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Monday, January 16, 2012
Obama is signaling Iran that America will remain in a purely defensive mode, and will impose that on Israel, as Iran gets its Bomb
Teddy Roosevelt's prescription for effective diplomacy was "Walk softly and carry a big stick." It worked. By all accounts he was among the most successful foreign policy presidents ever. While simultaneously boosting American prestige and military credibility around the world, he kept us out of war, and he personally mediated the settlement of the hottest war then on-going (between Russia and Japan), actually earning a Nobel Peace Prize.
Then there's our Mr. Obama, who believes in setting the biggest stick in the history of the world off to one side, and then speaking loudly, inconsistently, and interminably.
I commend to your attention, from its first lines to its last, this tightly reasoned, cautiously stated, immaculately resourced essay from J.E. Dyer. The introductory paragraphs (boldface mine):
Is the Obama administration building up for a major war against Iran? No.
The administration appears to be doing what it thinks will avert one. Military force is playing a quiet and relatively minor role. There has been more “messaging” about force in the last few weeks than actual force activity. The administration is also trying to discourage Israel from mounting an independent strike on Iran, by frequently advertising US concerns about that possibility. Presumably the White House knows that this particular messaging campaign serves to keep Iran alerted. Ultimately, there is more talk than anything else. Military preparations, such as they are, are defensive in nature. That includes the acceleration of missile-defense sales to the Persian Gulf nations.
If you are like me, then your blood pressure will rise steadily as you read the evidence she marshals to support these conclusions. It's chilling.
So far as I know, Ms. Dyer is no close relation of mine, but I'm definitely among her fans. (She has, of course, her own blog, and in addition to being a regular contributor to HotAir's Green Room, she's also written for the Weekly Standard and Commentary.) As for whether she knows whereof she speaks, consider her perspective:
J.E. Dyer is a retired US Naval intelligence officer who served around the world, afloat and ashore, from 1983 to 2004. Her last operations in the Navy were Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in 2003, and she retired at the rank of Commander. She lives now in the "Inland Empire" of southern California, where she writes for various blogs and is preparing a book on the Cold War.
If you're unconcerned by the prospect of Iran getting the Bomb, none of this will bother you. If you're concerned by that prospect but you're unconcerned by the Obama Administration's handling of this situation, you may be eligible for immediate promotion to Commanding General of the Unicorn Brigade.
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1 - A Commander is a relatively low rank and usually not clued in on the thinking of the high and mighty. In addition, she's been retired for 8 years and is thus not someone who would have current/top level information on the subject at issue.
2 - Not knowing her particular specialty, I wouldn't rely on someone whose expertise was perhaps counting Russian tanks or estimating fuel shipments to have a complete perspective on an issue such as this.
3 - Even stipulating that Obama isn't planning for a 'major war' doesn't mean that he isn't considering more limited action that would accomplish what needs to be done. I've long argued that we don't need a full invasion and occupation, but rather targeted airstrikes and tactical insertions to destroy by ground what can't be taken out by air. Were such a course to be taken, we obviously wouldn't see the signs of a 'major' buildup.
4 - Even stipulating that Obama isn't considering military action of any kind doesn't mean that he will deny Israel the opportunity to take Iran on itself.
5 - Even stipulating that Obama would try to keep Israel from acting doesn't mean that Israel will listen.
In the end, you're probably right.... but would you walk into court with such little evidence at your disposal?
Mr. Sturm, you're not usually this nasty. Tanks? Seriously? Someone who served 20+ years as an active-duty intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy, the first thing you can say is, "She probably counted tanks?" If you're not impressed with Ms. Dyer's military intelligence credentials, share your own for our consideration, and be specific enough so that we know you didn't count trucks (although I'm frankly not sure why you ridicule that kind of intelligence gathering and analysis either).
Of course she's not giving us classified information from current sources. Of course she's not a member of the Joint Chiefs. But you categorically trash the sources she does cite and identify, and her, with neither explanation for why we should ignore them nor contrary and better data of your own.
Seriuosly, I don't know what side of the bed you got up on today, but try the other tomorrow. It's not like you, in my experience, to be gratuitously insulting to people you don't know, especially people who've worn our country's uniform.
Did you read this weekend's leaked reports of Obama publicly threatening the Israelis with grave consequences if they act in self-defense? Have you contemplated how easily -- simply by denying IFF codes, for example -- Obama could make it much, much harder for Israel to take any meaningful self-defensive action on its own?
As for your defense of Obama, it seems to me to rely on magical thinking and unicorns. This also seems unlike my past discussions with you.
