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Right Turn
Posted at 02:00 PM ET, 06/27/2012

Obama should be on the defensive about defense

National security is not front and center in this election year, but it should be. There are — in addition to allowing a member of a terrorist group to visit the White House, the mass murder in Syria and the failure of Iran sanctions — several glaring issues on which the administration is vulnerable.

Most important, there is the blockbuster story from Eli Lake:

So now it’s official: United States soldiers have been hunting down al Qaeda affiliates in Somalia. When the White House confirmed earlier this month what has long been an open secret, most of the ensuing chatter focused on the need for greater transparency about the expanding war on terror.
Less discussed was what happens to all those alleged terrorists when they’re captured alive.
One answer can be found here in the dusty Somali port city of Bosaso, where corrugated-metal shacks look as if they might be blown away in the next storm, and summer temperatures easily top 110 degrees. Overcrowded, underfunded, and reeking of urine, the Bosaso Central Prison could make even the most dedicated insurgent regret ever getting into the terrorism business. Many inmates don’t have shoes, and instead of uniforms, they wear filthy T-shirts and ankle-length garments wrapped around their waists that resemble sarongs (called ma-awis in Somali). When I visited earlier this year, the warden, Shura Sayeed Mohammed, told me he had 393 prisoners in a place designed to hold no more than 300. He said that since 2009, he had received 16 inmates captured by Americans.

In the days of the Bush administration, “rendition” of combatants to place over which the United States had little or no control was decried by the left. Then we were aiding and abetting torture (and we aren’t talking mere sleep deprivation or even waterboarding), as Lake documents. Under Obama we have the worst of all worlds: abetting abuse of prisoners and obtaining no useful information ourselves from captives.

How is this arrangement not morally depraved and operationally foolish, more egregious than anything the Bush administration ever tried?. Yet the president continues to puff himself up and tell us that his predecessor sacrificed American values in the name of anti-terrorism. What does he think is being accomplished? (“Obama’s plan to get America out of the international jailer business means that developing-world prisons have picked up the slack. A look inside the Bosaso prison provides a snapshot of what life is like in a post-Gitmo world.”) His preening is too much to bear.

Second, the administration has become actively hostile to human rights protection and enforcement. Josh Rogin reports: “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved a bill to sanction human rights violators around the world, named after Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died after allegedly being tortured in prison by Russian officials.”

The administration continues to oppose this measure. Why? It isn’t like Russia is being helpful on Iran, Syria or any other matter of consequence. Carrying Obama’s water is Bashar al-Assad’s ex-BFF. “John Kerry (D-MA) was the lone vote against the Cardin amendment and unsuccessfully tried to get [Sen. Ben] Cardin to withdraw the amendment during the hearing. He is working to preserve more administration flexibility in administrating the classified list of human rights violators and said that there would be more changes in the bill before it reaches the Senate floor.” On this, as with much of his foreign policy, Obama is isolated even within his party.

And finally there is a looming sequestration of defense funds, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said would be “devastating.” Already the potential cuts are being felt.

In Colorado, for example, the administration's budget ax is falling on civilians endangered by the wildfires:

[O]of a current fleet of nearly 380 C-130s, only eight can be fitted with [Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems] — and four of them are already in the skies over Colorado. With another fire looming in the north of the state, there is no excess capacity to help protect civilian areas. That means thousands of exhausted firefighters on the ground are without enough of the crucial support they need to control the fires.
All this raises concerns about President Obama’s defense budget, which cuts 65 C-130s from the fleet over the next four years. While that will leave 318 C-130s, the demands on the fleet are not shrinking in Afghanistan or other places. Nor did the Air Force have much choice in the matter.
The Air Force took the brunt of Pentagon budget cuts in the 2013 budget, shrinking by 4 percent (or roughly $4 billion), after having a flat budget since 2004. Since 2001, over 500 aircraft have been retired, and another 300 will be scrapped by 2017. All this is happening while demand for the Air Force increases: The service flew approximately 400 sorties per day in Afghanistan and Iraq during 2011, while also fighting in Libya and delivering thousands of tons of disaster relief aid to Japan after its earthquake and tsunami. C-130s have been central to all these operations, and the proposed cuts will reduce airlift capacity among all the Air Force’s components: active, reserve, and guard. Sequestration would be even worse, mandating equal percentage cuts down to the program level across the service, with no flexibility for Air Force leadership to target the cuts.

Pink slips will be flying out the door at defense contractors’ plants this fall, auguring a loss of potentially 1 million jobs. Obama talks a good game about helping unemployed vets, but in fact he’s going to boot 200,000 troops out of the armed forces and put them in the unemployment lines.

You’d never know all of this is going on. The mainstream media largely ignore these issues. The Romney campaign has tunnel vision, even when national security obviously overlaps its jobs message. But it is a mistake for Republicans to ignore these issues. They are every bit as damaging to Obama as health care or the economy. Obama’s policies are making us less safe, while undermining our values and our economy. Someone in Romneyland should think about that.

By  |  02:00 PM ET, 06/27/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign, National Security, Human Rights

 
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