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March 29, 2009

Book Review - Basic Economics

Of the many authors whose books I've read over the years, Thomas Sowell is probably my favorite. Certainly that would be the case if you looked at my bookshelf, because I have more from him than any other author.

The reasons for this are many; Sowell is an unusually clear writer, he writes on a variety of subjects, and his research is impeccable. Rather than the "extended editorial" we get from so many populist writers, when you read a book by Sowell you'll find footnotes on every page. If you follow them you'll find they're usually from other scholarly works as well.

Another thing that attracts me is his world-wide perspective on just about any topic. The examples he uses in Basic Economics come from all around the world, and this is typical of his writing. To gather his data Sowell personally travels around the world and interviews scholars, businessmen, and political leaders.

Given that the economic crisis is the biggest thing happening, I figured I'd better bone up on the subject. I stated out with Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, a short treatise promoting free market economics. It's a good primer, but without much depth. And although he is mostly right, one has to admit that Hazlett was not trained as an economist.

The same certainly cannot be said of Thomas Sowell. Educated at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Chicago, he has a Ph.D. in Economics from the latter. After having been an Associate, Assistant, and full Professor at some of the most prestigious institutions in the country, he is currently the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow at The Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Over the years he has authored a couple of dozen books on a variety of topics, including of course economics.

None of this automatically makes Sowell right. There are plenty of people with fancy degrees who are wrong in their areas of expertise. What it does is lend some background so that when you read Basic Economics, you at least know you're looking at something written by someone trained in the subject matter he's writing about.

As with Hazlitt, Sowell is a conservative free market economist of somewhat libertarian bent. As such, you can expect that many or most of the lessons in his book revolve around his basic world view.

As the title implies, Basic Economics was written by Sowell for the average person who has no particular knowledge of technical economic terms. There is no jargon, no graphs or tables, and no equations that you'll find in textbooks. While it is footnoted liberally, for a book on "the dismal science" it is a surprisingly easy read. What helps keep it interesting is that Sowell uses some very interesting examples from business history to make his points.

For example, did you know...

That White Castle was the largest hamburger chain of the 1930s, with almost as many stores per capita as McDonalds has today?

That A & P Grocery was the Wal-Mart of the 1930s and 40s, because it drove so many mom 'n pop grocery stores out of business?

That James Cash Penny made his fortune because he studied the 1920 census?

White Castle made a fortune because they located their fast food outlets near factories in cities, giving them direct access to a huge market. All their stores were company owned, which gave them a decided advantage over a franchise chain during the Great Depression because a profitable store could subsidize an unprofitable one. But in the 1950s, the great era of factories ended, and workers moved to the suburbs and other types of jobs became more common. White Castle was slow to respond. Ray Croc operated McDonalds on a franchise model, which could grow more quickly than a model in which the company owned all the stores. His franchise stores were mostly in the suburbs, which is where the action was. We know who came out on top.

Before the automobile, it was hard to carry much home from the grocery store, and in any event the range of a horse and buggy was limited. As a necessity grocery stores were mom 'n pop affairs on every streetcorner. The owners of A & P saw how the automobile changed how people could get around, and so they developed the idea of the supermarket, which was so efficient it drove the smaller stores out of business. For a few decades A & P ruled the grocery business, yet was widely despised. In the 1950s the upstart Safeway located it's stores in the suburbs. A & P, whose stores were mostly in the cities, didn't initially put any stores in the suburbs because of the high cost of real estate there. Before long urban decay destroyed A & P's profitability, and the chain is a remnant of the giant it once was.

In the late 19th century Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck and Company made a fortune in the mail order business. They were the Amazon's of their day, selling everything from books to bicycles, to furniture to sewing machines to people all over the country. Instead of websites they had lavishly illustrated catalogs. This model worked because most Americans lived in the country, and the economics of large physical stores didn't work out. Then one day a guy named James Cash Penny studied the 1920 census, and realized that for the first time more Americans lived in urban areas than rural ones. He saw that the time for large physical department stores had come, and he built a chain of them. He almost drove Montgomery Ward and Sears out of business before they realized what was happening and hurriedly built their own stores.

These are just a few of the stories Sowell uses to illustrate his points. Many are from other countries, in particular India. Before 1991, business in India was tightly regulated.
A change in government allowed some losening of restrictions, and Sowell uses this to show how the resulting growth benefited more Indians.

Following are a few of the principles of economics that Sowell explains in his book. There are many, many more, so please understand that this is just a brief sample:

Price Controls

Scarcity means fewer goods available relative to the population, while a shortage is a price phenomenon. The earthquake of 1906 destroyed thousands of housing units, but there was no housing shortage because people immediately put extra rooms and buildings up for rent. These people did not do this out of the goodness of their hearts (in most cases, anyway), but were entrepreneurs who saw the chance to make money. As such, although 200,000 had their housing units destroyed, no one was forced to live on the street except for the shortest period. Likewise, Sowell explains how the gasoline "crisis" of 1972 and 1973 was entirely created by the U.S. government and did not reflect a shortage of product.

Complex effects can have very simple causes. For example, it is a simple concept that people buy more at lower prices than at higher ones. It is also simple to understand that producers will make more of something if they can sell it for a higher price than at a lower one. Price controls are also a simple concept. But if you put them all together you get all sorts of complicated reactions, most of which were not what was intended.

Rent control is the most prevalent attempt at price control by well-meaning people that has led to many problems, many of which were directly counterproductive to what the lawmakers intended. Sowell uses examples from Sweden, New York City, Australia, and other places to make the point. Sweden was the most illustrative. After World War II, Swedish lawmakers inposed rent control. With prices low, demand skyrocketed, especially as incomes increased in the post-war boom. No matter how fast they built housing units, the waiting list got longer and longer. Housing units were not scarce in any meaningful sense, but there was a shortage (remember our definitions). Finally, Swedish lawmakers abolished rent control, and prices went up to their natural level. As soon as they did, the waiting lists disappeared. There was neither a scarcity or shortage of housing units.

Other effects of rent control in a capitalist system is to reduce the incentive to build new housing units, and to maintain existing ones. It also incents builders to construct luxury units for the wealthy, since lawmakers almost always make a few exceptions in their legislation. Finally, rent control incents tenants to occupy a larger unit than they would otherwise, since prices are kept artificially low. The net effect is to create a housing shortage.

The concept of Cost is part of this discussion. Prices are not arbitrary, and serve the purpose of forcing people to make choices between scarce products (something is scarce if it isn't available in unlimited supply, such as air, and with pollution that's scarce too). Schemes by well-intentioned people to make things "more affordable" or a "right" ultimately run up against economic reality. Prices are not just a nuisance to get around, Sowell says, but reflect scarcity. Thus it may make some people feel morally superior that they make health insurance a "right," but the always ignore the effects on supply and demand while making their speeches.

Eliminate the Middleman

I think we're all heard the commercials that end with "and what did they do with the middleman, anyway? Something fishy there...." While this makes for a good commercial, it never really works out that way. Farmers are never going to truck their own eggs to the supermarket. Ranchers won't butcher their own stock and can their own stock. Newspapers don't own and operate their own newsstands, and automobile companies discovered a long time ago that it's cheaper to let someone else sell the cars.

There are more middlemen in Third World nations than in industrialized. Far from reflecting inefficiency, it is more efficient in underdeveloped economies to have more intermediaries. Sowell explains in some detail why this is so, but essentially it is because the quantities produced by farmers working small plots is less than in the West.

Metrics

It can be much harder to measure things like efficiency than one might imagine. Sometimes it's relatively straightforward. For example, European farmers brag that they produce more product per acre than their American counterparts. American farmers brag that they produce more per agricultural worker than their European counterparts. Both are factually correct. Who, then, is more efficient? Both, and neither. Each has tuned their efficiency to their own circumstances. Europeans have a shortage of land, Americans, labor.

Other times it is more difficult. During the Cold War, Soviet propagandists bragged that their railroad system delivered more goods per railcar than their American counterpart. And they were right. Did this, then, mean that their system was more efficient? No, because they were using the wrong metric. A better measure of efficiency is whether products get to where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to get there. By this measure, the American system was clearly superior. After all, we're all familiar with stories of Soviet agricultural waste because perishable products rotted before they were delivered. That the American system required more railcars is immaterial.

The Scarcity of Knowledge

A theme among free-market economists is the impossibility of central planners to have enough information to control any aspect of an economy. Frederick Hayek expounded upon this in The Road to Serfdom over 50 years ago, and Sowell continues the tradition in his book.

An interesting example Sowell uses is from 19th century Rhodesia. The British government decided that they knew best how to grow peanuts in Rhodesia, and so micromanaged the process from London. They turned a profitable enterprise into a disaster in just a few years.

In addition to this somewhat exotic example, Sowell uses much from everyday American life in his discussion of the concept of how knowledge affects economic decisions and the perils of government control. Everything from the ability of a literary agent to know the price of a manuscript to a real estate agent understanding the local housing situation are used.

Rich v Poor

Workers and salaries are supply and demand by another name. The same principles of supply, demand, and price apply to workers and their salaries. Demagogues may talk about "exploitation" and demand a "living wage" all they want but they cannot overturn the laws of economics.

We often hear in the press about how the rich are supposedly getting richer and the poor poorer. The term is usually "income inequality." The message is that we are are an increasingly stratified country and that something must be done.

The problem with such studies, Sowell contends, is that they tend to simply compare the income of those in the top 10-20 percent with those in the bottom 10 or 20 percent. What they almost always miss is that people are constantly moving in and out of each bracket. In fact, an absolute majority of people who started out in the bottom 20% in 1975 ended their lives in the top 20%.

"Rich versus poor" thinking also tends to be zero-sum. This is the fallacy of thinking that one person's gain is of necessity another's loss. Although it is rarely stated this way, that's what it often amounts to. What it does is assume that the economic pie is of a given size and does not increate

Speculators

A year or so ago when oil prices spiked, some on the left were telling us that it was all the fault of evil speculators. The message was that there were a group of people manipulating prices in order to make massive profits for themselves at the expense of the common person. Something, we were told, must be done. Typically that something was increased regulation.

Sowell explains speculation in more dispassionate terms. He explains how speculation is not only vital to a functioning economy, it benefits both producers and suppliers.

Essentially, a speculator is someone who buys or sells at a fixed price today for a product to be delivered at a later date. What this does is shift the risk from the producer and consumer to a middleman. The benefit to the parties at each end is that with an assured price their own planning is much simpler. Further, as they are not specialists in the price market or worldwide conditions, they can concentrate on what they do best. This holds true even since the speculator makes money.

Suppose we have a farmer who wants to grow potatoes. He does not know what the price will be at the end of the growing season, and doesn't know much about the potato exchange either. But he does understand farmer. His best course is before he's planted his first potato to go to a speculator and sell the entire crop at a fixed price, one at which he is certain to make a profit (otherwise he switches to a different crop). The speculator is hoping to sell the potato crop at a rate higher than he bought it from the farmer, but of course he may end up selling it at a loss. Because the speculator has reserves (or should, and here is where regulation comes in), he can bear the brunt of a loss without short-term pain.

Note that neither me nor Sowell are against regulation. What we're against are people who prefer to demagogue issues rather than understand the underlying economic principles.

Money and the Banking System

At one time American currency was redemable in actual gold or silver. We were said to be on the "gold standard" as the amount of money in circulation could not exceed the value of the gold in Fort Knox.

It was said that our money was then "backed up" by gold, but this was somewhat misleading. The value of the gold was not somehow transferred to t he paper currency, rather all it did was limit the amount of money that could be in circulation. The reason for taking us off the gold standard was so that the government could issue more money.

The Role of Government

As mentioned earlier, Sowell, like all free market economists, is not somehow against government regulation. Indeed, it is vital to the functioning of an economy.

Even maintaining basic law and order counts for a lot. What we take for granted took millenia to achieve. Further, "law and order" means "white collar crime" as well. An economy can fall apart just as fast if those at the top are allowed to violate laws just as much as if armed gangs are allowed to rule the streets. As such, laws must be easy to understand and reliably enforced.

The dependability if its laws was one of the primary reasons why noneteenth-century Britain was able to leap ahead of it's European competitors, and indeed the rest of the world. The dependability of their laws are why so many third-world nations remain mired in poverty despite both natural resources and foreign aid.

Sometimes economic decisions made through the marketplace are not better than those made by government. For example, a side effect of a coal power plant is air pollution. The people who bear the cost of the generating process is born by people who are not directly involved in the process. Breathing dirty air results in increased medical costs, which in an unregulated situation would not be paid by the utility company. These are called "external costs" by economists, and are the cause of legitimate government regulation, because only it can make decisions efficiently.