Yes, I suppose it's possible that despite all the objective public evidence cited and linked in this essay, Obama is super-secretly preparing for a lighting strike on Iran that will only cripple its nuclear program, but do that perfectly. But that would be completely out of character with everything else he's said and done with respect to foreign policy in general, and Iran in particular, since before he was even a presidential candidate, and with what he's saying and claims to be doing now. Your scenario can't be verified by us, of course, since it depends entirely on absolutely impenetrable secrecy. So your reason for believing that particular fantasy scenario is a true one is ... what exactly? If we're going to believe in super-heroes, I'd prefer Batman I think, or maybe Captain America.
So no, I do not believe what you postulate. For the good of the country, I wish I could, but I think it's entirely wishful thinking.
(3) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jan 17, 2012 1:21:34 PM | Permalink
Dear Steve: "...would you walk into court with such little evidence at your disposal?" This arena of foreign affairs is peculiarly resistant to courts and court procedure, being much more receptive to the "Whaddaya gonna do about it, chum?" It also strikes me as odd that you, so in love with lawfare, should be defending The Won and His To Hell With Congress, We're Bombing Libya stunts.
As for the low rank and being retired and out of it, this is on a par with the Assistant Secretary of State in the LBJ administration who told the Senate committee that was concerned about Vietnam, If you could only see what was in the cables, you wouldn't worry at all. How did that turn out? Ms. Dyer has pulled together many public sources and has used her background and judgment to form opinions and forecasts of what might happen in the region. I continue to maintain that an attitude of "Only the high ranking insiders can know what's best for us," while it will get you smiles from the swine at the New York TIMES ed board, is going to be less effective than a "What is right?" approach. Courts are dazzled by credentials, largely because courts can ignore the disasters credential worship can cause. See: forced busing of school children overseen by the omniscient federal judiciary. How many federal judges had their kids or grandkids being bused? Those of us who have to pay for said disasters have a much lower regard for those who underwent the bullying and groveling that credential acquisition requires to gain all that Superior Wisdom.
Are you saying that The Won's diplomacy has been a spectacular success, from the 22 January 09 executive order closing Guantanamo in one year, no more, to the "reset button" for Russian-American relations, to the staged public comment with Sarkozy about how unbearable Prime Minister Netanyahu is, to the announced big cuts to the war establishment? All that is going to make Iran more tractable? The endless toadying to hostiles and compensating by spitting in the eye of friendlies has had its effect. The burden on Israel since 2009 has been appalling, and should a crisis erupt, the US has precious little leverage with Israel. Iran is an existential threat to Israel, though The Won's witlessness prevents him from seeing this.
Bah. Give me Commander (Retired) Dyer's assemblage of fact, experience and judgment to a whoreship of inadequate, corrupt lawfare.
I wasn't insulting her. And I didn't say she 'probably counted tanks'. And yes, there are people who spent 20 years in the military who counted tanks during their stints in PI.
What I was doing, and obviously failing to do a good job of it, was to suggest that we not rely completely on someone who has been out of the field for several years and with an unknown and possibly irrelevant expertise. Are you really suggesting otherwise?
We (at least I) don't know what she did as a 'naval intelligence officer'. Was her specialty indeed something that is relevant to the conclusions she is making (such as assessing troop movements and/or munitions storage in advance of invasion)? Or was it something important but ultimately irrelevant (such as counting tanks, keeping track of which Russian naval officers stood next to Putin at the annual May Day parade or gauging the capabilities of Iraqi naval forces by assessing the performance of their patrol boat fleet)?
And as is the case with job after job (in as well as outside of the military), expertise fades with time away from the desk. I wouldn't consider the dog fighting skills of a WWII pilot to be relevant today. Are military intelligence officers the exception to the rule?
Contrary to your and Mr. Koster's comments, I am NOT impugning the work of anyone who is in or has been in the military. But neither do I concede that time spent in uniform qualifies someone to render expert advice on all things military. I don't believe everything McCain says about the military on account of his expertise parachuting out of airplanes (nor do I accept his views on 'enhanced interrogation' on account of his being tortured while a POW). And I don't remember you accepting as gospel everything Kerry said on the military.
On to my alleged defense of Obama, I am not arguing that he is doing anything. I was trying to do what you likely to with your clients: point out the flaws in your client's case. This doesn't mean you are on the opposition's side anymore than it means I am defending Obama. You may not be wrong (I hope you are), but the evidence and authority you provided didn't remove reasonable doubt that an alternative narrative could exist. You're making the argument that Obama is doing nothing, I believe you need more to substantiate the claim.
Mr. Sturm, I'm not presenting a court case here. I wish I could get Barack Obama under a subpoena, but that's not going to happen, is it?
