State of the Union

War With Iran? Make Congress Vote on It

Returning from Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta dropped some jolting news.

Asked by CBS’s Scott Pelley if Iran could have a nuclear weapon in 2012, Panetta replied: “It would probably be about a year before they could do it. Perhaps a little less. But one proviso, Scott, is that if they have a hidden facility somewhere in Iran that may be enriching fuel.”

Panetta was saying the mullahs are a year or less away from an atom bomb, and if they have a hidden site for enriching uranium to weapons grade, they may be even closer.

“That is a red line for us,” Panetta added. “If we get intelligence they are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon, then we will take whatever steps necessary to deal with it.”

Panetta is raising the specter of pre-emptive war.

When Pelley’s report hit, however, the Pentagon immediately began to walk the cat back.

“The secretary was clear that we have no indication that the Iranians have made a decision to develop a nuclear weapon,” said Pentagon press secretary George Little. “He (Panetta) didn’t say that Iran would, in fact, have a nuclear weapon in 2012.”

Little added that U.N. inspectors remain in Iran and have access to its uranium stockpile, and should Iran attempt a “breakout” by diverting low-enriched uranium to a hidden facility to convert it to weapons grade, U.N. inspectors would instantly detect the diversion.

“We would retain sufficient time under any such scenario to take appropriate action,” said Little.

In short, the Pentagon does not believe Iran has made a decision to build atomic weapons, and the department is confident that, should it do so, the United States would have ample warning.

Little’s definitive statement, “We have no indication that the Iranians have made a decision to develop a nuclear weapon,” coincides with the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency, in December 2007.

In that report, the entire U.S. intelligence community stated unanimously, with “high confidence,” that Iran had given up its drive for an atom bomb back in 2003.

Yet the Pentagon’s categorical statement this week, and the 2007 declaration by the entire U.S. intelligence community that Iran abandoned its bomb program in 2003, raises a question. Read More…

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Building a Navy That Won’t Sink the Economy

America is by geography a maritime state. Even with a vastly shrunken defense budget, we must remain a naval power.

Fortunately, we can. The first reason is that that we face no serious naval challengers. Only Russia and, prospectively, China, have fleets that could contest with ours beyond coastal waters. Russia is not an enemy, and strategy dictates that we not let China become one.

Second, the end of the Cold War made many of the ships in the U.S. Navy obsolete—including some under construction. Heading the list are cruisers and destroyers armed primarily with the Aegis anti-aircraft system. Third World air forces pose little threat to our ships. A handful of Aegis ships would suffice, especially since the effectiveness of Aegis has never been demonstrated in honest testing.

Our twelve big aircraft carriers are worth retaining, because big floating boxes with flat tops are useful in a variety of roles, not just to transport aircraft. The same goes for our carrier-like amphibious ships.

The Navy’s 14 ballistic missile submarines should be retained, because our strategic nuclear forces not only deter other nuclear powers, they also make large-scale conventional warfare unlikely. That saves a lot of money.

Attack submarines are the modern capital ship, in that they determine command of the sea. The current number of 53 is about right, but new nuclear attack subs should be smaller and cheaper—and we need some non-nuclear boats as well, especially for coastal waters.

At this point, we find ourselves wanting to keep a lot more ships than we could afford on a $100 billion defense budget. The key to retaining an adequate Navy with much less money is a revival of the centuries-old practice that diminished in the 19th century and disappeared in the 20th. In peacetime, few of the Navy’s ships should be in commission. Most would be in reserve or, to use the 18th-century term, “in ordinary.”

To man the fleet on mobilization, the new Navy would adopt a variant of the old Prussian army reserve system. Each active-duty crew would go into reserve together, like a regiment. When mobilized, they would man a reserve ship identical to the one they had served on. With the same people working together doing the same jobs on the same type of ship, reserve ships could quickly attain active-duty levels of efficiency. An active-duty sailor would serve three years, then be in reserve for nine years, allowing each ship manned in peacetime to support three other ships in reserve. Read More…

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William F. Buckley on Ron Paul

In light of Rich Lowry’s attack on Ron Paul — which has generated considerable pushback from National Review Online readers, as well as Paul Gottfried — it’s worth revisiting what NR‘s founder, William F. Buckley Jr., thought about Paul four years ago, as revealed in this interview with Bill Steigerwald:

Q: Has conservatism made a bargain with the state or with government power that it should not have made over the last 50 years? Has conservatism forgotten the message of Albert J. Nock’s seminal book, “Our Enemy, the State”?

