Hagal at Defense


Ordinarily I would question this choice. Chuck Hagal is a blank slate on defense – he’s not authored a single substantive bill on the subject, written a paper on it, delivered a memorable speech about it. He’s the Susan Rice of defense – chosen to represent an issue about which he exhibits no particular expertise. His observations on international affairs have been curious, but then, the SecDef doesn’t set policy, just carries it out. And I think that is what lies behind the choice.

The president doesn’t want advisors, he wants functionaries that will carry out his vision of a “transformed” America – his legacy. Mr Obama will hand the next president a diminished and atrophied military, and his next SecDef will oversee the final evisceration of that force.

Both sides of the aisle will have more problems with this nominee than I do. I don’t think it will matter who sits at this desk for next four years – we will wind up with the smallest fleet since before World War I, the smallest fighter force in Air Force history, and a shrinking ground force. That’s the “vision.”

Democrats will have problems with Mr Hagal because he is a Republican. Republicans will have problems because of his rather curious views. I don’t look for this to be a smooth confirmation process, though, in the end, I think he will be confirmed.

Let’s start with the basics. A president is somewhat owed the people he wants to carry out the operation of the Executive Branch of government. There are, or should be, common sense exceptions: for example, Democrats denied Senator John Tower (R-TX) the same post due to a drinking problem – which manifested itself in his escorting a stripper into the Tidal Basin. If being befuddled by TurboTax® wasn’t found sufficient to deny Tim Giethner the Treasury job[1], then a featureless stint in the US Senate certainly won’t rise to that level.

Overall, I see the next SecDef more as a placeholder than an advocate or architect of the future military, and therefore, it doesn’t really matter who is in the job – they won’t be able to stop the momentum of the dismantling of American global power. Having said that, I don’t think it can be completed in four years, but the next president will have a major reconstruction job to do before considering much of anything else. These programs have such long lead-times, that the damage that will be done in next four years will take a decade or so to rectify. In the meantime, critical institutional capacity will erode and an irreplaceable skilled workforce will dwindle. But again, this is the “vision.”

I can’t really think of Democrat that I would want as SecDef, so a nondescript one is probably as good as any.

[1] In an extraordinary vote, the Senate overlooked what everyone knew was an outright lie and confirmed a tax-cheat to head the agency that oversees the IRS. This was a new low in the legitimacy of the Senate confirmation process.

the President Speaks


The stage couldn’t have been better set for President Obama’s speech in reaction to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Earlier in the day, Jay Carney rightfully took the NRA to task for exploiting the Obama children for political gain. Less than an hour later, President Obama took the stage, surrounded by children in order to garner sympathy and public support for his widely anticipated gun control message.

I’m not as outraged as many over the speech. More disappointed at the sameness of this administration’s response to events. Much breathless rhetoric … much thrashing about with meetings and commissions … and a much ballyhooed speech, yielding much ado about not much.

With phrases like “… that we honor their memories in part by doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again,” it’s interesting to note that the television and movie industries were not even mentioned in either the vice president’s or the president’s remarks. I take this to mean that the “movies made me do it” argument is being conceded as lost by the left. We should hear of this no more. Else, if it is still relevant, then the president isn’t “doing everything we can” to address the problem.

With great flourish, he signed twenty-three “Executive Actions” – note that these aren’t the numbered, official Executive Orders, rather more a list of New Year’s Resolutions, most containing only a sentence, e.g., #11: “Nominate an ATF director.”

The first six “Actions” would make up a good list of bullet points for a memo on universal background checks. This would result in requiring any gun transaction – licensed dealer or private sale – to include a centralized, federally-kept background check on the buyer, with, we are assured, common sense exemptions for things like gun transfers within a family (this is the same guy who promised us that “if we like our insurance, we can keep it,” so I’ll wait to see what the actual regulation looks like). I favor better regulation of gun sales, but like many, I don’t trust the government to shepherd it well. This is the same government that loses laptops containing records of tens of thousands of names, social security numbers, addresses and phone numbers; the same government whose No-Fly List contains people whose name sounds like actual terrorists on the list; the same government that is regularly hacked by PRC and Russia, as well as script kiddies sitting alone in their basements. This would be an excellent opportunity to contract an information security firm to establish and maintain a sensitive list for the government.

The next two refer to gun safety – one relating to gun owners and the other to gun locks and gun safes. I have no problem with asking those who wish to acquire a weapon to demonstrate some proficiency with it – we do it for more dangerous acquisitions like cars. Locks (aimed at keeping guns inoperable in the hands of children) and safes (aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of thieves) are both admirable.

The next two address a federalization of tracing guns recovered in criminal investigations. I would rather see the simple forwarding of such information to a federal database then see federal agents involved in gun tracing. The optics are bad and feed into the paranoia of those who see any increased federal activity in this realm as a slippery slope leading to confiscation.