The flip side of "external costs" is "external benefits." Making truck companies put mud flaps on their vehicles does not help them, but those who are behind them on the road. Again, we have a reason for legitimate government regulation.

More and More

All this said, we have to recognize that there is a point of diminishing return to such things. Reducing air pollution is all very fine, and it is easy and cheap to get rid of the first 95% of particles from a cola plant. Getting rid of each additional percentage point costs more and more. We have to recognize that there comes a point where the cost exceeds any reasonable benefit.

It is a fallacy that American goods cannot compete because of low-wage earners in third world countries. Historically, high-wage countries have had trade surpluses with low-wage countries. The economic flaw in the argument is that it confuses wage rates with labor costs, and labor costs with total costs. "Wage rates are measured per hour of work, while labor costs are measured per unit of output. Total costs include not only the cost of labor but also the cost of capital, raw materials, transportation, and other things needed to product output and bring the finished product to market." In actuality, high-wage nations have three times the production per hour of low-wage nations.

"Dumping" of cheap products is often used as a justification for protectionist measures, but the argument doesn't stand up to scrutiny. In fact, Sowell says, it has proved impossible to accurately calculate the cost of production in a foreign country, as has been admitted to by the US government. Further, all countries both indirectly or directly subsidize or help various industries, and all impose restrictions of one type or another in imports. Ratcheting it up only results in a trade war of tit for tat.

Economic terminology can be confusing and even misleading. This is particularly true when saying that a particular currency is "strong" or "weak." A "strong" dollar simply means that its value is rising in relation to one or more other currencies. A strong dollar will buy more units of a foreign currency than previously. A weak dollar will buy less. Whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view. A weak dollar means that it takes more dollars to purchase the same amount of foreign currency that it did earlier, and vice versa for a strong dollar. A strong dollar is good if you are buying foreign goods, but bad if you are exporting American goods to other countries.

Economics is not a value system, but simply a means of weighing one value against another. The study of economics does not say whether rent control is good or bad, only what will happen if you impose it. Adam Smith, the father of laissez-faire economics, gave most of his money to charity when he was alive.

The term "greed" is thrown about often but is rarely defined. Ironically, it is often those who set out to make the most money for themselves that end up providing a new product or service that lots of people want, or find a way to make an existing profit at lower prices. Indeed, "lofty talk about 'non-economic values' too often amounts to very selfish attempts to have one's own values subsidized by others."

We also hear much talk about "predatory pricing," especially with regards to large retailers who drive smaller higher-priced rivals out of business. However, there is precious little evidence that this really exists. Both A & P Grocery in the 1940s and Microsoft in the 90s were accused of predatory pricing, both without a single solid piece of evidence.

Conservatives are often accused of promoting "trickle down" economics, but it simply isn't so, because the theory has never existed among economists. Sowell writes that

People who are politically committed to policies of redistributing income and who tend to emphasize the conflicts between business and labor, rather than their mutual interdependence, often accuse those opposed to them of believing that benefits must be given to the wealthy in general or to business in particular, in order that these benefits will eventually "trickle down" to the masses of ordinary people. But no recognized economist of any school of thought has ever had any such theory or made any such proposal. It is a straw man...

Proposals to reduce taxes on capital gains, for example, are often opposed politically by saying that those who make such proposals believe in a "trickle down" theory of economics. In reality, economic processes work in the directly opposite way from that depicted by those who imagine that profits first benefit business owners and that benefits only belatedly trickle down to workers.

Rather, when an investment in a business is first made, the first thing done is to hire people. Capital is spent on buildings, plant, equipment. This obviously benefits those receiving the money. Only years later do most businesses turn a profit. The profit, then is at the end, not the beginning, of the process.

Economics has been called "the dismal science" not because it is boring but because it tends to throw cold water on the schemes of do-gooders. Sowell does an excellent job of explaining why this is so in Basic Economics, and does so with clear writing and without the technical jargon. It is a book recommended for everyone who wants an understanding of fundamental economic issues.

Postscript to the Review: A Note on "Faith in Free Markets"

We on the right are often accused of having "faith in free markets," and sometimes the accusation is true. It usually misses the point, though. As Ramesh Ponnuru recently explained in the most recent print edition of National Review

..."faith in the market," even when taken too far, as it can be, is generally not faith that some group of people have all the right answers. it is confidence that trial and error,k feedback loops, competition, and decentralized knowledge will come closes and closer to the right answers. Friedrich von Hayek's Nobel lecture urged policymakers to emulate gardeners rather than engineers, creating the environment for growth rather than trying to bring it about directly.

Posted by Tom at 10:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 28, 2009

Obama's New Plan for Afghanistan Gets It Right...I Think

I am generally very pleased with what I see from President Obama's new plan for Afghanistan. From the Fox News report:

President Obama, declaring that coalition forces must "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" Al Qaeda, called on Friday for thousands of additional U.S. troops and billions of dollars in aid to fight terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The president, announcing what he called a "comprehensive new strategy" for the region following a two-month review, outlined an approach to the war that places far more emphasis than before on Pakistan.

Obama said he was ordering 4,000 additional U.S. troops to help train Afghan security forces and was calling on Congress to approve $1.5 billion a year in aid for Pakistan over the next five years.

This is absolutely the right move. Readers of this blog know how critical I have been of candidate and now President Obama, and in most areas I am sure that will continue to be the case. I do try to be honest, and when he does something right I'll say so. This is one of those times. Frankly, I was worried about what he might do, but so far I like what I see.

CNN has additional information:

The new troop deployment is expected to include 8,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as well as 4,000 additional Army troops from Fort Lewis, Washington....

Another 5,000 troops will be deployed at a later date to support combat troops, bringing the total to 17,000 the Defense Department said. A senior administration official confirmed the total.

The Obama administration has been conducting several reviews of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, including a review by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in the region. The president and the Pentagon have been considering a request from the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, to send as many as 30,000 additional troops....

All 17,000 troops announced Tuesday will go to the southern region of the country where Afghanistan borders Pakistan, with the goal mainly being to stop the flow of foreign fighters, according to a U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the deployment and military plans for Afghanistan.

Another story on CNN provides details of their mission, none of which will be terribly surprising to regular readers of this blog:

1. The increased troop levels expected to last at minimum three to four years.

2. Obama authorized 17K, 12K will get orders soon, another 5K of support troops will get their orders at a later date.

3. The additional troops will ALL go to Afghanistan's southern border region with Pakistan. The aim is primarily (but not solely) to begin to stop the flow of foreign fighters across that border.

4. The US troops will be dual purpose: combat and also training afghan army units. But at least another 2,000 US troops needed specifically for the training mission.

5. The concept of operations by the US military: build a new string of forward operating bases (main base areas) and combat outposts (smaller posts in towns and villages like you saw in Iraq)...troops will move around...engaging in both counter terrorism (fighting foreign fighters essentially) and counter insurgency (fighting basic taliban and insurgents inside the country....including the so-called 'day hires' that join the Taliban just for money.

6. Goal: to have enough troops to 'seize and hold' territory...and maintain basic security in an ever broadening area -there simply haven't been enough troops to hold ground.

7. Taliban continue (as we have said since nov) to maintain at least half a dozen safe haven areas inside Afghanistan. these are prime target areas for US.

Excellent on all counts. The President has apparently signed on for the long term. As I wrote in Afghanistan and the Long War, we've got to realize that insurgencies are not World War II, which was relatively short but intensely violent. If we want to win in Afghanistan, and I think it in our vital national interests to do so, we must accept that it will take decades to win there. This does not mean the same level of effort the entire time, because again it's not World War II. It will require relatively significant forces for awhile, but as we make progress we can slowly draw down and hand things over to the Afghans.

Rejecting the "Minimalist" Approach

The President has rejected the "minimalist" approach advocated by some in his administration. Bill Gertz of The Washington Times has the scoop

According to two U.S. government sources close to the issue, senior policymakers were divided over how comprehensive to make the strategy, involving an initial boost of 17,000 U.S. troops.

On the one side were Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg, who argued in closed-door meetings for a minimal strategy of stabilizing Afghanistan that one source described as a "lowest common denominator" approach.

The goal of these advocates was to limit civilian and other nonmilitary efforts in Afghanistan and focus on a main military objective of denying safe haven to the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists.

The other side of the debate was led by Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy for the region, who along with U.S. Central Command leader Gen. David H. Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fought for a major nation-building effort.

The Holbrooke-Petraeus-Clinton faction, according to the sources, prevailed. The result is expected to be a major, long-term military and civilian program to reinvent Afghanistan from one of the most backward, least developed nations to a relatively prosperous democratic state.

It is absolutely predictable that our dope of a vice president was on the wrong side of the issue. A few years ago his solution for Iraq was to split it into three countries, a plan that had the dubious distinction of being opposed by virtually everybody in Iraq.

But Is It Enough?

I don't know. On the one hand, Senator McCain doesn't think so, and we need to remember that he was mostly right on Iraq

Sen. John McCain Friday denounced President Obama's new plan for sending more troops to Afghanistan, saying it was "not enough" and suggesting the president should have been clearer that there will be more troop casualties....

Mr. McCain said he'd send three additional brigades, or around 40,000 additional troops, and suggested a 250,000-person Afghan army instead of the 134,000-strong army the administration aims for.

The Republican said while he appreciates allies who are helping with the effort, some allies have "almost laughable" restrictions on where they will operate. For example, German troops won't go south in the region, he said.

Good point on how our "allies" virtually betrayed us when Bush was on office, and show no signs of doing the right thing now. As I mentioned above, I am not in a position to know if the troop numbers Obama is sending will be sufficient.

We also have these good points from an emailer to The Weekly Standard

The speech was classic Obama -- all show no substance. He announces 17,000 combat troops in a press release but announces 4,000 traniers in a big ceremony. He accepts the Bush level for the ANA [Afghan National Army] when McCain called for at least doubling it last summer. [General David] McKiernan has called for 30,000 troops and candidate Obama said he would get them. President Obama shortchanges the commander he said he would support.

Obama spoke about defeating AQ but not about defeating the Taliban. Obama may have rejected the Biden-Steinberg minimalist path to defeat but he chose a Holbrookian keep options open NOT a Petreaus security first counterinsurgecy strategy. He spoke in platitudes about Afghan governance, counternarcotics, and Pakistan's need to do more on counterterror but offered not a single specific on how to get there. Instead he uses Afghanistan to push his opening to Iran -- as if Iran wants to see the us succeed in Afghanistan so a pro-American, democratic ally is on Tehran'ss eastern border. This is lowest common denominator consensus policy that will not lead to success in Afghanistan.

On the other side, Frederick Kagan and Bill Kristol (the latter the evil neocon publisher of The Weekly Standard are on board with Obama's plan and are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Myself, I'm just going to have to wait until I read more until I can say with certainty. We'll also how this plays out and if Obama really does commit significantly more resources to Afghanistan, or whether his speech was all for show. In the meantime I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Sunday Update

Two trustworthy and unbiased writers on military affairs, Thomas Joscelyn & Bill Roggio, provide some analysis over at The Long War Journal. Make sure you follow the link and read the whole thing, but here are a few tidbits

It is difficult to see how a boost in military and economic support will push Pakistan into taking on Islamist extremists head on. Here, the devil is in the details, and few details are forthcoming at this time...

Afghanistan certainly needs additional forces, and it can be argued that the 24,000 additional troops is too little to achieve positive results quickly. But the troop surge will have a positive impact...

The training partnership model has worked well where it can be implemented, and the additional trainers should serve as force multipliers in allowing the Afghan security forces to shoulder a greater responsibility for security...

The increase in the size of the Afghan Army and police will likely still be insufficient to secure Afghanistan, but the increase in Afghan forces is needed...The Army and police will need to be even larger than the 2011 goal; some estimates indicate there needs to be more than 400,000 members in the Afghan security forces for them to ultimately secure the country and fight the insurgency....

A reconciliation program has been open and underway in Afghanistan for years. The program has pulled thousands of low-level Taliban fighters and leaders away from the insurgency.

This continued effort may peel away additional low-level Taliban members. But the US and Coalition leaders should avoid looking for easy solutions to ending the insurgency such as looking for high-level insurgent leaders or large groups of fighters to pry away....

Their take is generally positive, I think.

Monday Update

The editors of National Review are generally happy, but wish Obama had gone farther:

The Afghan war has always been under-resourced, in terms of U.S. troops and everything else, and Obama has begun to change that....

