either the audience or his base. On the other hand, he’s staring at supermajority opposition to the mosque. Hey, I know: How about a statement that mostly dodges the question of whether it should be built in favor of the easier question of whether the owners have the right to build it? Not a Bloombergian lecture, in other words (unlike Bloomberg, Obama’s not a lame duck and thus can’t afford to wag his finger like The Enlightened so enjoy doing), but rather a pat on the back for free exercise and a pat on the back for the mosque’s opponents by acknowledging their “emotions.” He’s basically voting present. But since the media is pro-mosque too and eager to leverage authority on behalf of its position, this’ll be spun tomorrow as some sort of stirring statement in defense of the right to … alienate everyone around you, I guess, in the ostensible interests of “dialogue.”

And on cue, here is President Obama on Saturday, backpedaling from the media so quickly he might be the answer to the Jets Darrelle Revis problem:

Obama Says Mosque Upholds Principle of Equal Treatment

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERGPANAMA CITY, Fla. — President Obama said on Saturday that in defending the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque near Ground Zero he “was not commenting” on “the wisdom” of that particular project, but rather trying to uphold the broader principle that government should treat “everyone equal, regardless” of religion.

…White House officials said earlier in the day that Mr. Obama was not trying to promote the project, but rather sought more broadly to make a statement about freedom of religion and American values. “In this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion,” Mr. Obama said at the Coast Guard station. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.

“And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.”

That was quick.  Gutless, but quick.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

So, of course, now right wing bloggers are crowing that Obama is “walking back” his earlier statement; but I don’t see that at all. Obama is emphasizing that his remarks were meant to support the Constitution — which should be enough for anyone. The idea that it’s somehow “unwise” to build this project is a concept promoted by opponents, and it’s irrelevant to the Constitutional issue; it would have been neither appropriate nor productive for Obama to wade into that poisoned debate.

Andy McCarthy at The Corner:

Already getting trounced in the polls, Democrats are reeling over the President’s decision to side with the Muslim Brotherhood over the American people by endorsing the Ground Zero mosque. So he’s trying to close Pandora’s Box.

Politico reports [and thanks to John Hinderaker at Powerline for pointing this out] that Obama is now seeking “to defuse the controversy” by explaining that he was merely talking about the mosque proponents’ legal right to build at the World Trade Center site. “I was not commenting and I will not comment,” he said, “on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there” (emphasis added).

Good luck with that one. Compounding insult with cynicism and cowardice is probably not a winning strategy.

Doug Mataconis

UPDATE: Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard

Andy McCarthy at NRO

David Dayen at Firedoglake

Tbogg on Kristol

UPDATE #2: Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus at Bloggingheads

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The Right On The Right To Bear Arms. Really, Really Big And Powerful Arms.

Marc Ambinder:

It looks like President Obama has decided to make the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty the key to his new nuclear strategy, by pledging that the United States won’t use nuclear weapons to respond to an attack by a country that adheres to the treaty. That would be a significant shift from the Cold War nuclear posture, and it would heavily tie the future of U.S. nuclear weapon strategy to global efforts against nuclear terrorism and non-proliferation–and would disentangle years of history and culture that link American nuclear weapons use to other countries–“state actors,” in nuclear parlance.

The New York Times reported that President Obama, in an interview with the Times, said that the U.S. is “going to want to make sure that we can continue to move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons” to “make sure that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances.”

The Times suggests that Obama is prepared to give countries that adhere to the NPT the benefit of the doubt even if they use chemical or biological weapons to attack the United States and its allies, including NPT-signers like China and Russia.

This policy would be subject to revision if other countries advanced their capabilities in such a way that would significantly increase the threat to the U.S. and its allies.

The hope is that by tying nuclear strategy to NPT compliance, the international communication will isolate regimes like North Korea and Iran that flout its rules and increase the incentives for non-nuclear countries to prevent terrorist groups from taking root in their countries.

States that pass nuclear weapons to a terrorist group are, for the first time, subject to the U.S. deterrent–because if they did so, they’d be non-compliant with its NPT obligations.