You're just pissing in everyone else's Wheaties today, my friend. Ms. Dyer's essay and supporting links make a factual argument. You don't dispute a single one of the sources she cites for the proposition she cites it. You don't have a single objective fact to cast doubt on her inferences and conclusions. All you have are contrary speculation and, in the case of her credentials, innuendo -- and it's speculation and innuendo that I, for one, find very implausible.
You're a long-time reader and long-time at-least-occasional commenter whose views I genuinely value, but this particular set of observations isn't up to your normal standards, nor even very close.
On additional reflection:
Re-read the title of my post: "Obama is signaling Iran that America will remain in a purely defensive mode, and will impose that on Israel, as Iran gets its Bomb."
The Obama Administration's secret and undeclared intentions, whatever they are, are certainly important — to us, to our allies, and not least to the Iranians. We don't know what those are; we can only guess and draw inferences.
We also know without any doubt that the Obama Administration is simultaneously (a) talking tough to Iran and (b) delegitimizing in advance, and threatening unspecified "dire consequences" from, any preemptive self-defense actions by Israel.
So we're already sending mixed signals at best; Obama is not merely creating (at least the appearance of) a gap between U.S. and Israeli policy, Obama is (through leaks) deliberately emphasizing that gap to the world. That is not subject to dispute.
But what else do the Iranians see and hear?
Steve, the sources Ms. Dyer linked are all public information. The Iranians can be assumed to know at least everything that she knows from reading them. Right?
The moves, and absence of moves, that she describes is telling the Iranians, "Don't believe the tough talk from Obama. He's really the same pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, weak-on-defense Democrat he's always positioned himself to be throughout his career. He's Jimmy Carter redux, and the Iranians already played that guy like a violin."
Even if you were correct and there's some magic solution short of war which would deter or stop the Iranians, right now Obama should be doing everything possible to make his tough talk credible despite his own history of letting politics trump American national security. Instead, he's doing the opposite of that. He's reinforcing the "wimp" message in a way the Iranians cannot possibly miss, even if their own intelligence personnel are only counting aircraft carrier task groups instead of trucks.
If I can't convince you of that, I fear you are off in some parallel universe where I can't convince you of anything.
(PS: If I recall correctly, it was counting the liquid oxygen fueling trucks visible from U2 overflights which let the U.S. confirm that the Soviets' claims about their ICBMs were dramatically overstated, and that the "missile gap" was actually entirely in our favor. So let's not disparage counting trucks.)
(PPS: And seriously, of all the former members of the United States Navy you might choose to introduce into this discussion for purposes of comparison to Ms. Dyer, you choose John F. Kerry? As far as I know, while in the Navy Ms. Dyer never bailed out on a one-year combat commitment after a few weeks actual fighting; never lied to Congress about supposed American war crimes; and never met secretly in Paris to treat with our enemies. You now owe her an apology, my friend.)
Boy, am I doing a bad job today of making my point clearly (I assume this as I don't think you'd have the reaction you have had had I done a better job).
1 - You cited her record as a reason to accept her argument. I stand by my refusal to not consider her an expert on this particular subject without knowing that she indeed has expertise in this particular subject. I would analogize this to my not taking as gospel legal advice from you without knowing what it is you have done as a lawyer (to your credit, you don't write about what you don't know, one of the things I like about your column, but that isn't the case with everybody). I don't know why you would disagree with my hesitation.
2- I am not arguing that she (or you) is wrong. Nor am I arguing that Obama is doing anything right, my view is that he screws up pretty much everything he touches. But that doesn't mean that I am comfortable relying on her column and unknown expertise as evidence that I am correct.
3- I am not disparaging counting trucks. You used the word, I never did. I know counting trucks has at times made a nice contribution to our national security (in Cuba, in Vietnam). But counting trucks as an intelligence officer doesn't translate to expertise in all things involving military intelligence, any more than flying a transport plane doesn't make one an expert in dogfighting tactics. Do you disagree?
4- As for Kerry, the only way I equate the two is to point out that neither of us take accept without question the words that come out of the mouth of someone who once upon a time served. In fact, I believe that you wouldn't listen to Kerry today even if he hadn't done those things years ago. Sorry, I don't put former service members on a pedestal and accept without question everything they say... even if they agree with me and even if they're related to me. This applies to Kerry, Jimmy Carter, McCain, Rick Perry, some other unnamed ex-military... and yes, Ms Dyer.
(8) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Jan 17, 2012 5:16:39 PM | Permalink
Dear Mr. Strum: What you said in re counting was:
"..., I wouldn't rely on someone whose expertise was perhaps counting Russian tanks or estimating fuel shipments to have a complete perspective on an issue such as this."
