Archive for June, 2016

Scramble the jets! … (unless it’s Benghazi)

With the release of the report of the Select Committee on Benghazi this week, we were reminded of our government’s failure to defend American lives during the 2012 terrorist attack in Libya.  Four Americans were killed during the attack.  The question that continues to haunt many Americans: Why couldn’t we scramble any F-16s from Aviano Air Base in Italy for 13 hours when our fellow Americans were under attack?

This morning at Joint Base Andrews, an active shooter exercise was mistaken for an actual attack.  The military base, which is located in the suburbs of Washington and is home to the “Air Force One” presidential aircraft, was placed on lockdown while the tense situation unfolded.  Armed response teams and other first responders quickly assessed the situation and realized the mistake.  Thankfully, nothing except some minor chaos resulted.

Ever since the September 11 attacks, standard procedure in the Washington area is to launch a combat air patrol (CAP) of F-16s or other fighter aircraft to protect the nation’s capital in case a local event is prelude to a larger attack.  At least that’s one lesson we haven’t forgotten from 9/11.  I live and work in the D.C. area so I can sometimes see the jets; more often I can hear their engines.  Today was no different.  I could hear the CAP fly above while the situation at Joint Base Andrews unfolded below.  It is a prudent defensive move, and I’m told the pilots need the flight hours anyway.

Alas, today’s events underscore the same question as above:  If F-16s are used to protect the nation’s capital during a situation like today’s, why couldn’t we scramble any F-16s from Aviano Air Base in Italy for 13 hours when Americans were under attack at Benghazi?  We wish we knew the answer.

Learning From Israel in the Aftermath of Orlando

Danielle Zaychik is a research associate with the NCPA: “As we mourn the victims of the Orlando attack, gun control is once again at the forefront of the political debate.  But the solutions should be more geared towards terrorism.  Having lived in Israel for an extended period, I made some observations that may help the readers understand how a country combats terrorism within its borders.  The following suggestions come both from relevant literature and from Israeli experience.

Aggressively pursue terrorist suspects: In light of ISIS’s encouragement of lone wolf attacks, the U.S. government must step up its attempts to identity and track potential adherents to their message.  Not only had Omar Mateen twice popped up on the FBI’s radar, a gun company and Disney both reported Mateen to the FBI because of his suspicious behavior.  While there is definitely a place for restrictions on FBI investigations aimed at protecting citizens’ privacy, the U.S. government cannot ignore the changing nature of terrorism.  Israel has seen success using aggressive counterterrorism measures, including targeting terrorist organizations’ use of information and communication technology.  Since these platforms are used to inspire attacks, the United States government could consider creating an aggressive surveillance, monitoring, and counterterrorism system that combats those efforts.  Additionally, integrating local police units into federal counterterrorism efforts is critical for safety and security.

Decrease vulnerability:  In general, the idea of increasing the presence of public and private security guards does not sit well with Americans.  It seems unfathomable to put a guard in front of every major terror magnet (including concerts, malls, and train stations).  However, this is precisely what Israel did; Israelis got used to living with security as a part of daily life.  The most recent wave of violence in Israel, the Jerusalem Intifada, consisted largely of lone wolf copycat attacks, inspired by the social and mainstream media.  Attacks have been primarily halted by security forces and the increased security presence in high-conflict places, like the Old City of Jerusalem, has likely dissuaded others.  It can work in America, too.  Placing security guards in schools, for example, became more popular after Sandy Hook without controversy.

Improve response time. Active shooters often do not stop shooting until they meet resistance.  Or will continue their attack elsewhere if they do not meet resistance at the first location.  In many ways the Orlando shooting resembled the Bataclan massacre, which also had around a three hour police response time, although the Orlando police properly followed protocol based on previous incidents.  But protocol in regards to response could be considered for change.  Finding ways to improve response time, as they have done in Israel, will undoubtedly save lives during the next attack.

Past domestic and international experience provides a blueprint for creating measures that could mitigate future terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.  We cannot fall into the trap of crafting policy that tries to prevent the last attack.  We must implement measures that will best mitigate both threats similar to those we have seen in the past and new threats going forward.”

BIG! Senate Passes NDAA

The U.S. Senate passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act. And after the Islamic jihadist attack in Orlando, there should be no malingering about the final passage of a strong NDAA. The veto threat from the Obama administration is bad policy and incomprehensible at this critical time.

The FY 2017 NDAA must lay the ground for the restoration of our military, in a fiscally responsible manner. We must end the absurd and dangerous gutting of our force. We must streamline our procurement and acquisitions systems in order to get the best weapons systems into the hands of our warriors. And we must better compensate and care for those willing to make the last full measure of devotion and their families.

See how each Senator voted here.

Can Sanctions on North Korea Prevent Conflict with China?

Braxton Clark is a research associate for the NCPA:

“At a time of increased Chinese militarization in the South China Sea, as well as an onslaught of government-sponsored cyber-attacks against American businesses and government, a door seems to be opening to improved Sino-American relations. China has been a staunch ally of North Korea for over 60 years, having provided the regime with decades of economic, military and humanitarian assistance. But China is now reevaluating its position towards both North Korea and South Korea.

North Korea has recently stepped up frequency of its missile tests, including those with the suspected capability of hitting American installations on Guam. And in expected style, these tests have utterly failed with one missile detonating immediately after launch. The constant antagonizing, the unpredictability and the fragility of the North Korean economy has driven a rift between it and China.