Allah Pundit:

Drudge’s breathless red-font headline: “NO NUKES: EVEN IN SELF-DEFENSE!” As I read the story, though, the new policy still leaves open the possibility that we might initiate a nuclear exchange. It all depends on whether the target country has nukes of its own and whether it’s in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

[…]

Unless I’ve misunderstood, we reserve the right to nuke the following, whether in self-defense or otherwise: (1) nuclear states, (2) non-nuclear states that are in violation of the NPT (i.e. Iran), (3) non-nuclear states that attack the U.S. with bioweapons, but only if they possess a stockpile large enough to pose a risk of a “devastating strike.” I hope I’ve misunderstood that last one; the idea of Obama explaining to Americans that, yes, 50,000 people may be dead of smallpox but we can’t nuke country X because they don’t have a big enough stockpile of the virus yet is dark comedy gold.

The idea here, of course, is deterrence — comply with the NPT and you have nothing to fear — but (a) no one, least of all Iran, thinks Barack Obama’s going to use nuclear weapons against targets inside a non-nuclear state whether it’s following the NPT or not, and (b) everyone, including Iran, understands that a devastating attack on the U.S. by whatever means will create such unbearable pressure on the president to retaliate that these rules will be revisited instantly. It’s the nuclear equivalent of his interrogation protocol, essentially. America does not and will not torture captured terrorists as a matter of national policy — but if the CIA really, truly believed that a bomb was about to go off somewhere, don’t be surprised to see that policy politely ignored, to great public acclaim for Obama afterwards for having done what he needed to do to try to get the information.

All this is, really, is a symbolic gesture of good faith to put pressure on Russia and China to reduce their own stockpiles. Why we think they can be trusted to do that, especially when the United States is handing them a tactical advantage by reducing its own stockpiles unilaterally, is beyond me. But then it’s also beyond me why Obama would suspend development on any new forms of nuclear weapons, which the new policy also demands. New weapons, I assume, would be smaller and more precise, in the bunker-buster mold; there’s certainly no pressing need for state-of-the-art 100-megaton monsters when the chief nuclear threat at the moment comes from small non-state groups like Al Qaeda.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

A country attacks us with biological weapons, and we stay our hand because they are “in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty”? That is too dumb even for Barack Obama. The administration hedged its commitment with qualifications suggesting that if there actually were a successful biological or chemical attack, it would rethink its position. The Times puts its finger on what is wrong with the administration’s announcement:

It eliminates much of the ambiguity that has deliberately existed in American nuclear policy since the opening days of the cold war.

That’s exactly right. The cardinal rule, when it comes to nuclear weapons, is keep ’em guessing. We want our enemies to believe that we may well be crazy enough to vaporize them, given sufficient provocation; one just can’t tell. There is a reason why that ambiguity has been the American government’s policy for more than 50 years. Obama cheerfully tosses overboard the strategic consensus of two generations.

Or pretends to, anyway. Does anyone doubt that the administration would use nukes in a heartbeat if it considered such measures necessary? I don’t. The problem is that when the time comes to actually use nuclear weapons, it is too late. The danger here is not that the Obama administration has really gone pacifist. On the contrary, the significance of today’s announcement appears to be entirely symbolic–just one more chance to preen. The problem is that our enemies understand symbolism and maybe take it too seriously. To them, today’s announcement is another sign that our government has gone soft, and one more inducement to undertake aggressive action against the United States.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

I imagine that the average American looking at this would recoil. Why foreswear defensive use of nuclear force? Why remove strategic ambiguity? Why give the signal that crippling sanctions aren’t in the cards? These are the questions lawmakers and voters should and will be asking themselves. If this is really the course Obama intends to pursue, Americans may well conclude he is making them and our allies less safe and the world more vulnerable to aggressors.

Max Boot at Commentary:

I find it hard to get excited about the Nuclear Posture Review released today by the Obama administration, in part because the relationship between “declaratory” nuclear policy and actual nuclear policy has always been tenuous at best. During the Cold War, the U.S. always reserved the right of first use of nuclear weapons, meaning that it if the Red Army rolled into Europe, we would supposedly nuke Moscow. What would have happened in an actual World War III is hard to know, but there is good reason to doubt that any U.S. president would have been the first to order nuclear escalation, whether the Russian hordes were crossing the Fulda Gap or not.