There is then a series of miscellaneous points having to do with everything from increased training for law enforcement, first responders, and school officials for active shooter situations, to research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, emergency planning for schools, churches, and such.

And two that caught my attention: #16: “Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes,” which is OK with me as long as it remains possible for the patient to respond “None of your business.” And #18: “Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.” I find this one fascinating after the gastric attack the left had when the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre suggested this very thing shortly after the Sandy Hook incident. Oops.

The president asked Congress to do three things. He asked them to restore the assault rifle ban, and here the administration loses credibility by continuing to mislabel these guns. They’re asking the public to support an administration that apparently doesn’t know what its talking about. Assault rifles are already illegal to own. Always have been. He then asked for a ban on “high-capacity magazines” holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. I don’t have a fundamental problem with this as long as it doesn’t serve as the thin end of a wedge to eventually outlaw magazine-fed weapons. Lastly, he asked for a crackdown on gun traffickers – those who move guns between dealers and criminals. I’m assuming, that as a show of good faith, he’ll begin by prosecuting, to the fullest extent of the law, those who placed over 1,500 “military-style assault rifles” into the hands of couriers for the Mexican drug cartels. They should be easy to find – they occupy middle- and upper-management jobs at ATF and DoJ.

Notice how none of this will do anything to diminish the chances of another Sandy Hook-style tragedy. Aside from two bullet points on easing the reporting of mental patients exhibiting dangerous tendencies (both of which will have HIPAA problems), nothing in this shopping list is anything but “look-at-me-I’m-doing-something.” I didn’t really expect anything else from this All-Hat-No-Cattle administration, but I always hope “this time they’ll really try to do something meaningful.”

Oh well.

Violent video games were mentioned, but only to abstractly vilify them, no suggestions as to what to do about them.

Brennan at CIA


We know four of the president’s nominees for empty Cabinet seats – John Brennan at CIA (not a cabinet post, but requires Senate confirmation), Chuck Hagal at Defense, John Kerry at State, and Jack Lew at Treasury.

I will begin with Mr Brennan.

John Owen Brennan, 57, currently Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Assistant to the President[1], will be offered to the Senate as the presumptive Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Previously, Mr Brennan advised Mr Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues during the 2008 presidential campaign and transition[2]. Mr Brennan’s 25 years with CIA included work as a Near East and South Asia analyst, as station chief in Saudi Arabia, and as director of the National Counterterrorism Center[3]. After leaving government service in 2005, Brennan became CEO of The Analysis Corporation, a security consulting business, and served as chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, an association of intelligence professionals[4]. President Obama nominated Mr Brennan as his next director of the Central Intelligence Agency on January 7 2013[5].

Either Mr Brennan or current Acting Director of the Agency, Michael J Morrell, are well suited to head CIA. Both are, essentially, career CIA officers, both have had experience in the field – Mr Morrell has most recently been DDCIOPS (Deputy Director of Operations – the actual spooks) – and there should be no Republican objection here. The more important post these days is the DNI, who oversees all intelligence operations and is the community’s liaison with the president.

And that’s an important distinction. DCI used to hold that territory, but since the creation of Homeland Security and the addition of the office of National Security, the Director of National Security now serves as the clearinghouse for intelligence operations. This does two things – other than just adding unnecessary layers of bureaucracy to the intelligence community. It isolates the CIA director, giving him a smaller portfolio and a less public personae. Both of those things are good in that Mr Brennan is not the most articulate spokesman on national security matters, from a political point of view; and he will be immersed in his field of expertise.

There will be arguments about his poor communication on matters concerning al Qaeda (his infamous “we should not call them jihadists” statement) and his apparent disconnect about Iran (constantly downplaying the importance of their nuclear program), but I don’t have a problem with Mr Brennan as CIA Director. Republicans should spend their time and treasure on more important matters.

[1] James Gordon Meek, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan: Out of the shadows and into the spotlight, in New York Daily News, January 9 2010; Amanda Erickson, Profile: John O Brennan, in The Washington Post, January 7 2013; Annual Report To Congress On White House Office Staff, Executive Office of the President. July 1 2009, p. 3.

[2] Kate Bolduan, Chief of firm involved in breach is Obama adviser, CNN, March 22 2008.

[3] Erickson, op cit; Herb Jackson, North Bergen man is homeland security assistant for President Obama, in The Bergen Record, December 5 2009; Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane, After Sharp Words on CIA, Obama Faces a Delicate Task, in New York Times, December 3 2008.

[4] Judith Mbuya, New at the Top: John O. Brennan, in Washington Post, December 12 2005, p. D08.

[5] Obama to nominate John Brennan to head CIA, AP, January 7 2013; Obama to nominate counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to lead Central Intelligence Agency, in Washington Post, January 7 2013.