China has been slowly distancing itself from North Korea for some time due to its uncontrollable nature. The most overt example of this development came when China adopted and backed U.N. Security Council Resolution 2270 ‒‒ a resolution that includes Chinese cooperation on sanctions. These sanctions focus on the sale of jet fuel and the import of coal, which totals over 40 percent of DPRK trade. China’s participation in sanctions of this level is completely unprecedented.

Joining the sanctions signals a serious change in strategy for several reasons. First, according to the Congressional Research Service, China accounts for over 70 percent of North Korea’s trade. The trade relationship has generated billions of dollars for both nations. Therefore, any significant sanctions would theoretically hurt the Chinese economy. Although the Chinese economy is worth over $17 trillion, sanctions on North Korea would hurt merchants, companies and channels of commerce along their shared border.

Secondly, sanctions undermine an otherwise long history of Chinese support for North Korea. Since the Korean War started in 1950, China has provided arms, troops and supplies to their troublesome neighbor. In fact, during times of crisis, China has been the North’s number one supplier of humanitarian aid. Sanctions have suddenly brought decades of support into question.

To add insult to injury, China has decreased its cooperation with North Korea, while simultaneously furthering cooperation with South Korea. The Former President of South Korea Roh Tae-woo (1988-1993) introduced the doctrine of Nordpolitik, which aimed to repair relationships with northern powers, such as the USSR and China. He hoped working with the Chinese would isolate the North from its sole ally. Ever since China recognized South Korea as a state in 1992, they have worked towards building a functional relationship with one another. A 2014 BBC public perceptions poll found that people within South Korea and China are viewing each other with higher favorability annually. The report also determined that 40 percent of Chinese view South Koreans positively, only 32 percent view them negatively. Additionally, free trade agreements have established China as South Korea’s top trading partner. This shift, by extension, could improve China-U.S. relations.

The sanctions might provide a bridge to cross the growing divide between the two superpowers. And China seems ready to accept Western influence in the region, even if it comes in the form of South Korean soft power.”

How Defense Spending Creates an Unsecure Future

This originally appeared in my Townhall column: “The defense budget, in constant dollars, has held steady for nearly 30 years. However, our armed forces are ill-equipped for conflict. Expenditures have remained stable for decades, yet America now has 35 percent fewer combat brigades, 53 percent fewer ships and 63 percent fewer combat air squadrons. How in the world does military preparedness worsen while spending goes virtually unchanged?

The rise in spending in conjunction with a decline in capacity points to financial mismanagement and legislative abuse. Americans are witnessing a rapid acceleration in what I call defenseless debt, a paradox wherein military liabilities increase alongside a simultaneous deterioration in American security. And this disturbing trend has worsened under the Obama administration.

The Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) fund epitomizes defenseless debt. The non-discretionary, “emergency” account has essentially become an executive and Pentagon slush fund used to circumvent current spending caps established by the 2011 Budget Control Act. A Stimson Center report found that OCO money has increased significantly relative to the declining number of U.S. troops overseas, from $1 million per troop to $4.9 million. And the rather inexpensive fight against ISIS cannot account for the eye-popping jump in expenditures.

This slush fund presumably finances all the advise and assist programs, or what CNN termed “small wars,” initiated in Somalia, Libya and Yemen, among other places. But these small wars do not reflect or represent a broader, coherent plan.  The same Stimson report noted multiple Pentagon officials as saying recent increases in OCO funding “are not rooted in strategy.”

Increased spending not used for improving readiness means pilots and maintainers, for instance, now have to cannibalize parts from old jets to keep new ones flying; all in order to meet the demands of an administration that has now been at “war” longer than President Bush. Military officials conclude that the current approach only “generates insecurity in the Defense workforce…and creates long-term uncertainty for defense planners.”

Defenseless debt in a nutshell: spending increasing, while capability and security decrease.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration and some in Congress also funnel money into defense programs that further weaken military readiness. Biofuels companies, for example, received $16 million in defense contracts in 2014. But as naval aviator and instructor Ike Kiefer explains, using biofuels instead of oil to fuel the military would require 3.2 billion acres, “one billion more than all U.S. territory including Alaska.” Another absolutely unachievable long-term solution.

Most recently, the president issued an executive directive demanding military planners consider climate effects during operational planning. The ambiguous instruction has forced the military to expend manpower and money to find answers for problems where no desirable outcome has been put forth by the administration. The government should be championing cutting-edge, environmental solutions that better U.S. military advantage, not impair it.

But the era of defenseless debt truly climaxed with Obama’s decision to veto the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for reasons unrelated to defense in 2016. He became the first president in history to veto a defense bill in order to secure more domestic spending. And when Congress acquiesced, both branches set the wrong precedent that the government’s constitutional duty to provide for the common defense matched their imagined duty to provide for the domestic welfare.

All of this to say, years of defenseless debt has set a precedent. And precedent equates to permanency in government. As Ronald Reagan warned years ago, government policies and programs are “the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll see on this earth.”

The president and some in Congress have established a precedent for future officials to commandeer the defense budget for any and all matters. Bernie Sanders, if elected, will likely turn to defense cash once basic economics catch up with the inevitable failure of his domestic agenda. Hillary Clinton will likely do no different. Donald Trump is perhaps the only conceivable candidate of the three that might shun the pattern of defenseless debt.

In any case, this is not a call for more spending. This is a call for wise spending. Congress could consider some of the following as they debate the 2017 defense budget:

Each measure aims to replace America’s current defenseless debt strategy with one that builds an effective and cost-efficient military. It can be done.”