What is disturbing about Obama's position is the hint of hedging. Commanding general David McKiernan had asked for more troops. Obama approved only part of his request, preferring to wait and make a call on the balance later. But with a tough summer of fighting ahead, it will get politically harder, not easier, to deploy more troops. Obama declined to explicitly endorse an expensive doubling of Afghan security forces today, as some in his administration have advocated, saying only further "increases in Afghan forces may very well be necessary." And he talked of benchmarks for progress in the war, a politically seductive notion that proved useless at best -- and often counter-productive -- in the Iraq war.

In short, today was a start. But much will depend on how Obama performs later, when the Left is more restive and the politics of the war more parlous.


This post is getting long, but journalist-blogger Michael Yon's opinion is always worth considering:

The President's words were disappointing. He talked about our goal to reach a force level of 134,000 Afghan soldiers and 82,000 police by 2011. This is not even in the neighborhood of being enough. Further, the increase of 21,000 U.S. troops is likely just a bucket of water on the growing bonfire. One can only expect that sometime in 2010, the President will again be forced to announce another increase in U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Posted by Tom at 9:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

March 25, 2009

Afghanistan Briefing - 20 March 2009 - "We've Just Run Out of Troops"

This briefing is by Major General Mart de Kruif, who is the commander of Regional Command South in Afghanistan. Last Friday Maj. Gen. de Kruif spoke via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an operational update.

Regional Command South is part of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the NATO led operation.

de Kruif de Kruif commands some 23,000 international troops, from 17 nations, which is something of a problem because there is no unity of command, as evidenced by the General's own comment at the end that "That having said, being out there most of the days, I can tell you that we might not have a -- unity of command; we definitely have, in RC South, unity of effort." That's all very nice to say, but the fact is that the need for unity of command is military science 101.

I am not entirely sure about the command structure of ISAF. The order of battle is not at all defined on the ISAF website, as comared to the superb job of whomever set up the website of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. Those with more patience and time than me can look it up and leave your findings as a comment.

Fortunately, Dr. Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has an excellent Order of Battle that was published just last month, and is much more up to date than Wikipedia. Their document tells us that

Regional Command - South is Commanded by Dutch Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif (command rotates among British, Canadian, and Dutch officers, with an American deputy). It oversees PRTs in Helmand (British), Kandahar (Canadian) Uruzgan (Dutch), and Zabul (American), and is also responsible for Nimruz province.


This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

From the general's opening remarks:

Q Good morning, General. David Morgan from Reuters. Can you tell us, please, what security goals you think are reasonable for the upcoming year, given the influx of U..S. forces into RC South? And specifically, do you think that you will be able to break the stalemate that General McKiernan has spoken about? ...

GEN. DE KRUIF: Thank you, David. To start with your first question, when we talk about stalemate, I think it's fair to say that from an ISAF point of view, we are not stopped by the insurgency, but we just run out of troops.

What do I mean with that? It's clear to say that two years ago, the insurgents changed their overall strategy from attacking our strength, being ISAF, towards focusing on terrorizing the local nationals, the Afghan people. And one of the elements of that is the use of IEDs. For ISAF, that means that we have to deliver a 24/7 security in the focus areas where we are placed. It's no use of getting into a village at 8:00 in the morning and then leave that village at 5:00 in the evening.

So once we start the shape, clear, hold and build concept in a region, we have to stay there. And with the available troops we have currently right now in theater, we were able to clear parts of central Helmand and in central Oruzgan. But to be able to extend these focus areas, we definitely need more troops. That's one.

What I think what's going to happen is that once we will see the influence of the U.S. forces that will give us that capability and the capacity not only to expand the areas where we do the shape, clear, hold, build, but also put significant more pressure on the insurgency, on the leadership and on the nexus between that leadership, the narcotics and the IEDs.

So that will lead in the first couple of months after the influx of U.S. forces to what I think is going to be a significant spike in incidents. After that and after the elections, however, I think that what we are doing now is actually planting the seeds and that we will view a significant increase in the security situation across southern Afghanistan next year....


What we learn is that

  1. NATO does not have enough troops to do the job

  2. Two years ago the insurgents switched strategy from attacking our troops to targeting civilians

  3. The additional U.S. troops will allow us to hold and build as well as shape and clear

As Clausewitz once said, "the enemy is an animate object that reacts." Too many forget that lesson. They may be evil but they're not stupid.

MNF-Iraq commander Gen. George Casey learned that not having enough troops will allow you to clear areas of insurgents, but when you leave they'll just come back. His operation to clear Baghdad in the fall of 2006 met just such a fate, and I think led to his dismissal.

The good news is that President Obama is sending 17,000 more troops, which is not enough but better than nothing. Unfortunately, our allies told him they aren't.

Worse, Obama is going to cut the Department of Defense by some 10%, which includes some Army ground-combat vehicles. Not a good idea. Fortunately, 14 US Senators sent a letter to the President today protesting the planned cuts.

But we shouldn't have to do it all. It would be nice if our allies stepped up to the plate and sent more troops. A lot more. After all, Afghanistan is supposed to be the war we all support, isn't it? Now that George Bush is no longer in power, no one has that as an excuse either. The population of NATO countries is several hundred million, and that they can only muster 23,000 or so troops for Afghanistan is a disgrace.

Q General, Barbara Starr from CNN. Can I ask you, what are you looking for in President Obama's upcoming Afghanistan strategy? What can he do in that strategy that would be most helpful, in your mind, to you and your troops?

And if I could also follow up, when you say that you see the Quetta shura as being responsible for the insurgent activity in your area, that suggests that you see direct command and control, perhaps, from across the border in Pakistan. Could you talk a little bit about the organization of the insurgency you see? How well-trained? How well-equipped? Where's the money coming from to fund these guys? What are you really dealing with out there?

GEN. DE KRUIF: Okay. Starting with your first question, I think there are two -- on my level, on the RC South level, I think there are two very important factors, which hopefully are included in the policy of President Obama. The first, of course, is the influx of additional forces, which will really be a game changer from my point of view.

But the second point, and perhaps the most important point I want to make, is that it needs to be nested within a comprehensive approach. So it's not just bringing in the military capability, it's also bringing in the capability to support governance and reconstruction and development....

Once again don't let anyone on the left tell you that we're not just pursuing a military solution. This has been a talking point of theirs for years and it's just as untrue of Afghanistan as it was and is of Iraq.

As I've discussed numerous times on this blog, counterinsurgency requires civilian tasks as well as military ones. Human Terrain Teams and Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams have made huge contributions in Iraq and Afghanistan and have been discussed many times on this blog.

Q General, this is David Wood from the Baltimore Sun. You mentioned that you'd like to see as part of Obama's strategy a civilian surge. Could you tell us more specifically, in terms of capabilities and numbers, what you mean?

GEN. DE KRUIF: Yes. What we absolutely need is that we build the institutions that support the governance at the provincial, district and sub-district level, in governing and administrating their region. What we see time after time is that district governors and provincial governors are appointed. But especially in RC South, with a very high rate of illiteracy, it's very hard to find people who have the capabilities to translate policy and implement the policy into clear action.

So the whole system of administration, building the institutions which are able to support the governance at the provincial and district level into actions, I think that is absolutely critical, and that is number one on my list.

If Obama and our allies follow through on this my hat is off to them.

Although this next question is about IEDs, the interesting part is in the answer

Q General, Barbara Starr again from CNN. Can I come back to this issue of the IEDs? And what can be done, for further protection of your forces, especially when you get the U.S. increased forces?

So many of the hits have been against the armored humvees. What have you requested or do you want to see, in terms of the MRAP vehicles and more protection? Do you have enough MRAPs for your forces right now? Will you have enough when the U.S. troops get there?

GEN. DE KRUIF: Okay.

Well, getting more protection against IEDs is not just a matter of putting more armor on vehicles.

The first step is having an approach in which you win the hearts and minds of the people. So that means that every day, although we have an IED threat, our forces will go out and have a 24/7 presence amongst the Afghan people. Because by the end of the day, it is the Afghan people who will deny the use of IEDs by the insurgency....

"Hearts and Minds" is probably the most misunderstood term in all of warfare. Please please please follow the link its true definition.

All in all one of the better Afghanistan briefings in that we learned a lot.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 19, 2009

A Pox On All Their Houses

This whole situation with AIG and the bonuses is an absolute disaster. Not because of the bonuses, which are small potatoes, but for where all this is headed. In fact the whole thing disgusts me to the point where this is going to be a pretty short post.

First off, conservatives should not defend AIG or the bonuses. The father of modern American conservatism, William F. Buckley Jr., criticized similar behavior by Viacom a few years ago. When your company is failing you do not pay anyone a bonus for anything. When you take money from the government you do not pay anyone a bonus for anything. I've heard all of the rationalizations and none of them hold water. Can't these guys go without the big bucks for a few quarters?

Most Democrats, of course, are demagoguing the issue for all it's worth, the worst being Barney Frank, a man who ought to be investigated himself. Of the many ironies we now know that Sen. Chris Dodd added the very provisions that made the bonuses possible to the so-called stimulus bill that made the bonuses possible, after first lying about it. Tax-cheat Geithner "admitted that his staff encouraged lawmakers to take out a key provision in last month's stimulus that would have taxed executive compensation in an attempt to discourage companies such as AIG from handing out excessive bonuses while receiving billions of taxpayer dollars."

The reason why no one figured out what was going on is that President Obama insisted that we pass his fantastically huge stimulus bill in record speed before anyone had time to read it. Obama didn't read it. No Democrat in Congress read it. We were told it was so important to pass it to "save the economy," a complete fiction since that was never its real purpose.

To cover themselves the House passed 328-90 a 90% tax on the bonuses. Many in the GOP are going along because, after all, the bonuses were outrageous, and there seems no other solution. Minority Leader Boehner said it right though when he said "Are you kidding me? This is joke. Vote no." He might have added that the whole thing pointed to the folly of bailouts in the first place, but oops it was President Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson who pushed us into accepting the first bailout.

Then we have the news that Barack Obama signed a $500,000 deal for a children's propaganda book days before his inaguration. When Gingrich did something similar in 1994 media outcry was so fierce he returned the money. Yes I know, Newt's deal was for $4.5 million, quite a bit more. I don't see that makes a difference. Anyway, you can be assured that there will be no pressure on Obama to give the money back, or to give it to charity since we're in a terrible recession - oh wait that was his line last week. Rather than take charge and get his economic team in order, Obama's way of dealing with the crisis is to waste time on NCAA picks and jet out of town to do the Tonight Show. Good grief.

Where is all this headed? I'll tell you.

The purpose of the left is to place an upper limit on salaries. They simply don't like that some people make a lot of money. Obama said as much during the campaign, and anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear figured it out. Just as they're getting ready to go after charities, they're going after the wealthy. If you didn't follow my links above, the purpose of the stimulus was 1) to move us in the direction of becoming a European-style socialist state, and 2) create a permanent majority bloc of Democrat voters by making as many people dependent on government as possible. Right now it's AIG, tomorrow it'll be other companies.

Not that there's an easy solution to our current situation. It's mostly a banking crisis, and until Obama and his tax-cheat of a Treasury Secretary figure out how to deal with the "toxic assets," as they're called, we're not going to move forward anywhere fast. If they both didn't behave so badly, I'd have more sympathy, since like dealing with Pakistan there is no easy solution. The whole thing was caused by the malfeasance of both parties over the years. No one is except, though since the Democrats are in charge it is right that they get the blame.

Right now we're all entertained by the circus in Washington. Hold on to your seatbelts, because the next few years are going to be a wild ride.

On Another Note

This is somewhat separate from the subject of this post but I can't resist. Remember that 25 box set of 'classic' American movies that Obama gave to Prime Minister Gordon Brown?

Alas, when the PM settled down to begin watching them the other night, he found there was a problem.

The films only worked in DVD players made in North America and the words "wrong region" came up on his screen.

It was bad enough that the White House gave a stupid gift like this to the world leader or our most precious ally, especially coming on the heals of returning the bust of Churchill and getting as a gift a penholder carved from the timbers of an anti-slavery ship. Now we learn that in addition to being completely insensitive to protocol and history, they're incompetent at the White House as well.

