Who Lost the War over the War?

We did. Setting aside for later debate the abysmal mistake of allowing a leftist tabloid like Rolling Stone embedded access to the command chain during an ongoing war, the inevitable result was a hatchet job. Warriors grousing about the limits under which they must labor are as old as warfare. Stan McChrystal’s disdain for the administration’s ponderously slow approach to wishy-washy national security policies was well known. Having said that, did General McChrystal’s published comments[1] rise to level of an Oval Office scolding? Yes they did. Did they rise to the level of being relieved of his command? In the eyes of the only person who counts, yes they did. The problem here is that we’ve lost the man best suited to fight the war in Afghanistan and we’ve lost the man best suited to run CENTCOM. That’s 0-for-2.

General McChrystal has served with and commanded Ranger, Special and Black forces all of his military career. He is the one to whom General Petreus turned to head up Surge forces in Eastern Iraq – the guy that gave President Bush “Zarkawi’s head on a stick.” McChrystal worked with Petreus on the Army’s new counterinsurgency field manual, and the essential Afghan strategy is his. He’s a soldier’s general – a leader for whom men will go into battle because they know he understands their mission. He’s got that T-shirt. He got on well with warlords (hell, he is one) and chieftains because he kept his word to them. The Afghans, from Kabul to the countryside, trust Stanley McChrystal.

General David Petreaus wasn’t so much a “brilliant” replacement as the only conceivable one. “The man who won Iraq” has a curriculum vitae that is public enough so as not to need repeating here. Virtually any other change of command just as the Afghan Surge is filling out, and just before the Kandahar operation kicks off, would have bogged-down in transition and familiarization (and possibly even confirmation). The war effort would have been deterred to the point of delaying the pathology beyond the August 2011 withdrawal initiation, and I’m not at all sure this president would have gone along with that, looking at a presidential election cycle in the wings. It was magnanimous, loyal and patriotic of General Petreus to take the demotion. Yes, they are both 4-star billets, but CINCAFOPS works for CINCCENTCOM, meaning that David Petreus will be working for his own replacement in Tampa.

Who’s that going to be?!

[1] All but one of the statements were actually uttered by General McChrystal’s staff, but he is the top of that pyramid and he took responsibility like the soldier that he is.

Shakespeare or Euripides?

Comedy or tragedy? That is the question.

“He who we have been waiting for” set the bar too close to the Sun. The seas aren’t lowering, they are filling with oil and he is powerless to stop it. Our allies “offended” by George Bush are confused and routinely insulted by Barack Obama. Our enemies “enabled” by Bush’s acrimony are energized by Obama’s pandering. Constantly berating his predecessor’s administration as corrupt, inept and suffering from the inbreeding of cronyism, his own administration exhibits the same corrupt and irrelevant Congress, a ponderously slow route to mediocre decisions, and an intellectually incestuous West Wing staffed with cronies. The Guantánamo Bay he smugly announced would close within a year is still operating with all its detainees in residence two years hence. The surge he derided in Iraq is now his in Afghanistan. The Predator strikes that repulsed him under Bush have increased under Obama. And now Bush’s General “Betray Us” is running his war.

At some point during his insufferably arrogant campaign, why didn’t David Axelrod or Rahm Emanuel take him aside and tell him story of Nemesis[1]?

He is the boy emperor being mugged by the real world. To quote the Bard in perfectly describing the essence of Greek tragedy, Obama is wrestling with “[w]hether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles.”

Ironic that.

[1] The dreaded Greek goddess who brings divine retribution in ironic fashion to overweening arrogance.

the IED that Just Keeps Giving

From what we know now, the president should appoint an Ass Kicking Czar.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) approved the use of the “long string” technique at the mile-plus depth that the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well was working. Without going into detail, this single-pipe, single seal design is quicker, cheaper and riskier than the two-pipe, double-seal “liner tieback” technique used in deep water by most exploration rigs[1]. I know, I know … that was Bush’s MMS. More on this later.

An examination by The New York Times highlights the chasm between the oil industry’s assertions about the reliability of its blowout preventers and a more complex reality. It reveals that the federal agency charged with regulating offshore drilling, MMS, repeatedly declined to act on advice from its own experts on how it could minimize the risk of a blind shear ram failure. Most rigs use two blind shear rams in their blowout preventers at these depths[2].