A: The answer is, “Yes, it has.” Accommodations have been made, the consequences of which we have yet to pay for.

Albert J. Nock, although he could express himself fanatically on these subjects, would certainly have pronounced these as major, major mistakes. So, the answer to your question is, indeed those excesses have been engaged in and they affect the probity of the conservative faith.

Q: You know who Ron Paul is — the congressman. He’s derided and discounted by many conservatives and his fellow Republicans as a kook. Yet his strong stands in favor of limited constitutional government, lower taxes, more personal freedoms and nonintervention overseas make him in many ways sound like a conservative of old — a Robert Taft, or a Coolidge kind of conservative in some ways.

A: I agree, yeah.

Q: Is he getting a bum rap?

A: I think that people who cast themselves as presidential contenders are almost universally derided on the grounds that they don’t have manifest orthodox qualifications.

In the case of Ron Paul, he doesn’t have a broad enough or huge following and under the circumstances he becomes rather a quaint ideological aspirant than someone who is realistically seeking for power.

So what would Buckley have made of Paul now that he does have a broad and huge following, at least in Iowa? John Derbyshire opined in 2007 that there was “not much” in Paul’s platform with which a young WFB would not have agreed. (Buckley’s father, Will Buckley, was rather a Paul-like libertarian, it’s worth noting.) One thing is clear from the Steigerwald interview: Buckley would not have disqualified Paul on grounds of insufficient fealty to neoconservative foreign-policy objectives. Read More…

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Gary Johnson Goes Third Party

While Ron Paul surges to the top of the polls in Iowa — and unlike the buzz candidates of the past year, Paul leads in surveys of likely voters — the other liberty-minded candidate who has sought the Republican nomination, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, is on the verge of announcing a third-party bid. In 2008, the Libertarian Party nominated another (relatively) high profile former Republican officeholder, ex-Rep. Bob Barr, in hopes of picking up the disenchanted Ron Paul vote, which certainly wasn’t going to GOP nominee John McCain. Barr, of course, was a fiasco, a dubious libertarian (who has since endorsed Newt Gingrich) who fared no better on election day than lesser known LP nominees without political experience had done in the past. Looking at Johnson’s Republican campaign, it’s easy to see another Barr in the offing. His foreign policy has been so muddled that at times Johnson has sounded as interventionist as Barack Obama — though as Leon Hadar points out, it’s open to question whether LP-types care much about foreign policy in the first place.

I hope, though, that Johnson does better than his GOP campaign has led us to expect: he was a great governor for New Mexico and certainly in a race between Obama and Romney, if it comes to that, Johnson would present an anti-statist alternative. Maybe an antiwar one, too, if he can get his head straight about humanitarian intervention.

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New at TAC

Although our editorial office is on vacation beginning today, updates will continue through the holidays. Be sure to check out Phil Giraldi’s warning about the war NATO is already fighting in Syria, Nick Turse’s take on the life and death of an American drone, and Daniel Larison’s demolition of Rich Lowry’s snipes at Ron Paul. Even at this season, peace on earth is all too elusive.

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Ron Paul’s Moderate Foreign Policy

During the Republican presidential primary debate from Des Moines on December 15, Ron Paul caused uproar when he said that a strike against Iran “would risk a repeat of the useless Iraqi war.” In response to a question from Bret Baier, Paul made this statement: “To me the greatest danger is that we will have a president that will overreact and we will soon bomb Iran.” Further: “We ought to really sit back and think, not jump the gun and believe that we are going to be attacked. That’s how we got into that useless war in Iraq and lost so much.” Paul finally suggested that the Obama-administration may be doing the right thing “by backing off on sanctions,” which may be seen as an “act of war.”

Ever since, Paul’s rivals have been denouncing him for peddling radical foreign-policy views. Although far from the only one to have done so, Congresswoman Bachmann may be the politician who has spoken most emphatically for the GOP establishment on Paul’s apparent madness. According to Bachmann: “We know without a shadow of doubt that Iran will take a nuclear weapon, they will use it to wipe out our ally Israel, off the face of the map. And they’ve stated they will use it against the United States of America. We would be fools and knaves to ignore their purposes and their plan.” There were equally publicized attacks by Weekly Standard and by National Review’s editor Rich Lowry on Paul as a bigot and hate-America leftist, but these off-the-wall hit jobs may have more to do with the fear of the neoconservative camp that Paul is not going away than with factual reality.

Having heard both sides, allow me to come down somewhere in the middle. From the tone of its remarks, it would seem that the Iranian government is hoping to do us harm and we are right to keep this government under close surveillance. What Paul calls a “little bit of diplomacy” may not be enough to contain the possible threat; and even if the Republicans are manic on the subject, the U.S. does face real enemies in the world. Not every political confrontation has been our fault, and contrary to Paul’s suggestion, allowing the present Iranian rulers to develop atomic weapons, which they’ve announced their intention to use, is not the same as quietly watching other countries acquire them. The Iranian case may be different. Read More…

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After Islamism

For the 30 years since “The McLaughlin Group” began to run on network television, the Christmas and New Year’s shows have been devoted to the conferring of annual awards.

The first award on the Christmas show is “Biggest Winner.”

This year, clearly, one of the world’s big winner was — Islam.

For this was the year when what Catholic apologist Hilaire Belloc predicted in 1938 would be the “second period of Islamic power” became manifest to all mankind.

From Morocco to Pakistan, a great awakening is occurring. And perhaps the most dramatic example of Islam rising again came in Egypt, with the fall of the 60-year-old military dictatorship.

With the ouster of Hosni Mubarak after weeks of demonstrations in Tahrir Square, the West hailed the coming of democracy.

But democracy delivered a rude shock. In the first round of voting, over 60 percent of all Egyptians cast their ballots for either the Muslim Brotherhood or the radical Islamist Nour Party of the Salafis. In the second round last week, 75 percent voted Islamist.

In Tunis and Tripoli, too, the overthrow of autocrats revealed a silent majority sympathetic to Islamism.

Recep Erdogan, the most important Turkish ruler since Kemal Ataturk, was a candidate for Time’s Man of the Year as he turned his nation’s back on a century of secularism and embraced a form of Islamism. Read More…

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The Dear Leader’s Death Creates Dangers and Hopes

The death last weekend of North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il  presents many dangers, but also some hopes for lower tensions on the strategic peninsula.

Kim’s death was not unexpected. He had been seriously ill with diabetes and cardiac problems that led to a stroke in 2008. His youngest son, 26 or 27-year old Kim Jung-un, was hurriedly groomed for the leadership.

It seems more likely Jung-un will be a figurehead behind whom North Korea’s powerful factions — its military, Communist Worker’s Party, and security forces — wield power.

Any real efforts to reform North Korea and alleviate its frightful food and power shortage will mean slashing military spending. North Korea fields the world’s second largest armed forces, some 1.2 million, that is huge but armed with largely obsolete weapons and immobile.  Read More…

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Hitchens in Black and White

Many have held 9/11 responsible for Christopher Hitchens’s bellicose turn toward interventionism. But his black-and-white worldview can be traced back to the Bosnian conflict of the 1990s, says The American Interest’s Damir Marusic.

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Kim and Havel

Two leaders, dead a day apart, could hardly be more different. Peter Hichens reported from both their lands for TAC in recent years — see his “Prisoners in Camp Kim” and “Prague Autumn,” the latter with quite a revisionist take on the Czech Republic’s velvet revolutionary: “Vaclav Havel, like so many revolutionaries, gradually transformed himself from a tribune of liberty into a slightly tiresome figure of woolly, modish liberalism.”

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