Posted by Tom at 9:00 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

March 14, 2009

A Challenge From China

Last Saturday, March 8, Chinese "fishing trawlers" harrassed an unarmed US Navy ship, the USNS Impeccable. From the original story March 9 on Fox News

Chinese ships surrounded and harassed a Navy mapping ship in international waters off China, at one point coming within 25 feet of the American boat and strewing debris in its path, the Defense Department said Monday. The Obama administration said it would continue naval operations in the South China Sea, most of which China considers its territory, and protested to China about what it called reckless behavior that endangered lives.

At one point during the incident Sunday the unarmed USNS Impeccable turned fire hoses on an approaching Chinese ship in self defense, the Pentagon said. At another point a Chinese ship played chicken with the Americans, stopping dead in front of the Impeccable as it tried to sail away, forcing the civilian mariners to slam on the brakes.

PLAN/Trawlers & USS Impeccable

Photo Fox News

It's pretty obvious that China is testing President Obama. How he responds to this and other challenges will determine much of what happens internationally over the next 4 or 8 years.

What exactly the Impeccable was doing is anybody's guess. It's mission is described as "surveillance" and it is part of the Navy's Special Missions Program, which includes a variety of innocuous tasks as well as "Submarine and Special Warefare Support." According to the Wikipedia article linked to above, "The mission of Impeccable is to directly support the Navy by using SURTASS passive and active low frequency sonar arrays to detect and track undersea threats." It is outfitted to tow a sonar array, which as all Tom Clancy fans know is the best way to detect submarines. The ship has a civilian crew, and is unarmed.

Interestingly, while reading the official Pentagon statement I found that the March 8 incident was only the latest in a series of incidents in which the PLAN (People's Liberation Army/Navy) had harassed US Navy ships in the area:

On March 4, a Chinese Bureau of Fisheries Patrol vessel used a high-intensity spotlight to illuminate the entire length of the ocean surveillance ship USNS Victorious several times, including its bridge crew. USNS Victorious was conducting lawful military operations in the Yellow Sea, about 125 nautical miles from China's coast. The Chinese ship then crossed Victorious' bow at a range of about 1400 yards in darkness without notice or warning. The following day, a Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft conducted 12 fly-bys of Victorious at an altitude of about 400 feet and a range of 500 yards.

On March 5, without notice or warning, a Chinese frigate approached USNS Impeccable and proceeded to cross its bow at a range of approximately 100 yards. This was followed less than two hours later by a Chinese Y-12 aircraft conducting 11 fly-bys of Impeccable at an altitude of 600 feet and a range from 100-300 feet. The frigate then crossed Impeccable's bow yet again, this time at a range of approximately 400-500 yards without rendering courtesy or notice of her intentions.

On March 7, a PRC intelligence collection ship (AGI) challenged USNS Impeccable over bridge-to-bridge radio, calling her operations illegal and directing Impeccable to leave the area or "suffer the consequences."

Again, it's plain for all to see; the Chinese leadership is testing President Obama.

Why Do We Care?

The far right and far left say that we have no business in the area anyway, and we should content ourselves with homeland defense. This is wrongheaded for several reasons.

We need to protect our interests around the world. Our interests are political, economic and moral. By political I mean fighting the War on Jihadism (choose another term than "political" if you like, I'm just trying to make a point). The War on Jihadism requires a global presence where our forces can operate without being seriously threatened.

Economics means trade, and yes that includes access to energy such as oil. Whether we like it or not we are and will be dependent on petroleum for the foreseeable future. It is also in our interest to have friendly nations that we can trade with freely. We do not want countries to be intimidated by the likes of China, Iran, or Venezuela. It is bad enough that the (temporarily) reemerging Russia is causing trouble, we don't need to add to the list.

It is in our moral interest because although we are not the world's policeman we must counter egregious threats to our sensibilities. Democracy stands no chance if anti-democratic regimes rule the waves. Further, we need to have the capability of providing humanitarian relief, and as we have seen, when a tsunami hits somewhere no one can coordinate activities better than the US Navy.

Diplomacy without military power is powerless. No one will listen to you if you can't back it up with at least some military power. This is not to denegrate the importance of economic or "soft power" (two somewhat different things). They are very important as well. But they are more useful when coupled with military force.

So we need to maintain the ability to project power around the globe.

The Chinese Objective

China wants three things:

  1. Regional hegemony
  2. Reincorporation of Taiwan/ROC into mainland China/PRC
  3. Control of sea lanes to and from energy producing regions of the world

I base this and what follows upon everything I have read and heard over the past several years, see China/Taiwan under "Categories" at right for background.

Achieving the first objective will lead to two and three. In order to achieve the first they need to do three things

  1. Become the strongest military power in the region
  2. Remove the US Navy as a regional threat
  3. Ensure that no other regional power emerges that can challenge the PLA/PLAN

They are on their way towards the first with a massive shipbuilding program (details here and here). While the number of ships in the US Navy has been going down, the number of PLAN ships has been increasing. Further, while the quality of US ships has been increasing, so has that of the Chinese. As Mark Helperin pointed out in the Wall Street Journal last year, do not assume US supremacy in a shoot-out. While Helperin's recommendations for a US building program go a bit far, there is little doubt in my mind that we are in a very dangerous position with our current forces.

If Obama backs down, and/or cancels or cuts back on U.S military programs mentioned below, China may make a move to take Taiwan. This move could come in many forms, which I've discussed at some length before, but either way China needs to remove the United States as a military threat before they proceed.

China, like other regional players, are sensitive about Japanese military power. This may have made sense as late as 20 years ago, but the "another World War II" holds little water today. They use it more as a stick with which to beat Japan, and keep the latter from getting any ideas about helping the United States or Taiwan in case of war. Nevertheless, US, Japanese, Australian, India and Singapore held very large military exercises in the Bay of Bengal a year and a half ago to demonstrate resolve in the face of challenge.

Not only is China seeking hegemony in it's own backyard, for the first time in it's history it has sent large military forces abroad. two Chinese destroyers and a supply ship were dispatched dispatched to Somalia last December to counter the threat from pirates. On the one hand we should be glad for the help, on the other it represents a potential challenge to our interests.

I do not expect Obama to significantly increase spending on defense. I do expect him not to cut the U.S. programs mentioned above.

The U.S. Response

While China demanded that we end surveillance missions off their coast, Obamasent a warship:

Chinese Navy officers reacted with annoyance today when it emerged that the United States had sent a destroyer to back up a surveillance vessel in the South China Sea after it was harassed by People's Liberation Army sailors.

The decision by President Obama to send an armed escort for U.S. surveillance ships in the area follows the aggressive and co-ordinated manoeuvres of five Chinese boats on Sunday. The vessels harassed and nearly collided with the unarmed USNS Impecccable.

This is encouraging. Of course, we hear the usual talk about "the need to reduce tensions" and "face-to-face dialogue in Beijing and in Washington will go a long way to clearing up any misunderstanding about this incident," and it's impossible to know what's really going on behind the scenes.

If Obama orders that we reduce our surveillance missions, China will have won a large victory. If we don't, we keep the status quo, with which we have a check on Chinese ambitions.

Just as important is what President Obama does with the defense budget. We're currently in a situation where we're understandably concentrating on counterinsurgency. This is fine and good with regards to the War on Jihadism, but we need to be aware that we face a variety of threats around the globe. Just recently Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered his country as a temporary base for long-range Russian bombers. Iran is on a mad dash to develop nuclear weapons. A shoot out with either Venezuela or Iran, let alone China, will require every bit of high-tech weaponry we can lay our hands on. A year and a half ago I wrote

Let's not also be overconfident or arrogant with regard to our own capabilities. This attitude got a lot of US pilots killed during the early days of the Vietnam War, when we discovered that the MiG-21 was the equivalent of our F-4 Phantom, and their pilots nearly as good.

Further, some of our weapons are getting very old. The F-15 first flew in 1972. The F-16 in 1979, and the F-18 1982. The first Los Angeles class sub was launched in 1976. The CH-53 first flew in 1981, and the H47 in 1962. You get the point.

Yes all of the above systems have undergone major upgrades. I know all this. But you can only do so much with an old airframe. Sure, we could build a new helicopter instead of the tilt-rotar V-22 and it would be better than what is in the inventory. But we are really at about the limit of what you can do with helicopter technology, so it would be an exercise in the point of diminishing returns.

Instead of the F-22 Raptor we could rely on the somewhat less expensive F-35 Lightning II. This, however, would have been the equivalent of canceling the F-15 and relying on the F-16. Ask any pilot about the wisdom of that potential decision.

Among other things, I concluded that we needed to

We need to do two things. The first is to ensure that we have a balanced force. We need Special Forces, and we need F-22s. We need Virginia Class submarines and we need the MRAP. We cannot predict with any certainly who we might have to fight in the forseeable future, and different wars will require a different set of weapons.

The second thing we need to do is to simply spend more. Critics have a point when they say that the Army is stretched thin. The solution, however, is not to pull out of Iraq or anywhere else, but to build up the force. As the editors of National Review reminded us a few months ago how much our forces have shrunk recently:

From 1974 to 1989, the Army had 770,000 to 780,000 active troops (all of them volunteers). Today, we have around 508,000. The Navy had 568 ships in the late 1980s; today it has 276, and its manpower is so reduced that it often has to helicopter sailors from homebound ships to outbound ones in order to keep them staffed. The Air Force's number of tactical air wings has shrunk from 37 to 20, and the average age of its aircraft is 24 years (as compared with nine years in 1973).

There is disagreement about whether the armed forces should be restored to their Cold War size, but there is consensus among military analysts across the political spectrum that they are too small. Today's strategic environment requires them to be able to engage in multiple regional wars and peacekeeping operations simultaneously, and still have enough resources left over to deter threats and respond to unforeseen dangers.

During the last part of the Cold War I think we spend about 8% of GDP on national defense. Today it's at about 3.7% or so. While we don't need to go back to Cold War levels, we do need to do more. The unfortunate fact of history is that there will always be another war.

The only thing I'd add to this list is missile defense. We badly need to move forward with the new sites we are planning for Europe; ABM missiles in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic,. We also need to maintain if not add to our radar and ABM missiles in Alaska. None of thse will help us much with regard to China, but are meant to counter the threat from countries like Iran and North Korea.

Hopefully President Obama will not cut vital systems such as those mentioned above. The Chinese are not sitting still, and are building new aircraft and rumored to be building or buying an aircraft carrier. In addition, Russia and other countries are still producing a variety of new fighter aircraft at breakneck speed.

How Would You Like It If...

Let's address this one and get it out of the way before we go any farther. You'll occasionally hear the far left or far right make an argument along the lines of "how would you like it if they did the same thing to us?"

This is moral equivalency, and as such must be swatted down. The argument presupposes that all nations are as chess pieces, with the differences being superficial.

The difference between the US and China, the UK and Iran, or France and Syria for that matter, is the same as that of the police officer vs the gang member. It is right and good that the police officer be armed and conduct surveillance of gangs; it is wrong and bad for gang members to be armed and harass police officers. This does not mean that the police officer can do anything, there are and must be limits on what the police can do. Likewise, it is right and good that democracies are armed vis a vis nations like China, Iran, or Syria. Continuing the analogy, it does not mean that there are no limits to what we should do.

In Conclusion

So far Obama doesn't seem to be backing down, which is good. What's going on behind the scenes, though, is anybody's guess. The Senate is moving ahead with the Law Of The Sea (LOST) treaty, which some say will help and others hurt our ability to project power around the globe. It is in our interests to control sea lanes, and while we must avoid belligerence we cannot back down in the face of challenges. China has challenged us, and we must stand firm.

Update

Commenter jason and I disagree on a lot of social and economic issues, but he sees pretty clearly on energy policy and foreign threats to our nation, and I like guys like that. Mostly though I'm jealous because he and his wife are taking something of a world tour and I'm stuck here in northern Virginia. Check out his travelblog.

Anyway... in a comment below he links to an excellent FAS article that explains much of the Impeccable was surveilling where it was (yes I know the Federation of American Scientists are a bunch of liberals, but they still put out some good stuff). Text and pictures are from the FAS article:

Impeccable Incident Map

The incident that unfolded in the South China Sea Sunday, where the U.S. Navy says five Chinese ships harassed the U.S. submarine surveillance vessel USNS Impeccable, appears to be part of a wider and dangerous cat and mouse game between U.S. and Chinese submarines and their hunters.

News media reports cite Pentagon reports of half a dozen other incidents just within the past week in which U.S. surveillance vessels were "subjected to aggressive behavior, including dozens of fly-bys by Chinese Y-12 maritime surveillance aircraft."