On February 13, BP notified the federal government that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was leaking oil and natural gas into the ocean floor. In fact, according to documents in the administration’s possession, BP was fighting large cracks at the base of the well for ~10 days in early February, and was asking for the administration’s help on this matter long before the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded. Six weeks before to the rig’s fatal explosion an engineer from UCal-Berkeley, announced to the world a near miss on the platform by stating, “They damn near blew up the rig[3].”

With all of this institutional knowledge in-hand, and BP’s proven cost-cutting methodology well known – an Alaska Pipeline spill and Texas City refinery explosion already under their belt – it was Obama’s MMS that presented the Deepwater Horizon Macondo platform a safety award a week before the explosion.

BP executives and Deepwater Horizons supervisors had a rather loud argument over using a thinner-walled pipe (than was currently being used) and switching to a less viscous “flushing” fluid, both of which Deepwater Horizon objected to, saying they mitigated protection against a methane bubble making its way to the surface where it could easily ignite. This just hours before the explosion. Upon being picked up by the Coast Guard, a Deepwater employee engaged in a satellite phone conversation with BP was overheard saying, “I hope you’re happy now … the f****** rig is burning!” It continued to burn, and eventually sank. The eleven people actively working the wellhead were killed and the rest jumped ten stories into the water.

Having ignored – nay, awarded – the Macondo situation before, the administration was now forced to act.

Once the well was destroying itself, division of labor became obvious – BP had to stop the bleeding, and the administration had to mitigate the damage. Neither has been done.

As offers for help began to pour in, the administration should have immediately lifted the Jones Act (as President Bush did the day after Katrina found landfall). A state of emergency could been declared within days of the explosion, activating FEMA (this has not yet been done). All efforts to close the rupture were failing, and assuming they were tried in order of probability of working, attention should have immediately been shifted to stopping the oil from reaching shore. We monitored it instead. Once oil began reaching shore, attention should have immediately been shifted to mitigating it and cleaning it up. We are arguing over safety equipment on vacuum barges and specifications for booms instead. And threatening to sue BP out of existence while demanding that they cooperate with us.

Dr Michael Pravica (UNLV) holds a Harvard PhD in high-pressure physics and studies hydrocarbons – constituents of oil – under extreme conditions. Dr Pravica estimates that the oil pressure at the leak is at least 17,000psi, and says, “I don’t know of any traditional valves that can seal 17,000psi.” At this point, he explains, the situation calls for a brute-force solution, which he can’t get BP to consider because they are still trying to save their wellhead (presumably for production once the bleeding has been stopped). He’s not sure why the administration won’t listen to him[4].

Acting like a novice without – or without taking advantage of – available industrial expertise, President Obama shut down all deepwater exploratory drilling in the Gulf, throwing an additional 12,000 Gulf residents out of work (20,000 if you count support personnel). The reasonable thing to do would have been to shut down all BP platforms until inspectors could re-evaluate their modus operendi. Shut down all deepwater exploratory wells using long string techniques until cause-and-effect of the Macondo incident is ascertained. But shutting down everybody smacks either of an amateur or of a political “visual”. The courts agree, having ruled yesterday that the moratorium was harmful and unduly arbitrary. The administration is appealing that decision.

We are now blessed with a White House that is suing the people of Arizona for trying desperately to protect themselves from an indifferent federal government, and is appealing a court ruling in order to keep already devastated Gulf residents out of work. How’s that for Hopeychange?

[1] Of the 218 deepwater wells drilled in the Gulf since 2003, 56 (26%) are long string, but most are on production wells into known reserves where the water column and seafloor geometry are well understood. BP uses long string on 35% of its deepwater Gulf wells, and the Macondo was an exploratory well. Russell Gold and Tom McGinty, BP Relied on Cheaper Wells, in Wall Street Journal, June 19 2010, p. A1.

[2] David Barstow, Laura Dodd, James Glanz, Stephanie Saul and Ian Urbina[2], Regulators Failed to Address Risks in Oil Rig Fail-Safe Device, in New York Times, June 21 2010, p. A1.

[3] Kevin McCullough, Should President Obama Resign Over Februay 13?, FOX News, June 22 2010.

[4] Julia Gorin, Why Aren’t BP and Elected Officials Listening to this High-Pressure Physicist?, in Jewish World Review, June 22 2010.