Likewise, today, for all the speculation going on about whether the U.S. will extend its nuclear umbrella to Iran’s neighbors in case the Islamic Republic acquires nuclear weapons, there is good cause to doubt whether the U.S. (especially under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Barack Obama!) would really be prepared to incinerate Tehran in the event of Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia or even Israel.

[…]

In short, the Obama policy isn’t that big of a change from the policy it inherited. It is, as the Washington Post has it, a “middle course.”

To my mind, the real test of our nonproliferation policy isn’t how we claim we will respond to hypothetical scenarios but rather what we do about actual current dangers. In regard to Iran – the world’s No. 1 proliferation threat – the auguries aren’t propitious, with the Financial Times reporting that a new round of sanctions won’t be on the UN Security Council agenda in April. Thus, Obama’s threats to hit Iran with tough sanctions if his entreaties to talk were rejected are increasingly being exposed as hollow. That kind of wishy-washiness is something that Iran and other rogue regimes understand. By comparison, the theoretical language contained in the Nuclear Posture Review seems more like, well, academic posturing.

Erick Erickson at Redstate:

How many Americans are going to die because of the Obama administration’s incompetent handling of our national security?

Contrary to the Washington Post’s headline this morning, Obama’s new nuclear policy strategy is no “middle way,” it is capitulation and waving a white flag for our enemies, putting him not in the middle of the past five American Presidents, but to their left — this puts Barack Obama to the left of not just George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, but to the left of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter too.

The White House is announcing that should the United States be struck by weaponized small pox killing hundreds of thousands if not millions of people, the United States will not reciprocate with nuclear weapons — well, maybe, but probably not. They are hedging against it, but you know, they say they’ll reassess the facts on a case by case basis. Sigh.

In fact, the White House pretty much does not want to use nuclear weapons as a deterrent threat at all.

Signaling to our enemies that we will not punch back as hard as we can will just embolden them. Even if the President intended this, he should not advertise it to the world. It is one thing to have a wimp in office. It is another thing to admit it.

This policy is the coming home of the sixties radical left agenda of pacification in the face of our enemies and capitulation of a strong America. Bill Ayers is a happy man today. His man in the White House is doing for him what he never could himself.

Tom Maguire:

Let’s have a To be fair moment – our conventional power, especially our ability to accurately deliver conventional munitions by way of cruise missiles and smart bombs, has gone way up since the 1950’s, or even the 1980’s.

Still, chemical and biological weapons are already easier to make than nuclear devices.  Obama’s new policy makes their use a bit less dangerous, as well.  And shouldn’t we presume that our allies living under the American nuclear umbrella are now protected by the same rules?  Under the old rules, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons were all “Weapons of Mass Destruction”; the US didn’t have chemical or biological weapons, so our threatened response to an WMD usage was to go nuclear.  Under this new strategy, my understanding is that a biological attack on Dusseldorf would draw the same response as as a biological attack on Pittsburgh, namely, escalated aggravation:

Those threats, Mr. Obama argued, could be deterred with “a series of graded options,” a combination of old and new conventional weapons. “I’m going to preserve all the tools that are necessary in order to make sure that the American people are safe and secure,” he said in the interview in the Oval Office.

That’s just great.  Let’s segue to Iran, where Obama threatens to hold his breath but then exhale before turning blue:

Mr. Obama said he wanted a new United Nations sanctions resolution against Iran “that has bite,” but he would not embrace the phrase “crippling sanctions” once used by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. And he acknowledged the limitations of United Nations action. “We’re not naïve that any single set of sanctions automatically is going to change Iranian behavior,” he said, adding “there’s no light switch in this process.”

No light switch in this process?  I am not so sure there are any bright lights, either.  (Doc Drezner is less worried.)