The latest incident allegedly occurred in international waters only 75 miles south of a budding naval base near Yulin on Hainan Island from where China has started operating new nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines. The U.S. Navy on its part is busy collecting data on the submarines and seafloor to improve its ability to detect the submarines in peacetime and more efficiently hunt them in case of war.

The U.S. Navy's description of the incident states that "a civilian crew mans the ship, which operates under the auspices of the Military Sealift Command." Yet as one of five ocean surveillance ships, the USNS Impeccable (T-AGOS 23) has the important military mission of using its array of both passive and active low frequency sonar arrays to detect and track submarines. The USNS Impeccable works directly with the Navy's fleets, and in 2007 operated with the three-carrier strike battle group in Valiant Shield 07 exercise in the Western Pacific

USNS Impeccable is equipped with the Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System (SURTASS), a passive linear underwater surveillance array attached to a tow cable. SURTASS was developed as a floating submarine detection system for deep waters, and the Navy wants to add an active Low Frequency Array (LFA) to improve long-range detection of submarines in shallow waters.

Impeccable Sonar

mong Chinese submarines the USNS Impeccable was monitoring is probably the Shang-class (Type-093) nuclear-powered attack submarine, a new class China is building to replace the old Han-class, and which has recently been seen at the Yulin base.

A commercial satellite image taken September 15, 2008, shows two Shang-class submarines present at the base, the first time - to my knowledge - that two Shang-class SSNs have been seen at the base at the same time.

Photobucket

Posted by Tom at 1:30 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

March 12, 2009

Iraq Briefing - 09 March 2009 - Reasons for Success by Lt. Gen. Austin

This briefing is by Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III, Commander of Multi-National Corps - Iraq, who on Monday spoke via satellite from Camp Victory in Iraq with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an update on ongoing security operations in Iraq.

Gen. Austin assumed command of Multi-National Corps - Iraq in February of 200,. The job of the corps commander is to impliment the policies of the commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. The divisional commanders, each of which headquarters one of five regions, all report to General Austin.

As the second-highest commander in Iraq, Austin reports Gen. Odierno, commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq. Odierno reports to the commander of CENTCOM, General Petraeus. Petraus, in turn, reports to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Prior to his present duties, Austin served in Iraq as the deputy commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division from March to May of 2003. This is his fourth Pentagon briefing to you in this format as commander of MNC-Iraq.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel website also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

What we'll do is list the reasons for success offered by Gen. Austin in his term as commander of MNC-Iraq, and then take a look at what other commanders and analysts have said.

From his opening remarks:

GEN. AUSTIN:...this great progress happened for several reasons. First and foremost, this happened because our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines performed tirelessly and expended every effort for the Iraqi people through the last six tough years in Iraq.

About a year ago, we endured some very challenging times. As we continued to pressure al Qaeda in the north, we found ourselves in a rather significant struggle with Shi'a extremists in the south in Basra and in Sadr City in Baghdad. It was a struggle that could have reversed the gains that we achieved the previous year, but we were able to respond to the challenge because our young men and women in uniform that are serving in Iraq today are just as dedicated to our mission as they were six years ago.

Another reason for the progress over the past year was that we were able to maneuver our forces against the enemy throughout the country. This allowed us to remove seams and gaps that extremists were using in the past. And by -- and by maneuvering the core elements along with the Iraqi security forces, we were able to pursue the enemy over more terrain than we had before.

And through this maneuver, we had great effects on reducing the flow of foreign fighters coming across the border and through the Jazirah Desert in the north, and we were able to expand our footprint in the south to better confront Shi'a extremists and criminals that were moving lethal accelerants into Baghdad and other parts of the country. The combined pressure of coalition and Iraqi security forces on al Qaeda and Shi'a extremist groups greatly reduced their capabilities to operate in this country.

A third reason for the great progress was our partnering efforts with the Iraqi security forces over the past year. And since the Charge of the Knight's operation in Basra a year ago, we have partnered with them in a very meaningful way, and our relationship has strengthened and evolved over time. And today, all of our operations are combined Iraqi and coalition operations. And through partnership, we were able to transition from deconflicting operations to conducting synchronized operations.

The recent safe and secure provincial elections are a testament to this concept of joint synchronized operations towards a common goal.

And the development of our relationship with the Iraqi security forces over the past year has been a testament as well, and the results have been impressive. The 11 attacks on election day, compared to over 300 attacks on election day in 2005, illustrate exactly that point. And in Baghdad, there were zero attacks on the day of elections. Now, this was all due to the tremendous partnering efforts between the coalition and the Iraqi security forces.

And finally, there were several other factors that contributed to the progress of last year. We successfully transitioned the Sons of Iraq program to the Iraqi government, which demonstrates Iraq's commitment to reconciliation. The improved border security strategy has greatly reduced the number of foreign fighters and lethal accelerants making their way into Iraq, and the improving civil capacity and essential services are positively affecting millions of Iraqi citizens. And the passage of key legislation through the central government, to include the security agreement, has demonstrated progress by the Iraqi government as well.

In summary, the reasons Austin offered that we have been successful in 2008-on were:

  1. The outstanding effort by the men and women of the United States Armed Forces
  2. Our superior ability to maneuver our forces to trap and destroy an elusive foe
  3. The ability to successfully partner with the Iraqi security forces
  4. Successfully transitioning the Sons of Iraq (SOI) into other employment
  5. Securing the border, or at least slowing down the inflow enough to make a difference
  6. Improved Iraqi government services at the local level
  7. Passage of key legislation by the national Iraqi government

Let's take a quick look at some briefings last year and this by our combat commanders to see some of the reasons they have given in briefings for our success at putting down the insurgency.

Last December, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of the the 1st Armored Division (which headquartered Multi-National Division-North) gave several reasons why we were successful in his AOR (Area of Responsibility):

  1. An improved Iraqi government. Trust, coordination, and execution of budgets have improved.
  2. The performance of the US military.
  3. The performance of the PRTs (Provisional Reconstruction Teams, a Department of State operation).

Similar reasons were provided by Col Tom James, commander of the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Multi-National Division - Center), in a briefing on July of 2008in which he explained that the progress they had made and said that security improvements were based on three factors:

  1. A highly professional and greatly improved Iraqi security force
  2. The Sons of Iraq program
  3. Combined security operations

Later, in December, Col James explained that they had moved beyond simply defeating the insurgency, and offered these reasons for their ability to stabilize the area:

  1. The population knows that they are secure, and because of this they have turned from worrying about their personal safety to focusing on improving their economic situation.
  2. The Iraqi security forces, in particular the army, is now confident and capable
  3. The Iraqi government is relatively competent now, at least at the local level, and the economy is turning around
  4. With the improving situation, both we and the Iraqis are able to concentrate on post-insurgency nation-building.

We need to keep in mind that there wasn't one insurgency in Iraq, but many. Each was regional and each had a different cause, and as such we resolved each one using different methods. A primary lesson of Petraeus' U.S. Army / Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 was that an insurgency can vary dramatically from village to village, let alone region to region.

For example, last July, Steve Shippert of Threatswatch explained how the situation was turned around in Anbar (and how Obama was completely wrong on the matter):

  1. The Anbar Salvation Council took matters into their own hands and began to fight back against al Qaeda
  2. The U.S. Marine Corps seized the opportunity and aided them in their fight

Many other commanders have offered similar reasons as well. I think these are fairly representative. Select one of the "Iraq" at right for more.

Looking at the "big picture," in the February 11, 2008, print edition of National Review, Wesley Morgan identified four interconnected efforts that led to the success of the surge throughout Iraq:

  1. The adoption of classic counterinsurgency tactics, with U.S. battalions spreading out among the population and earning their trust;
  2. The grassroots reconciliation of many Sunni and some Shiite communities;
  3. A series of meticulously planned corps-level offensives across Baghdad and its surrounding areas. All of these efforts have hinged on one major change:
  4. During 2007, every echelon of the U.S. command -- from the four-star headquarters down through the critical corps and divisional levels to the brigades and battalions in the field -- was closely integrated into a cohesive whole. Without this integration, none of the four efforts that have brought Iraq forward would have made much difference.

Perhaps most famously, there was Gen Petraeus' speech on Iraq to the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington, DC, October 7, 2008, which I termed his "How We Did It" address. You simply must watch it in its entirety. I encourage readers who really want to understand what happened to follow the link and watch the whole thing, but here are a few of his main points:

  1. The surge focused on securing the population.
  2. The only way to secure a population is to live with the population, to share the risk. You cannot "commute to the fight."
  3. You must use all the tools in your kitbag. Military force, yes and necessary. But you can't win with that alone. Yes before you can have legislation you must have security. But by the same token once military force has done it's part you then move into economics and building projects.
  4. We must promote reconciliation by reaching out to those who are willing to be part of the new Iraq
  5. Get the irreconcilables out of society, detain them, and take the pressure off the population. Eventually you might be able to reconcile some of them though and release some.
  6. Education, social services, and job opportunities are important to long term success.
  7. All units must work as an integrated whole. "Fusion Cells" that broke down barriers between intel centers and government departments. Everyone must work together.

My take is that the reasons offered by the various commanders do not contradict but rather complement each other.

On to the Q & A. For our purposes we'll only consider a few of the exchanges. First is a question on the sustainability of what we have achieved so far.

Q General, Chris Lawrence from CNN. With fewer troops there, are you worried about areas that don't seem to be controlled, like Mosul, and some of the tensions that seem to be rising between the Arabs and Kurds?

GEN. AUSTIN: There are always a number of things that could cause us problems. And certainly, you know, I've been clear about the fact that there's work to be done yet in Mosul, in Diyala. There are things that can pull us off track and cause violence to really reignite in a greater way. And so we continue to watch those things and we develop contingencies to address those issues should they arise.

But bear in mind -- you know, I take you back to what I said as a part of my opening statement. You know, I came in or we came in at the end of the surge brigade period there, so as soon as the 18th Airborne Corps came in, we began to off-ramp surge brigades. And so I have been faced with trying to not only maintain the gains that we had achieved, but also continue to improve upon them with fewer forces.

So we've been doing this for some time. And not only were we able to maintain what we had achieved, we were able to drop the level of violence down even further. Again, you know, it's a question of using every instrument of power that you have in the arsenal. It's a question of making sure that you have thought through to significant detail of what your future challenges may be, and it's a question of how much you partnered with your Iraqi security forces to be able to address those emerging issues.

Next we have a question on the Sons of Iraq program. I've noted time and again the importance of this program in defeating the insurgency, as it was discussed time and again in these briefings from 2007 on. Essentially, the SOI (originally Concerned Local Citizens) was a sort of "super neighborhood watch" that employed local Iraqis to take charge of their own neighborhoods. While we did not arm them, everyone in Iraq seems to have an AK-47. Now that the insurgency is mostly over, the program is being correctly disbanded. But because no one wants tens of thousands of newly unemployed young men roaming the streets, it is vital to move them into other employment. This is mostly the job of the Iraqi government, and as with everything else in Iraq there are speedbumps to negotiate.

In a briefing a year ago Gen Austin issued a veiled warning to the government of Prime Minister al Maliki that his government needed to successfully transition SOI personnel to other employment or he was risking reigniting the insurgency.

With this in mind, let's follow the exchange:

Q (Off mike) -- General, final question from Voice of America, and this is related to the previous question. How would you assess the level of political reconciliation in the country -- you talked about a couple of areas -- but also in Baghdad among the parties? And how will that level of reconciliation impact on security leading up to the elections and after the elections?

GEN. AUSTIN: Well, you know, reconciliation has been a work in progress for some time and will continue to be so in the future.

I can tell you -- I can point to one significant thing that demonstrates that the government is serious about reconciliation, and that is what I mentioned earlier, the Sons of Iraq program.

You know, a year ago, a lot of people told me that the Iraqi government would never take this program on and manage it themselves. And so here we are, a year later, you know -- the Iraqi government is in control of most of the entire program. And every time that they've made a move to annex more of the program, they've done it in a measured way, and it is a success story across the country. And that's near 100,000 Sons of Iraq that they have integrated and are now in control of and are paying them on a daily basis.

So according to Austin, the speedbumps are being successfully negotiated. I haven't seen other stories to contradict this assessment. Further, and perhaps most importantly, I have not heard the journalists at these briefings ask questions challenging the briefers on this matter.

This final exchange is off topic, but I can't resist. A big name reporter asks a very dumb question:

Q General, Jim Miklaszewski with NBC. Do you think it's realistic to expect that all U.S. forces will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011, or will that SOFA agreement have to be renegotiated?