Malice in Wonderland

Glenn Beck has written a novel called The Overton Window, which I have not read, but is being vilified by the press and liberals, so it must have something meaningful to say. I bring it up here because the effect upon which his story is based is very much in play today. Joseph P Overton (1960-2003), former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, described it as a “window” in the range of public acceptability of ideas in public discourse, along a spectrum of all possible options on a particular issue. In other words, what people will stand for at any given time.

Dr Overton ranked ideas on a scale from Free (no government intervention) to Not Free (total government intervention), and that at any given time, people will find acceptable only a narrow range of those rankings in their public policy. The window naturally slides along this scale, driven by events and perception – sometimes closer to the “Free” end, and sometimes closer to the “Not Free” end. In a vacuum, the American people tend to be center-right – that is, an Overton Window that is somewhat centered on the scale, slightly favoring the “Free” end.

One of the things that drives the window to the left is crisis. People want their government to take control of national response to crises, and are more forgiving of government’s overstepping its traditional limits in solving them. This is precisely what Rahm Imanuel means when he says “never waste a crisis” (read: we can now get away with stuff that nobody would stand for, en absentia a crisis). He is advocating artificially pushing the Overton Window to the left until the issue of interest falls within the Window.

Hence, cap and trade takes a privileged place in this administration’s response to the Gulf Spill, even though it has nothing to do with mitigating the damage (the only thing which government can do at this point). While there might be applicability to the idea after the situation along the Gulf Coast is stabilized, it won’t be as likely to pass judged on its own merits (en absentia of the Gulf crisis atmosphere).

This is a Machiavellian flavor of what I call the Grapefruit Syndrome of government in action. Give Congress the problem “2+2=?”, and they will, after much serious debate (and countless hearings), return, and defend, the answer “Grapefruit”. Politicians don’t solve problems, they manage them. As long as the problem exists, there is raison d’être for politicians’ existence. They also don’t solve problems within the discipline that the problem arose – i.e., they solve all problems with political responses. They add two and two and get grapefruit.

With the Gulf Spill, the misdirection is less an instinctual response than a calculated one. In a White House bereft of answers, misdirection, obfuscation and ideology are all that’s left. We have been dragged to the left since Mr Obama entered office – on the pretext of crisis after crisis – and now we are being told we must “accelerate” weaning ourselves from a carbon dependency. As “nice” as that sounds, their plan involves making the way we live too expensive to continue. The cost of using our existing energy infrastructure is going to become too expensive to operate, while we wait for the undefined Utopia of Green Energy to kick-in. But having Congress micromanaging our energy sector should be a hard sell in the shadow of Big Government failures in housing, stimulus and healthcare.

Day 53

North Korea sends a submarine into South Korean waters to sink a ship (of an ally). This administration’s reaction? Nothing. Iran continues apace increasing its capacity to enrich uranium (and therefore plutonium) to existentially threaten our allies in the region. This administration’s reaction? Nothing. Hamas commits war crimes daily by sending unguided rockets into Israeli villages (directly attacking an ally). This administration’s reaction? Nothing. What’s holding the administration’s undivided attention (such as it is)? “Keeping a boot on BP’s throat” (the company of an ally).

This would be worthy of Gilbert & Sullivan were it not so profoundly dangerous.

Everything this administration does seems to hurt the American people (e.g., putting thousands out of work during a jobless recovery) or our allies (e.g., leaving Poland and the Czech Republic twisting in the Russian wind after reneging on the proposed missile defense system). And now we have the daily double of the Gulf Spill.

BP made some very bad decisions aboard the Deepwater Horizon and we are all paying the price. OK, we get that. The President is mad at BP. OK, we get that. He can’t stop the leak. OK, we get that. The only thing he can do, however, is clear the decks to bring a whole-of-government approach to the cleanup. He doesn’t get that.

Louisiana doesn’t need fast-track environmental studies on sand berms – it needs berms. Just sign the damn permits and let Louisiana protect their wetlands. Florida doesn’t need BP’s permission to buy booms – it needs booms. Just waive the permitting process and let Florida protect its as yet unspoiled beaches. The ships of many nations are standing by wanting to help, but the Jones Act prohibits it (flagging and staffing problems). EPA says it’s waiting to hear from the Coast Guard to request lifting the Jones Act, and Admiral Allen says he’s waiting to hear from Washington. Just lift the damn Jones Act and let in all those willing to help.