I see the phrase "perhaps counting Russian tanks" as being disparaging. If you don't, you shouldn't try to apply for a job in the Diplomatic Service.
Let's get past your "bad job" and go to the Dyer article. Said article has 13 links to other sources. Which of these links and the conclusions Dyer draws from them, do you think she gets wrong, or at least off target? If you've got specific disagreements e.g. the canceling/postponement of joint training exercises and what Iranian muckymucks will conclude from this, tell us. We get that you are capable of writing in the manner of a New York TIMES editorial (or news story for that matter.) Give us some specific errors/deficiencies in Dyer's article/use of sources.
Steve, you put upon me a burden of proof in which I'm supposed to "remove reasonable doubt that an alternative narrative could exist." That's ridiculous.
And you continue to completely ignore my central point about what the Iranians perceive, and what America should be doing (with allies including Israel) to induce a 180-degree course change on the Iranians' part.
You imply that I've accepted Ms. Dyer's views "without question." To the contrary, before posting a link to her essay, I looked to see what was readily available online that might indicate whether she knows what she's talking about. Her job description certainly suggests that she does, but regardless, I did question, and I did honestly look up, cite, and link specific evidence (her history in military intelligence), which you insist on dismissing out of hand and for no good reason.
By your standards, no one who's not currently in the military or, apparently, below the rank of admiral, can review public data or suggest conclusions from it. That's just silly.
I too have days when I feel contrary, and when I'm inclined to dispute whether the sun really did rise in the east. I try not to post on those days because I know I'm unlikely to persuade anyone. I'm still not sure what you're trying to persuade me of, but it's not working.
Nevertheless, I do, as always, appreciate your good humor and goodwill even when we disagree — indeed, especially when we disagree.
I'm not saying she is wrong. I'm not saying she draws the wrong conclusion from any of the public sources cited. I'm not putting on you the burden you claim. I'm not ignoring - or disagreeing - with your central point. I did not imply that you accept her views without question (if I unintentionally did, it wasn't my intent). I am not saying that only those currently in the military or below the rank of admiral can draw conclusions from public data. I didn't and don't disparage those who count Russian tanks.
Having established what I wasn't doing, here is one last try to explain what I was attempting:
(1) take a bit of a shot at your citing her record as a reason that her conclusions ought be taken more seriously than the average guy on the street... when the blurb you refer to provides no specifics that she has the relevant expertise in the subject she is writing about that would earn her the honor of being referred to as an 'expert'. 'Naval intelligence officer', by itself, does not bestow knowledge of all things military. If she has expertise in Iran and/or top-level planning for military action her views carry a bit more weight than if she didn't (as would be the case if what she did was count Soviet tanks).
(2) argue that the evidence she cited did not preclude the existence of an alternative explanation of what Obama and the Israelis could be planning on doing (and in particular, your assertion that Obama will keep the Israelis from acting on their own. He may want to, but that doesn't mean they will listen, especially since they know Congress won't cut off aid). Note I'm not saying they are doing anything other than she describes, only that the evidence she cites is not complete proof that they aren't. She may be more right than wrong. But part of convincingly arguing a case (as she and you seem to be trying to do) is eliminating alternative explanations available to the opposition. As the figurative opposing counsel in this case, I don't need to prove my case beyond a reasonable doubt, I only need to show that her arguments are not ironclad... which I think I did in my opening remarks.
That is all, I wish you a good evening.
Okay, I understand you better, I think.
I still disagree with you about whether, everything else being equal, we should give equal weight to (a) the opinions of the hypothetical man on the street and (b) those of a recent mid-level Naval Intelligence officer on (c) the subject of whether our naval deployments and other military moves in and around that part of the world are sending signals of passivity or active threat. I'd rather have (b)'s opinion about (c) than (a)'s, and can't fathom why you wouldn't too, but whatever.
It's fair of you to point out that I have phrased more forcefully than Cmdr. Dyer the argument that Obama is pre-signaling a refusal to support self-defensive action by Israel. But have you also read this, for instance? Because the Iranians are, and it's telling them that Obama is pre-signaling a refusal to support self-defensive action by Israel.
Congress can't give the Israeli Air Force our IFF codes. Congress is an extremely ineffective check against Obama's anti-Israeli policies in general. They need cooperation not just from Congress, but from the Commander in Chief of the U.S. military; there is no substitute for that.
I have never claimed that anything here is "ironclad," but if it makes you feel better to think you've demonstrated something I never disputed, congratulations! You've succeeded in that, I concede.
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