GEN. AUSTIN: Well, hey, Jim, I'll leave that to our senior leadership to -- to address that question there. I think that where we stand right now is that we have a security agreement with the Iraqi -- with the government of Iraq, excuse me -- that says that our forces will leave by 2011. And so from my perspective, you know, we are focused on that. And if there is something that is addressed in the future or is negotiated in the future, that will be really addressed by our civilian leadership.

Did Miklaszewski actually expect the general to say something like "yes, we can't get the troops out on time so we have to renegotiate the treaty?" This proves an aphorism I've thought true for several years; the bigger the name in journalism, the dumber the question.

As always, Gen. Austin comes across as calm, authoritative, confident, and knowledgeable. Between him, his boss General Odierno, and Odierno's boss General Petraeus, our troops are well led.

Posted by Tom at 7:45 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 9, 2009

Obama's Unlimited Stem Cell Research - No Ethics Allowed

Today the Obama Administration reversed President Bush's ban on certain types of stem cell research. It was done by executive order, and you can download it here.

The key in my first sentence is "certain types." If you don't know why, don't worry, for many in the media don't appear to know either.

The issue is that there are two types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Too many people on the left talk about "stem cells" as if that's all there was to it.

I'll give you my bottom line up front; I think that embryonic stem cells, like embryos in the womb, are individual, separate, human beings and as such should be protected by law. As I oppose abortion, I oppose creating and killing embryonic stem cells. As you'll find out below, I'm sure about embryos in the womb, but not 100% on the embryonic stem cells.

My reasoning is simple; killing a life to save a life is immoral. I think that in fact this is a point we can all agree on. If you believe that embryonic stem cells, like embryos in the womb, are not individual, separate, human beings, fine. But lets avoid irrational statements and name calling while discussing the issue.

Here is a summary of the dispute, taken from Wikipedia. Yes I know, it's not always a good source, but this article is not flagged as "the neutrality of this article is disputed" so what we get is I think is probably pretty accurate:

There exists a widespread controversy over human embryonic stem cell research that emanates from the techniques used in the creation and usage of stem cells. Human embryonic stem cell research is controversial because, with the present state of technology, starting a stem cell line requires the destruction of a human embryo and/or therapeutic cloning. However, recently, it has been shown in principle that adult stem cell lines can be manipulated to generate embryonic-like stem cell lines using a single-cell biopsy similar to that used in preimplantation genetic diagnosis that may allow stem cell creation without embryonic destruction.[34] It is not the entire field of stem cell research, but the specific field of human embryonic stem cell research that is at the centre of an ethical debate.

Opponents of the research argue that embryonic stem cell technologies are a slippery slope to reproductive cloning and can fundamentally devalue human life. Those in the pro-life movement argue that a human embryo is a human life and is therefore entitled to protection.

Contrarily, supporters of embryonic stem cell research argue that such research should be pursued because the resultant treatments could have significant medical potential. It is also noted that excess embryos created for in vitro fertilization could be donated with consent and used for the research.

The ensuing debate has prompted authorities around the world to seek regulatory frameworks and highlighted the fact that stem cell research represents a social and ethical challenge.

Read on and you quickly find that the entire issue is horribly complicated. As such, I'll be the first to tell you that I don't understand it all and take much of my position on this issue from people I trust, like these folks, who have investigated the matter in detail.

I think that serious people on both sides of the debate will admit that it's not a simple matter. Further, most I think will agree that we don't want to leave all decisions to scientists. At the very least, if they want our money for their research, not to mention their salaries, they must listen to our opinions.

Yes we all want to save lives. Yes, we on the right are in favor of research that results in cures for the dread diseases that we hope we never get. But please, those of us who object to embryonic stem cell research are not just a bunch of religious kooks, as too many on the left want to paint us. Religion can and does form our world view, including that of protecting the unborn. It is a sad day when this in and of it self is said to be invalid. I would simply comment that the left has no problem with religion when it's used to promote government spending on the poor, or when it's part of the antiwar movement (note that I don't have any problem when it's used that way also. I just disagree with the theology and reasoning).

We're told, insistently screamed at, that we must have unlimited stem cell research. It will save lives, they say.

Undoubtedly some cures will be found through such research. But there's the nagging suspicion, confirmed by the most elementary google search, that the promise has been wildly exaggerated. Another basic google search returns many articles stating that recent scientific advances render embryonic stem-cell research unnecessary. But increasingly facts don't matter, because we must have research. It all reminds one of Al Gore and his global warming adherents.

No doubt that just as with global warming, many proponents of unlimited stem cell research are sincere good people. In these matters I try to give the benefit of the doubt.

But there are many, especially although not exclusively in the pro-abortion, er, "pro-choice" movement, whose motives are... less than honest.

You see, it's only partially a scientific debate. At its heart, the stem cell debate is really part of the controversy over abortion. Where you come down it all depends on where you think life starts. Or whether you just want to go out, have sex with whomever you like, and not worry about the consequences.

It's all part of what Ramesh Ponnuru was talking about in The Party of Death. These are the people who are not just happy with abortion and all manner of scientific research and how-dare-you-bring--up-ethics, they're pushing us to accept things such as cloning and assisted suicide.

If such things do not at least give you pause, you need to start wondering about yourself. If you think that George W. Bush, or any serious person on the right is callous with regard to Afgani or Iraqi civilian deaths, you're not intellectually honest. If you think we haven't at least considered whether support for the death penalty might not contradict our pro-life position, you're poorly informed.

The notion that science must be unfettered from all moral and ethical concerns is seen in the Washington Post story on the matter, the headline of which is "Obama Aims to Shield Science From Politics." Sigh.

The Post uses the term "politics" because they want to disparage those of us who want restrictions. Despite its fairly bland denotative meaning as simply "The art or science of government or governing," the term has taken more a more sinister connotative meaning in everyday speech. The Post doesn't want you to think that there might be legitimate ethical concerns.

It is not, after all, "politics" or "political ideology" to believe that that embryonic stem cells, like embryos in the womb, are individual, separate, human beings and as such should be protected by law.

Further, let's consider that there is legitimate debate over the use of animals for scientific research. There is growing awareness, I think, that there should at least be some sort of restrictions. Certainly there is a large movement, mostly on the left, that supports much restriction if not outright bans on animal testing. I think it safe to say that these are usually the same people who on abortion call themselves "pro-choice" and who today celebrate Obama's decision.

However one comes down on animal testing, it is only the callous few who insist that "anything goes" in the name of saving human lives. To be sure, I value human lives more than animal, and if at least some testing is beneficial, so be it. But the point is that those who support restrictions do so because they understand that no, scientists cannot be allowed to do whatever they want unfettered by moral and ethical concerns.

Which brings us to President Obama and his executive order.

What's noticeable about it is its complete lack of acknowledgment that their might be an ethical debate. Download the executive order linked to above and read it yourself if you don't believe me. Obama sees not restrictions on science at all as valid.

At least when President Bush announced his policy he went on national television and explained it to the nation. He admitted it was a "complex and difficult issue," and one he had arrived at only through much study and reflection.

Obama shows no such concern. During the signing ceremony he remarked that

This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let's be clear: promoting science isn't just about providing resources - it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient - especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda - and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.

To Obama, any restrictions at all are "manipulation or coercion" and "ideology." This is amorality at it's worst. Apparently, as part of the new regimen; we are to serve science, not the other way around. It's the attitude of science uber alles, and those of us without the proper degree need to just shut up and listen to our betters. And keep the cash flowing.

During the campaign I tagged Obama as "the pro-abortion candidate" because of his extremism on the matter. Since becoming president, his policy decisions confirm what I wrote. People like him, who voted against the Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act and then lied about why he did it, are callous with regard to all life. We saw it in his executive order, and I fear we'll see more.

Posted by Tom at 10:30 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Afghanistan Briefing - 06 March 2009 - Building An Alternative to the Khyber Pass

Introduction

I discussed our tenuous logistical situation last month in Supply Lines to Afghanistan. In the post, it was pointed out that some 70% of the supplies sent to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan were offloaded in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, most of which then went through the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. This was obviously a choke point, and indeed insurgents have targeted out logistical trail in this area. We have been exploring alternatives through the northern 'stans, but none are really satisfactory. It was therefore good news to hear in this briefing that we are building an alternative entry point into Afghanistan for supplies offloaded in Karachi.

The Briefing

This briefing is by Col. John P. "Pete" Johnson, Commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, speaks via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an operational update. Col Johnson is at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Khost province, Afghanistan.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team is known as the Task Force Currahee, and I trust we're all aware that the 101st Airborne Division are also called the Screaming Eagles. The 4th Brigade is responsible for the central eastern area of Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border. They have been there since April of 2008, and are due to rotate back to the United States later this month.

The 4th Brigade is part of Combined Joint Task Force 101, Operation Enduring Freedom. The order of battle is not at all well defined for our operations in Afghanistan, comparing very poorly to the superb job of whomever set up the website of Multi-National Forces-Iraq. Fortunately, Dr. Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War has an excellent Order of Battle that was published just last month. Their document tells us at the top of page 2 that Johnson's brigade is based at FOB Salerno, Khost, and is responsible for Khost, Paktia, and Paktika provinces.

This and other videos can be seen at the DODvClips website. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is on the DefenseLink site.

I covered a briefing by Col. Johnson last year
Afghanistan Briefing - 21 November 2008 - Winning Hearts and Minds in Khost,
Interested readers may wish to compare what the Colonel said about the K-G Pass Road they were building then with what he said in this briefing.

From Col. Johnson's opening remarks:

COL. JOHNSON:...Our flagship development effort is the construction of the Khost- to-Gardez, or K-G, road, a 101-kilometer road through the mountains which will connect this province of Khost to the interior of Afghanistan, opening up market lines between centers of commerce and allowing the government of Afghanistan to bring much-needed services and security to a very important population. This USAID project will also potentially offer an alternative port of entry to the Khyber Pass, as it can reduce the travel from Kabul to Karachi by over 400 kilometers.

This ambitious road project is very much contested by the enemies of Afghanistan, who see it as a major threat as we compete for influence with the local population. It's a stated objective by the Haqqani network, our major foe here, to not let this road be built. The Haqqani family is from the Pashtun Zadran tribe, which dominates this mountainous region.

Back in the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, these same tribes prevented the construction of a similar road and also stopped two Army divisions from entering Khost through these passes. Bottom line, the road is being built with the support of the tribes. We continue to work closely in support of the Afghan government to ensure all the needs of the people are addressed....

Now I'd like to provide some perspective on the enemies of Afghanistan. It is certainly a complex enemy, from a multitude of ideological Taliban groups to power-politic groups such as the Haqqani network as well as the Gulbuddin-Hekmatyar-led HIG, all the way up to and including al Qaeda. Whether you believe this is an insurgency or a guerrilla campaign, one thing is clear: The primary means this enemy uses is terrorism. It is completely inhumane, un-Islamic, barbaric, with a total disregard for innocent civilian lives....

While ISAF and Afghan national security forces go to great lengths in their planning and operations to prevent civilian injuries and the loss of innocent lives, over the past year the terrorist indifference to civilian casualties has been appalling. Even though, yes, they've increased their total effort by around 20 percent this year and have increased the sense of insecurity, the sloppiness of their efforts has created five times the civilian casualties over ours.

When we study the nature of their attacks, they have shifted from direct attacks, which are most always soundly defeated, to wanton and indiscriminate suicide, asymmetric IED and indirect-fire attacks, which recklessly endanger the civilian population....

The other key aspect of this enemy is the almost absolute reliance on foreign fighters from Pakistan and other countries to accomplish the majority of their spectacular attacks. We do not see platoons drawn from local population to conduct major attacks. To me, this reflects a lack of willingness within the population to actively support the enemy's efforts and the importance of external support for them to achieve their goals....

Corruption remains a real concern throughout Afghanistan. We've taken the zero-tolerance approach. When corruption is identified, action must be taken. We've seen this happen within some of our security forces. Afghan officials investigated the corruption and dealt with the issue, earning the public's respect and gratitude. This further encouraged the Afghan people to turn toward their government for assistance....

There is much of interest here. Discussed in the introduction was the important of finding a backup to the Khyber pass. On that note I won't add to what Col. Johnson said. Interested parties can follow the link to my other post at top.

We face a complex and evolving enemy in Afghanistan. As Frederick Kagan pointed out last month, "There is no such thing as "the Taliban" today. Many different groups with different leaders and aims call themselves "Taliban," and many more are called "Taliban" by their enemies...."

