February 24, 2013

President Obama, conservatives have long suspected, is not much interested in foreign policy. National security leaks? No one knows what became of that faux investigation. Benghazi? The president couldn’t bother to stay in the loop when American lives were imperiled.

Then there is our greatest national security threat, Iran. The Associated Press and Times of Israel report on 16 new locations picked for nuclear plants in Iran:

Iranian state TV said Saturday that experts at the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran had finished studies to select the best locations across the country. It added that sites were chosen in part for their resistance to earthquakes and military airstrikes . . . . State TV also said on Saturday that Iran had discovered new uranium resources in the country that will put its reserves at 4,400 tons compared to 1,527 tons three decades ago.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator struck a belligerent tone just three days ahead of talks with world powers in Kazakhstan, saying that the Islamic Republic had fulfilled all of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“We will not accept anything beyond our obligations and will not accept anything less than our rights,” Saeed Jalili told nuclear industry officials in Tehran on Saturday. “Iran has fulfilled its NPT obligations as an active and committed member, therefore it should gain all of its rights,” he added in remarks quoted by the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

A new report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog revealed this week that Iran had installed and activated nearly 200 advanced centrifuges.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded the alarm that Iran was approaching “a red line.” Did the U.S. president even mention any of this? No, he was running around the country crying wolf and catastrophizing about an invented crisis. The real international threats go unremarked upon. For all intents and purposes Netanyahu is now the West’s protector. (Surely no one can conceive that the president who nominated Chuck Hagel for Defense secretary would plan and execute a military strike on Iran.)

To the extent he thinks about national security Obama is transfixed by liberal nostrums. The U.S. causes many of the world’s problems. Israel is an oppressor. We spend too much on defense.

While that may be acceptable banter for the Harvard faculty lounge, it is downright scary when it comes to the president of the United States. How scary? In addition to the president’s lack of focus on Iran, his administration’s carelessness with national security secrets and going AWOL during the Sept. 11 attack in Libya, consider that the president is ready to put a feeble crony in charge of the Pentagon.

As Peter Kirsanow put it:

“This nomination, to a position that’s not exactly inconsequential, is an insult. Confirmation of a man so demonstrably unfit for this office is an insult. This is what the political class thinks of us, that we will accept mediocrity as our due and not complain or even question. The president should be asked why he couldn’t find anyone better. Senators should be asked whether the traditions of the Senate are more important than the nation’s defense. . . .  Just because they’re laughing in Tehran, Pyongyang, Moscow, and some hovel in Mali doesn’t mean this nomination is funny.”

The president and his appointee envision that the Defense secretary won’t be making policy. Former national security official Dan Senor explains this is daft:

Much of a defense secretary’s work is at his own discretion. He is responsible for military budgets and procurement, personnel promotions, public diplomacy, the Pentagon’s relations with defense ministries and militaries around the world, tactical military movements, and most force deployments. When a commander asks for an additional unit or capability — as with Les Aspin in Somalia, with Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even with Leon Panetta in Benghazi — the request lands on the secretary’s desk. And more often than not, it is the secretary, not the president, who makes the call. . . . The secretary of defense’s authority extends beyond personnel and deployments. Given his essential role in developing the defense budget, he determines the weapons and support that will be available to our troops once they are deployed.

Given Hagel’s abject unfitness (verging on confusion about national security and our various policy positions) and his admission that he will have much to learn about the Defense Department, one can only imagine that underlings will control the operation of the Pentagon while political hacks in the White House (e.g., Valerie Jarrett) will make the big calls. The notion of an expert, independent-minded professional in national security is dismissed with a wave of the hand.

With regard to Afghanistan, the president is pulling up stakes prematurely. In Iraq the absence of U.S. forces on the ground has ushered in a new round of sectarian violence and opened the door for Iran’s growing influence. Even in arguably his greatest success, the use of drones, he has left a policy void. Andy McCarthy points to the holes and suggests Congress step in:

Lawmakers could reaffirm that Guantanamo Bay is operational and endorse its use in detaining enemy combatants captured in the future. Congress could further emphasize that, in this conflict in which interrogation intelligence is so critical to protecting American lives, we need a policy of capturing enemy combatants when that is feasible, as opposed to killing them — particularly when the targeted terrorists are known to include Americans. As a condition of funding overseas operations, including drone strikes, lawmakers could require executive-branch disclosures about the circumstances of targeted killings in order to encourage capture and interrogation. These measures would not only reduce the likelihood of Americans being killed; they would also dramatically improve our intelligence, and thus our security.

 

It is not possible to wage an effective war against an international terror network while simultaneously foreclosing the possibility that American traitors will be killed in military operations. But by amending the AUMF [Authorization for Use of Military Force] to ameliorate legitimate concerns that the government has become too cavalier in its drone campaign, we can promote a more effective war effort — preserving drone strikes as an invaluable weapon against terrorist hideouts; prioritizing intelligence over killing; and shoring up support from Americans who strongly oppose terrorism but worry that we are losing our way.

And finally, the president caterwauls about tiny cuts in domestic spending but slashed away at defense before the sequester and then structured the sequester to have a disproportionate impact on defense (18.7 percent of the budget takes on 50 percent of the cuts).

If the president pursued our foreign adversaries with the same vehemence with which he does his Republican opponents, was as devoted to funding the military as he is thinking up new additions to the liberal welfare state and showed as much attention to national security as he does to sequester histrionics, we could rest easy. For the remainder of his term, however, we’ll have to rely on France, Israel, our superb (albeit underfunded) military and plain old luck to prevent national security catastrophes. Heck of a job, Barry.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.