Frank Gaffney at The Corner:

I believe that the most alarming aspect of the Obama denuclearization program, however, is its explicit renunciation of new U.S. nuclear weapons — an outcome that required the president to overrule his own defense secretary. Even if there were no new START treaty, no further movement on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and no new wooly-headed declaratory policies, the mere fact that the United States will fail to reverse the steady obsolescence of its deterrent — and the atrophying of the skilled workforce needed to sustain it — will ineluctably achieve what is transparently President Obama’s ultimate goal: a world without American nuclear weapons.

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Mr. Cheney Has Words For Mr. Obama

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William Kristol at The Weekly Standard:

Dick Cheney that is, who will be speaking at the Center for Security Policy tonight. The speech is a real humdinger. Check back here at 6 for the full text of the former vice president’s remarks.

Update: Highlights from the Cheney speech…

We should all be concerned as well with the direction of policy on Afghanistan. For quite a while, the cause of our military in that country went pretty much unquestioned, even on the left. The effort was routinely praised by way of contrast to Iraq, which many wrote off as a failure until the surge proved them wrong. Now suddenly – and despite our success in Iraq – we’re hearing a drumbeat of defeatism over Afghanistan. These criticisms carry the same air of hopelessness, they offer the same short-sighted arguments for walking away, and they should be summarily rejected for the same reasons of national security.

Having announced his Afghanistan strategy last March, President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision, and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete his mission.

President Obama has said he understands the stakes for America. When he announced his new strategy he couched the need to succeed in the starkest possible terms, saying, quote, “If the Afghan government falls to the Taliban – or allows al-Qaeda to go unchallenged – that country will again be a base for terrorists who want to kill as many of our people as they possibly can.” End quote.

Five months later, in August of this year, speaking at the VFW, the President made a promise to America’s armed forces. “I will give you a clear mission,” he said, “defined goals, and the equipment and support you need to get the job done. That’s my commitment to you.”

It’s time for President Obama to make good on his promise. The White House must stop dithering while America’s armed forces are in danger.

Make no mistake, signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries. Waffling, while our troops on the ground face an emboldened enemy, endangers them and hurts our cause.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

Below is the video of Cheney’s important speech. He seeks to provide a corrective to the comprehensive map of misreading that the Obama administration has applied to American foreign policy and the defense of the United States.

Ed Morrissey:

In other words, Cheney won’t sit quietly while Obama shifts blame for his own lack of decisiveness onto Bush and Cheney.  The notion is risible anyway.  Obama campaigned for two years on the promise to fight a more robust counterinsurgency strategy, in large part to dispel the notion that he was an anti-war pacifist.  He reaffirmed that decision repeatedly this year, most recently by appointing Ge. Stanley McChrystal, the Army’s leading COIN expert, to command in Afghanistan.  Now that McChrystal has requested the resources that comes with COIN, suddenly it’s all Bush’s fault.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Cheney showed in the Guantanamo debate that the president’s popularity (much reduced since then) is no substitute for cogent argument and smart policies. The White House once again will no doubt snarl in response, as they are wont to do in lieu of reasoned rebuttal. (And what would they say? ” We are not dithering!”) But Cheney’s point is the central one for the American people and for elected leaders: just how do Obama’s policies (e.g., reinvestigation of CIA operatives, release of interrogation memos and halt to enhanced interrogation techniques, delay on formulating an Afghanistan policy) improve America’s safety? Unless the president can provide a concrete answer, he remains vulnerable. More important, so does America.

Frank Gaffney at National Review:

Dick Cheney demonstrated last night before the Center for Security Policy audience that he is far and away the most competent, to say nothing of the most robust, statesman in the country today. His critique of Obama’s conduct of foreign and national-security policies was both withering and absolutely on point. Now, we need those who are still in government to translate Cheney’s admonitions and prescriptions into policy.

Jules Crittenden:

Funny, I was just reading Steve Huntley’s Chicago Sun-Times column about all the things Obama and his people keep saying they inherited from Bush. A viable Afghan war strategy … never mind a pacified, Saddam-free Iraq … is not one of them. Huntley went on to note the O admin’s are hard at work on their own legacy of partisan divisiveness. It’s booming in a bull bitterness market, thanks in no small part to Obama’s compounded interest in blaming everything on other people.

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