It is apparent that no only are enemy attacks increasing, they are changing tactics from direct specific attacks to indirect terror attacks. The good news is that most insurgents are not native Afghanis, the bad news is that the existence of the sanctuary in Pakistan is a serious impediment to our ability to victory. One of the primary lessons of Petraeus' US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual 3-24 was that you must avoid allowing the enemy to have a sanctuary.

As you can read, we are doing our darndest to hit the insurgents when they are in Pakistan (mainly the provinces of North and South Waziristan), but as we all know it remains a huge problem. The issues are terribly complex, and more than I can address here.

Col Johnson's admission of corruption stands in contrast to Col. Scott Spellmon's briefing last month in which he told us that "Over the past seven and a half months, I have a seen a number of allegations of corruption in the provincial governments. However, I have yet to see any evidence, as have the governors -- any evidence that would substantiate any of those claims." I was fairly critical of Col. Spellmon in my analysis, and Col. Johnson's statements seem to validate that.

On to the Q & A. First is more detail on the enemy attacks discussed above:

Q Colonel, this is David Morgan from Reuters. ...what has been the trend in attacks? Have attacks been rising over the course of the past few months or falling? And are your expectations for the next few months?

COL. JOHNSON: ...With respect to what the situation is in terms of the enemy effort, as I said, I think over this past year there's been about a -- you know, roughly a 20 percent increase in overall enemy activity, and over the last two months I would say compared to 2008, roughly about 30 percent.

So it has risen somewhat, partly, I believe, due to the really good weather that the enemy has had to be able to operate in the border regions. Normally the winters are much more severe. And quite frankly, this year has been relatively temperate. We have had snow in the upper elevations, but many of the passes that would normally be blocked just were not.

And also I think that as we look at the -- one of the things we try to measure is the quality of the enemy effort. Over this past year, even with a 20 percent increase, much of that increase has really been in ineffective attacks. There has been a slight qualitative increase, more with respect to indirect-fire attacks and IED attacks against our forces and a more targeted shift from attacks against coalition forces towards our Afghan national security force brothers.

The insurgents seem to be calculating that they can turn the population against us if they kill enough Afghanis. Given how I've seen the Afghanis' react to civilian casualties, I would say their calculation is probably right. The primary lesson of Field Manual 3-24 (and something I've said here a zillion times) is that the first priority of counterinsurgents is protecting the population. Clearly, we've got some work to do.

In the next exchange we get a direct reference to FM 3-24 and the number of troops needed in-country. Note that everyone understands the reference without further elaboration.

The bad news is that we don't have enough troops in country, the good news is that now that we've largely won Iraq we can shift resources to that theater. Unfortunately, the bad news outnumbers the good, since once again we have been betrayed by our European allies (who have said sorry, we're not sending more troops), and even though it is very good that President Obama is sending more troops he is not sending enough.

Q (David Morgan of Reuters) If I can follow up on that, how many soldiers do you have to look after this population of 1.6 million -- not just U.S., but Afghan and any others who are in the area? And how does that number compare with what would be prescribed by the counterinsurgency manual?

COL. JOHNSON: We are not quite reaching the gold standard prescribed in the manual. Right now we're at about a one to 115 ratio of security forces to population. And so we don't quite achieve the standard. But I've got roughly, you know, 5,000 coalition forces under my command to support the effort, an additional 10,000 or so Afghan National Army, another 9,000 or so police forces and then roughly 3,000 Afghan Border Police. That's essentially the security forces that we've got to conduct counterinsurgency operations to secure this population.

A very informative briefing.

It appears that Col. Johnson will soon be awarded a star. During the briefing, Jeff Schogol of Stars and Stripes started off his question with "General -- General?! -- Colonel, soon to be General...." If the progress on the K-G Pass Road is as Col. Johnson says, then I'd say it was a promotion well deserved.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 7, 2009

The Left's War on Charities

Liberals constantly tell us what good people they are because they want to help the poor and downtrodden. Why, then, is President Obama out to destroy charitable institutions? From an opinion piece in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal:

Nonprofit leaders are reeling from the recent news that President Barack Obama's proposed budget would limit tax deductions on charitable contributions from wealthy Americans. But now the philanthropic world has something else to worry about. Today the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), a research and advocacy group, will release a report offering "benchmarks to assess foundation performance." Its real aim is to push philanthropic organizations into ignoring donor intent and instead giving grants based on political considerations.

The committee is part of a rising tide of politicians and activists who are working to change the face of American philanthropy -- and not for the better.

The report, titled "Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best," advises foundations to "provide at least 50 percent of grant dollars to benefit lower-income communities, communities of color, and other marginalized groups, broadly defined." The committee looked at 809 of the largest foundations in the country, whose combined three-year grants totaled almost $15 billion, and concluded that the majority of foundations are "eschewing the needs of the most vulnerable in our society" by neglecting "marginalized groups."

"But it's only advice," you protest. So far it's just advice, I respond. I think that limiting tax deductions was only Obama's first step. His next step will be to say "if you want your deductions back you have to meet my requirements."

Reducing the Charitable Deduction

First, here are the tax brackets for fy 2009:

_______0 to _$8,350 10%
__$8,350 to _$33,950 15%
_$33,960 to _$82,250 25%
_$82,250 to $171,550 28%
$171,550 to $372,950 33%
$372,950 and above _ 35%

The Chronicle of Philanthropy explains that the amount of charitable giving you can deduct depends on your tax bracket, so that if you're in the 33 or 35% bracket, that's what you can deduct (beyond the "standard deduction," and for up to 30 - 50% of your adjusted gross income). Under Obama's proposal, anyone making over $250,000 would be limited to 28% for all itemized deductions.

As an example, suppose

...a wealthy donor in the top tax bracket who makes a $100,000 gift. The donor currently would save $35,000 in taxes, or 35 percent of the gift. Under President Obama's proposal, that same donor would save only $28,000, or 28 percent -- a difference of $7,000.

For all of you liberals who profess to care so much about the poor, what this means is that wealthy people will give less money to charity. Happy now?

And as you might imagine, charities are up in arms over this.

Politically Correct Giving

Reducing the tax deduction is only part of the story. In addition, Obama and his fellow leftists are looking for ways to regulate how charities spend their money.

Let's look at that report mentioned earlier; Criteria for Philanthropy at Its Best: Benchmarks to Assess and Enhance Grantmaker Impact, issued by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. I read the Executive Summary, and a few of the other documents, and most of it didn't look so bad. This stuck out, though, in Chapter 1, "Values:"

A grantmaker practicing Philanthropy at Its Best serves the public good by contributing to a strong, participatory democracy that engages all communities....

b) Provides at least 25 percent of its grant dollars for advocacy, organizing and
civic engagement to promote equity, opportunity and justice in our society.....

Reading on, there is much talk about "income inequality" which we are told "remains a
significant barrier to improving one's quality of life and data suggest that income inequality has been exacerbated in recent years." I'm not so sure about the data, but I do know that it's not "income inequality" that's the problem. The problem is not that incomes are unequal, but that there are too many people whose income is too low. This is a distinction with a difference.

Also worrisome is that Harvard political philosopher John Rawls is cited approvingly:

In A Theory of Justice, Rawls articulated his now famous and often cited principles of distributive justice. The first principle calls for all people to have "equal rights to the most extensive system of basic civil liberties." The second principle, also called the "distributive justice principle," states that the socio-economic inequalities inherent in the free market system are morally justifiable if they "work to the benefit of the least advantaged" in our society. Rawls sought to ensure justice and fairness, with an emphasis on redistributive justice in the welfare state. Rawls asserted that all wealth in society is made by the cooperation of all the members of society in the context of the arrangements of basic institutions. He stated that there are two types of societies: a capitalist welfare society and a democratic property owning society. The first is concerned with order and will support welfare for the purpose of maintaining order and serving capital. The latter will arrange institutions and norms to support democracy and welfare to secure membership. Capital will be arranged to support democracy and people.

Socialist income redistribution, here we come.

Also sticking out in the NCRP report was this in Chapter 1 as well

Advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement have played essential roles in the development of our society and our democracy...

Digging further, one comes across the term "social justice" many times. Conveniently, they define it for us:

Social justice philanthropy is the practice of making contributions to nonprofit organizations that work for structural change and increase the opportunity of those who are less well off politically, economically and socially.

Their recommendation:

Leading the field, 108 foundations (13.35 percent of our sample) provided at least 50 percent of their grant dollars for the intended benefit of marginalized communities. Also noteworthy, 56 foundations (6.9 percent) provided at least 25 percent of their grant dollars for social justice. These are the benchmarks for Philanthropy at Its Best.

This is scary stuff for those of us who believe in traditional concepts of liberty. Hold on to your wallets, because these people want to use charitable causes to advocate for income redistribution and other leftist political goals.

Much of the rest of the proposals were innocuous, and some of the ideas were actually quite sound.

However, read the rest of the Wall Street Journal article cited above. Ms Riley discusses other leftist groups that advocate leftist goals for charitable institutions, such as The Greenlining Institute and the Council on Foundations. Given how leftist the Obama Administration is proving, it can't be long before they enact at least some of their recommendations into law.

Why They're Doing This

Obama makes his purpose clear in "Jumpstarting the Economy", one of the documents outlining his proposal. Under "Financing health Care Reform" it says

The reserve fund is financed by a combination of rebalancing the tax code so that the wealthiest pay more as well as specific health care savings in three areas: promoting efficiency and accountability, aligning incentives toward quality, and encouraging shared responsibility.

This is straight out class warfare. Obama and his fellow leftists hate large segments of America and are determined to punish them. The blather at the end about "shared responsibility" is a lot of hooey. Their idea is that you are not only responsible for your neighbor in a moral sense but as such must be forced to pay for them as well. It's not a matter of doing the right thing out of a sense of moral obligation; the liberals want to force you to do it their way.

When Obama said to "Joe the Plumber" during the campaign that "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody" he wasn't kidding.

Obama and the left have a simple objective; they want total control of how aid to the poor is distributed. They'd like government to do as much as possible, and failing that the want to control what private charities do.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 4, 2009

$4.4 Billion for Hamas, er, "Gaza" - International Stupidity in Action

Yesterday I raked the Obama Administration over the coals for their brain-dead idea to give $900 million in American tax dollars to "Gaza" to "help rebuild" it in the wake of Hamas' unsuccessful war with Israel.

Today I discovered this is only the tip of the iceberg. An "International Donor Conference" has pledged $4.4 - 5.4 billion (depending on which news account you believe) to aid in "rebuilding Gaza. This AP story is typical

International donors pledged $5.2 billion Monday to rebuild the devastated Gaza Strip and fund the Palestinian government, giving a powerful boost to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and putting new pressure on the rival Hamas militant group to moderate....

Hillary Rodham Clinton, attending the gathering on her first Mideast tour as U.S. secretary of state, told reporters the pledges showed the international community's "confidence" in Abbas and his administration, which has been severely weakened by its confrontation with Hamas.

This is insane. As I explained yesterday the money will end up going to Hamas.

Further, this simply rewards the Gazans for their bad behavior. They voted Hamas into power, and all signs point to them as supporting Hamas before and after their Dec-Jan war with Israel. Rebuilding Gaza would make sense only if Hamas was already removed from power and real liberals (note the small "l") in power; you know, like we did with Germany and Japan some 60 odd years ago.

Of all the commentators I've read Melanie Phillips, author of Londonistan, hits it out of the park. It's so good I'd love to quote the whole thing, but I'd rather you go there yourself. Following are excerpts:

There has never been a situation like this. 'Surreal', as Daniel Pipes expostulates, just doesn't begin to describe what America, Britain and Europe are doing in Gaza. America has pledged $900 million for the 'rebuilding' of Gaza; at the 'donors' conference at Sharm el Sheikh yesterday, pledges from more than 70 states including Europe and Britain swelled that total to more than $4.4 billion. The beleaguered British taxpayer may be rather surprised to know that bankrupt Britain is throwing £30 million at the place.

These governments all piously intone that the money will not end up in the hands of Hamas. This is utterly absurd. Hamas run Gaza. They control it. Nothing happens there without their say-so. UNRWA, which is apparently supposed to distribute the humanitarian aid, is riddled with Hamas operatives amongst its staff; Hamas won more than 80 percent of the vote in the last election for the UNRWA workers association and the UNRWA teachers association.

To avoid the money going to Hamas, we are told with a straight face, aid is to be funnelled through the Palestinian Authority. But the PA are in the West Bank. They are not in Gaza. Hamas run Gaza. The PA have no more power to stop that money from ending up in the pockets of Hamas than they have of flying to the moon.