President Obama’s management style is what he learned while community organizing – vilify and (if possible) destroy your adversary. All of which is extraordinarily satisfying but has nothing to do with righting whatever wrong that adversary has committed. That’s what’s happening here. Instead of working with the people who have the expertise and familiarity with the equipment involved, President Obama daily finds new ways to demonize the only people who can fix the problem, driving their market value down even as their cost commitment rises. He has intentionally set a course that can only bankrupt BP, leaving us – again – with the bill.

We were warned of Mr Obama’s inexperience during the campaign, and the Kook Aid drinkers snickered. Well, we are now looking upon the face of utter incompetence, and on the shoulders of America, it looks pathetic.

Watch for IEDs (Incidentally Exploitable Developments)

Mort Kondracke[1] reminds us that historically the party in control of the White House almost always loses ground in midterm elections. The average since 1954 (excluding the post-9/11 election in 2002) is 17 House seats, but it’s 30 when the president’s approval rating is below 50%[2]. Isaac Wood[3] thinks the net GOP gain would be 32 seats if the elections were held today[4]. But the elections aren’t going to be held today, and the five months ahead represent a potential minefield for candidates.

The most visible political risk at the moment is represented by the oil release caused by the destruction of Deepwater Horizon’s drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. BP [nee: British Petroleum] is the contracting agent for the well, and is responsible for consequences from the site, but the people hold government responsible for adverse impact of the accident. Irrespective of party, catastrophe is always good for those out of power, and an on-going catastrophe is manna from heaven. If Deepwater were capped tomorrow from plans personally drawn-up in the Oval Office by Speaker Pelosi, Leader Reid and President Obama themselves, it is already too late for the Democrats to salvage anything but political damage from this incident, and the closer to election-day this drags on, the worse for them. 32 seats could become 40. That’s just how it works.

The Atlantic hurricane season starts today, and if their handling of the BP spill is any indication, this administration is no more ready to be effective than the last one. We are never “ready” for catastrophe, but Obama, like every politician running for office, promised to be. No political good can come from a Cat-3 or better finding American landfall.

A problem for Republicans – and Democrats who run against their own incumbents – is the risk of unvetted candidates running amok. We saw a taste of this when Rand Paul (R-KY) decided to get philosophical with the press over implementation versus theory of civil rights. This is somewhat of a wild card in that the establishment isn’t fairing well this year – several candidates promoted by the dominant political party in their jurisdictia have already been defeated by “outsiders”. We are likely to see a number of unknown candidates in both parties this season.  Trust the press to over-vet the Republicans and ignore the Democrats. 

Another attempted terrorist attack on our soil, depending on the coil of events, could prove helpful [if actively foiled] or disastrous [if successful or just bungled again] for the Democrats. The ability of terrorists to penetrate American security is in danger of becoming a narrative for the Republicans [even though there is little they could do to stop domestic cells and lone wolves]. The part of the problem that is legitimate political fodder is the administration’s legalistic, rather than pro-active, approach to terrorism itself. Their reluctance to say “terrorist”, “Islamist”, or “jihadi” out loud is hurting them among the electorate, who know better.

The Rod Blagojevich trial begins this week, and it fairly bristles with hazards for Chicago machine politicians, which include the president, his chief of staff, his political advisor, and several Oval Office insiders. Blaggo isn’t shy about throwing people under the bus in order to mitigate personal damage – that’s just a part of Chicago politics, as we’ve seen.

Unemployment, when high, is always a factor in national elections, and it will be this year. Standing at 9.9% right now, unemployment historically increases during the summer months, and as hurtful as 9%+ unemployment would be for incumbents, double-digit unemployment would be worse.

These are just a few things that could affect the November elections one way or another. But, as usual, the incumbents always have more to lose in the course of events than challengers.

[1] Executive editor, Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.

[2] According to Rasmussen Reports, as of 31 May President Obama’s overall approval rating was 46% [27% strongly approve, 40% strongly disapprove].

[3] House Race Editor, Crystal Ball, University of Virginia.

[4] Isaac T Wood, May House Update, in Crystal Ball, May 27 2010.