Who can doubt that the $4.4 billion will go straight to Hamas so that it can buy yet more rockets and missiles and construct yet more death-dealing factories to enable them to bombard Israel and kill the innocent?

No one with an ounce of common sense. But just to show how insane this proposal is,

Even the Saudis seem to think this is mad:
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal told al Arabiya TV that rebuilding Gaza would be 'difficult and fool-hardy, so long as peace and security do not prevail' in the territory.

The banality of our Secretary of State is also on full display

Clinton's delusion is the distillation of the key liberal fallacy that the perfection of the world lies in the application of reason; that people are all innately reasonable, and will always act in furtherance of their own rational self-interest. Seen through this prism, Israel's destruction of Palestinian infrastructure - indeed, any action it takes to prevent Gazans from murdering Israeli citizens - is frightfully inconsiderate because it mucks up the only real agenda in the Middle East which is to set up a Palestinian state -- not the fact that Israel is under permanent siege from a real agenda of genocide. So Gaza's donors told themselves this:
A new drive to revive the Middle East peace process is needed because violence could easily erupt again in Gaza, wrecking aid efforts, international donors were told at an aid conference today... 'We are confronted with a serious dilemma,' Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told the final news conference. 'Will we once again reconstruct something we built a few years ago and now has been hammered and flattened?'

Note - the dilemma is not whether the donors' money will be used to hammer and flatten Israel; it is only whether Israel will give the donors a poor return for their investment in Gaza, by having the gall to seek to protect its citizens against the violence that the donors' money will fund.

And of course we all know that the moral idiots of the "international community" will rush to condemn Israel if it strikes back at Hamas terror. There can be no peace with the Arabs and Palestinians in their current state. They are the ones who must reform, and no good will come of rewarding the Gazans for their support of Hamas.

By the way, did you know that Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel? In fact, over 130 Qassam rockets and mortar shells have been fired since the supposed end of hostilities on January 18.

No sign that Obama, Hillary, or the "international community" care.

Posted by Tom at 8:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 3, 2009

Obama's New Middle East Policy

We're starting to see the outlines of President Obama's Middle East policy, and it appears to be about as bad as expected. Unfortunately I can't say I was particularly enamored of President Bush's second term policy either. As such, at best we're continuing a flawed policy, at worst building on an existing failure.

From the White House website, here's the official policy of the Obama Administration

Obama and Biden will make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key diplomatic priority from day one. They will make a sustained push -- working with Israelis and Palestinians -- to achieve the goal of two states, a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security.

A "two-state solution" will not work under current circumstances. Any Palestinian state will be a terrorist entity that will make Iran look tame by comparison.

More on this later, but at least it's pretty standard stuff. The worst part is that we're giving $900 million to the terrorists of Hamas er, "Gaza":

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States plans to offer more than $900 million to help rebuild Gaza after Israel's invasion and to strengthen the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, U.S. officials said on Monday.

The money, which needs U.S. congressional approval, will be distributed through U.N. and other bodies and not via the militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, said one official.

"This money is for Gaza and to help strengthen the Palestinian Authority. It is not going to go to Hamas," said the official, who asked not to be named as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton planned to announce the funding at a donors' conference in Egypt next week.

In 2007 I raked the Bush Administration over the coals for giving arms to Fatah which ended up in the hands of Hamas. Now, though, we're giving money to Hamas, and Obama and Clinton are not even smart enough to realize it

Let's start with some basic economics; money is a fungible commodity. What this means is that one unit is indistinguishable from the next. If you put two fungible units together by definition they mix and you cannot later distinguish A from B. For example, suppose you give $20 to a drunk and tell him that he must spend it on food. He does so. But you still cannot say "he spent my $20 on food" because by spending an additional $20 on food he freed up another $20 for wine.

Illustratiing tthe point, Steve Schippert points out on NRO, "there is ultimately just one distributor (and confiscator) of aid in Gaza: Hamas and this frees them to spend other funds directly on rearming."

Some will object that Palestinian children are in need. Should we have given humanitarian aid to Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan during WWII? Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood,which is at war with us, whether we accept it or not.

The only difference between Hamas and the Nazis is opportunity. In a way, Hamas is even worse. The Nazi's did not turn their children into suicide bombers. The Hitler Youth was nothing compared to what Hamas and Fatah do to their children.

Speaking of children, big surprise but Mrs "It takes a Village" is in it for... the children:

Clinton puts 'heart' into Mideast peace, Cites future of children as focus of solution Nicholas Kralev The Washington Times

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday committed herself personally to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, saying that finding a solution is "in my heart, not just my portfolio."

Mrs. Clinton cited the persistent peacemaking efforts of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and linked a solution to the future of Israeli and Palestinian children.

"I personally am very committed to this, and I know it can be done. I believe that with all my heart," she told reporters at a donors' conference for Gaza at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik. "To me, this is about what happens to the children in Gaza and the West Bank. I got into politics, because I care deeply what happens to children."

Get me that air sickness bag now.

But wait, it gets worse

"Some of you know that George Mitchell's father was Irish and his mother was Lebanese. Well, he solved half of his family's problems, so now he is here working on the second half, and we hope that we will see it come to fruition," she said in a humorous reference to Mr. Mitchell's role in negotiating the 1998 Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.

The reason I'm quoting this is that you're going to hear this nonsense a lot; "we negotiated a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland and can use that model for the Israelis and Palestinians.

It's enticing, but a false analogy. John Bew and Martyn Frampton over at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs wrote a lengthy document saying why. Following is a key excerpt:

  • By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Republic of Ireland had become a force for stability and peace in Northern Ireland and worked in close cooperation with the British government in the search for a settlement. The same cannot be said of Israel's neighbors. On the contrary, Iran and Syria continue to support Hamas and encourage its violent campaign, offering it arms, funding, training, and sanctuary.
  • For the British government, formal negotiations with the IRA could only occur in a context in which republican violence had been brought to an end. With the IRA in a position of declining military and political fortunes, it sought to extricate itself via the peace process. The perception of the republican leadership had become - rightly - that IRA violence had held back the political prospects of Sinn Fein.
  • The aims of the IRA posed no existential threat to the British. This is not the case where Israel and Hamas are concerned, however. The objectives of Hamas require the destruction of the State of Israel. Moreover, whereas the political goals of the IRA were confined locally to the future of the island of Ireland, Hamas, by its own admission, is part of a global Islamist movement, known as the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, diplomatic engagement with Hamas has broader international implications.

So don't believe any of it.

The Obama-Clinton Middle East policy is


  • Send huge sums of money to "the Gazans", pretending that the terrorists of Hamas won't get it

  • Talk Israel into giving up land for pieces of paper

  • Set up one or another Palestinian state


I've stated my ideas in a dozen or more posts. They boil down to; isolate the Palestinians, incent them to develop true liberty and shake off Hamas, Fatah must truely reform, and give them nothing until these things happen. The full version is more lengthy and complicated (follow the link) but essentially the carrot and stick is based on the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and the Helsinki Accords.

The bottom line is that in their current condition the Palestinians do not deserve a state. If they got one, either on the so-called West Bank (Judea and Samaria), or in Gaza, it would simply be the world's worst terrorist state.

I disagreed with President Bush when he and Secretary Rice had them all over to Annapolis in November of 2007, and I'm disagreeing with Obama and Clinton now. Nothing good can come from any of this.

Posted by Tom at 10:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 1, 2009

Obama's War on Investors and Business

President Obama has revealed himself to be every bit as left-wing as we had feared he would be. Those conservatives who assured us that he would govern from the center have been proven completely wrong, and he has barely been in office a month and a half.

Economist Larry Kudlow lays it out:

He is declaring war on investors, entrepreneurs, small businesses, large corporations, and private-equity and venture-capital funds.

That is the meaning of his anti-growth tax-hike proposals, which make absolutely no sense at all -- either for this recession or from the standpoint of expanding our economy's long-run potential to grow.

Raising the marginal tax rate on successful earners, capital, dividends, and all the private funds is a function of Obama's left-wing social vision, and a repudiation of his economic-recovery statements. Ditto for his sweeping government-planning-and-spending program, which will wind up raising federal outlays as a share of GDP to at least 30 percent, if not more, over the next 10 years.

This is nearly double the government-spending low-point reached during the late 1990s by the Gingrich Congress and the Clinton administration. While not quite as high as spending levels in Western Europe, we regrettably will be gaining on this statist-planning approach.

Study after study over the past several decades has shown how countries that spend more produce less, while nations that tax less produce more. Obama is doing it wrong on both counts.

Actually, he's doing it right, but by his definition. Obama, you see, isn't really interested in fixing the economy, at least not in the traditional sense.

His real purpose is what he said it would be during the campaign:

I think that Obama's real purpose is what he said to "Joe the Plumber" during the campaign; "I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody."

He also admitted to Charlie Gibson during a debate with the other Democrat candidates that "I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness."

And of course his 2001 interview with Chicago Public Radio station WBEZ in which he complained that "the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth, and of more basic issues such as political and economic justice in society."

Some will object that President Obama's economic plan must be good because he enjoys high poll numbers. And indeed he does. The Real Clear Politics average has him at a 64% approval rating, which is quite respectable.

The markets, however, see it differently.

Here's the NYSE composite for the past 2 months

NYSE Composite Jan01-Mar01 2009


And here is the Dow Jones for the past 2 months

Dow Jones  Jan01-Mar01 2009


Certainly the markets have been going down for the better part of a year before Obama took office. But if Obama's plan is so good, the markets should have stabilized or moved up by now. Remember, the stock market is a leading indicator, not a lagging one.

Obama's True Purpose

Mona Charen summed up where this is taking us

President Obama has made it abundantly clear that he intends to hustle this country into European nanny-state socialism if he can (and just as fast as he can).

That's one. Obama's other purpose is to enlarge the bloc of permanent Democrat voters by increasing the number of people whose jobs are dependent on government spending.

In an earlier post I listed program after program in the "stimulus" that had nothing to do with economic stimulus. It's all just a giant liberal wish-list enacted into law. One even overturns the 1996 welfare reform It was simply one liberal program after another designed to increase the size of government and create a permanent class of Democrat voters.

If you want to accuse President Bush of using 9/11 to "take away our civil liberties" with the Patriot Act, I disagree but if you want to make that argument, fine (nevermind that the Patriot Act can and probably will be overturned with the stroke of a pen while Obama's program will be next to impossible to roll back). Can't we then accuse President Obama of using the fiscal crisis to push the largest expansion of the government and transformation of our relationship to it since LBJ's Great Society?

Fifty years ago Eisenhower warned us about a military-industrial complex. He had a point, though with the looming threat of the Soviet Union and now of jihadism it's hard to see how we could have done things much differently. Nevertheless, I will certainly agree that our defense establishment should wax and wane with regard to the actual threat out there. Perhaps at times we contract it too much, but certainly we do not need to spend what we did during the height of the Cold War.

While we're at it, I will also say for the record that spending on defense matters to boost the economy or employ people is also wrong. Defense spending should not be justified for these reasons. We have a military to kill people and break things (or to provide a credible threat that they can do so, which is the same thing if you know your Clausewitz), not to provide employment opportunities.

But the non-defense "liberal-industrial complex" never wanes. Once started, it is almost impossible to eliminate programs and positions.

If you don't believe me take a look at your local county, town, or city budget. Most are on line and you can access it fairly easily. If not, hard copies are available by law.

Point is, because they're smaller, it's easier to dig though them. Do so, and you'll be amazed at some of the things that your locality spends money on. We have a "master gardener" program to provide residents of one of the wealthiest counties in the country with landscape management tips. We have guidance counselors in our elementary schools. Yet suggest that either should be eliminated during a time of recession and you'll face a firestorm of protest; from the master gardeners and elementary school guidance counselors.

Go to a public hearing on budgets at your local county, town, or city. Suggestions to cut anything are met with proclamations of dire consequences.

Anyone who has observed these processes knows that is very easy to increase the size of government, but almost impossible to shrink it. By creating more and more whose livelihoods are dependent on government, Obama has assured the Democrat party of more voters.

Obama aims to resurrect not so much FDR's New Deal, as LBJ's Great Society. His programs are not to fix the economy, but to move us towards a European model, perhaps especially the French dirigiste one. He wants to change the very nature of America, who we are and what we think about ourselves. He wants to change us from a nation of entrepreneurs into a nation of dependents. He's likely to succeed unless we on the right get our act together. Time is of the essence, and we must keep him from getting a second term.

Posted by Tom at 9:45 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack