It’s Over Between Us, Israel

“Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien” –  (The best is the enemy of the good) – Voltaire

Now that a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice is allowing a woman to serve her husband with divorce papers via Facebook, The Wrongologist wants to break up with Israel via his blog.

Wednesday’s NYT had an editorial about Israel’s newest demands regarding the proposed Iran negotiations by the P5+1 nations: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has gone into overdrive against a nuclear agreement with Iran. On Monday, his government made new demands that it claimed would ensure a better deal than the preliminary one…announced last week. [Israel’s] new demands…would not mean a better deal, but no deal at all.

Israel must accept that their objectives are qualitatively different than those of the UK, France, Germany, China, Russia and the US (P5+1) regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Based on Mr. Netanyahu’s rants, and the incessant punditry in the media and commentary (mostly by) Republican members of Congress, it seems that the US has just one ally, Israel, and that our goals in the ME are perfectly aligned. They are not.

The Iranian framework agreement has the potential to become a historic game-changer. As Robert Parry said: (Emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The April 2 framework agreement with Iran represents more than just a diplomatic deal to prevent nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. It marks a crossroad that offers a possible path for the American Republic to regain its footing and turn away from endless war.

Move away from endless war. Who would be against that? We are still a Satan to Iran, but maybe no longer the Great Satan, now, just a pretty bad Satan. When we think about Iran, we should think about how we have played both sides against the middle with Iran for decades:

• Iran holds our people hostage in 1979
• We enter Iran/Iraq war on Saddam’s side in 1982
• We sell Iran HAWK missiles in 1986 as part of the Iran-Contra debacle
• In 1988, we accidentally shoot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing about 300. The US paid compensation, but never apologized or acknowledged wrongdoing
• Iran helps us hunt down Al-Qaeda personnel fleeing Afghanistan in 2002, after we sent the CIA in to flush them out
• We first sanctioned Iran in 1979, with the UN joining in, in 2006

Can this kind of inconsistent relationship lead to warm feelings? Maybe not, but should we sacrifice a possible game-changing initiative for Israel’s sake? More Americans are saying “no”. A Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that:

• 31% of US Republicans favor the nuclear deal with Iran
• 30% of Republicans oppose the pact, while 40% are not sure
• 50% of Democrats supported it, while 39% were not sure
• Among independents – 33% voiced support, 21% were opposed, and 45% are unsure

And Israel itself is losing American political support. From David Atkins:

The number of Americans who view Israel as an ally of the US has sharply decreased, according to a new poll…Only 54% of Americans polled said that Israel is their country’s ally, a decline from 68% in 2014 and 74% in 2012. Rasmussen Reports, who conducted the poll, said Israel had “tumbled down the list.” By contrast, 86% and 84% see Canada and Britain respectfully as the US’s allies.

When broken down along party political lines, 76% of Republicans view Israel an ally of the US compared to only 45% of Democrats and 47% of Independents.

Given how politically divided the US has become, it’s not surprising that an Israel that aligns itself in a strongly partisan way with one US political party, while it finds itself losing support from citizens of the country it relies on most for aid and defense.

So, we have different objectives. Moreover, our relationship has largely one-sided. We defend and support Israel, but what do they provide in return? Well, they buy our weapons with our aid money. In fact, the special relationship has hurt us geopolitically. If Bibi’s administration thinks it’s a good idea to play partisan politics in the US, then the appropriate response of the US administration should be: “Good luck with your ME follies”.

And why the Israeli hysteria? Israel has several hundred nuclear weapons (assessments are 80-400). If Iran builds nuclear weapons, and then attempts to obliterate Israel, Israeli nuclear submarines will obliterate much of Iran. If the Iran nuclear deal fails, nuclear Israel and nuclear Iran will have to live in a Balance of Nuclear Terror, as does America, and many other countries. It’s not pleasant, but the rest of the nuclear club has been able to live with the existential menace.

If the US leaves the marriage with Israel and goes back to being simply their ally, Israel’s security will not be affected, since the US continues to make clear that we will defend them. But, we would finally be free to give clear voice to our own policies. For too long it has been the Israeli tail wagging the US dog when it comes to Middle East policy.

An Iran deal potentially opens the door to an eventual US withdrawal from its hugely expensive, and failed history in the Middle East. A completed deal would pave the way to shrink our war machine, one that has spilled much American blood and treasure in a region of the world where we have little business meddling.

So, Israel, the Wrongologist is changing his status with you to “its complicated”.


Why Are Republicans Actively Undermining Obama’s Foreign Policy?

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule, or ruin, in all events.” – Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union Speech

This is a short meditation about the Republican Party. Last week Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) took to the Senate floor, to encourage the Israelis to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran:

The Israelis will need to chart their own path of resistance. On the Iranian nuclear deal, they may have to go rogue. Let’s hope their warnings have not been mere bluffs. Israel survived its first 19 years without meaningful US patronage. For now, all it has to do is get through the next 22, admittedly long, months.

Those 22 months would be the remainder of Mr. Obama’s term as president. You can see a video of McCain’s speech here.

And so, the Republican effort to make our foreign policy a partisan mess continues.

You may have heard the phrase, “politics stops at the water’s edge”. That thought dates to 1948, when the idea of a Treaty to establish NATO was debated in Congress. The Senate was controlled by Republicans, Harry Truman was president. Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI) worked with the Truman Administration to create and pass the Vandenberg Resolution, which paved the way for the US to negotiate an agreement with our European allies.

Vandenberg was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and it was he who said “politics stops at the water’s edge”. He helped the Truman administration get bi-partisan support for the Treaty.

You can connect the dots from John McCain’s love affair with Middle East war, to John Boehner’s (R-OH) love affair with Bibi, to Sen. Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) letter to Iran, undermining Obama’s negotiations on their nuclear program. In them, we see a complete repudiation of Vandenberg’s principle.

The Lincoln quote should remind us that he was speaking to his fellow Republicans in February, 1860. The issue then was slavery, and it was dividing his party along with the country. Lincoln urged fellow Republicans not to capitulate to Southern demands to recognize slavery as being right, but to “stand by our duty, [opposing slavery] fearlessly and effectively.” But, his comment about “rule or ruin” has resonance today.

As the 2016 presidential race picks up speed, we can expect foreign policy to be the key issue for Republicans. The strategy starts from Mr. Obama’s foreign policy approval ratings holding at 37% in a January 2015 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. As we can already see today, the Republican presidential contenders will inevitably compete to appear more hawkish on foreign policy.

Republicans will run away from the economy and towards their testosterone-laden policy positions of more guns, less butter, lower taxes. The public clearly believes that Mr. Obama should have done more to manage Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Iran, and Yemen. And with so much to be unhappy about, Republicans should have little trouble making the case that it is time for a change.

The ISIS stalemate most likely is helping Republicans. A recent CNN poll finds that 58 % disapprove of his handling of the campaign against ISIS. It will play even better for Republicans if the situation worsens, and Americans grow more frustrated with setbacks, or just a lack of progress. The Republicans will try to lure Mr. Obama into sending in ground troops. If he does, there is a high likelihood of things going wrong, which will only help the Republicans in 2016. The GOP has cards to play on Iran, Syria and ISIS, but sadly, they may only be playing politics, positioning the Democrats for a failure that cannot be explained or papered over in the 2016 election.

The Vandenberg precedent is not a part of our Constitution, so there is nothing illegal about the Republicans abandoning it. It is also a good thing to review principles and historical precedents to see if they are still useful. But the precedents the GOP are so busy abandoning are the guidelines established years ago to allow our representatives to work together, despite their differences, for the good of this country.

This new, more politicized approach will hurt us all.


The Pentagon’s Huge Problems with the F-35

The F-35 combat aircraft is the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken by the Pentagon. It will cost $1.5 trillion to build and operate over its lifetime. Most pilots think that the F-35 is being tasked with too many things, from use as a fighter and a bomber, to landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier, to performing vertical takeoffs and landings. These are conflicting demands, requiring the plane to be over-configured to accomplish all of them. So, the F-35 is unlikely to handle all of these requirements at a high level.

Despite all of the above, in the Pentagon spending bill that passed last month, Congress approved nearly a half a billion dollars more for the F-35 than the Pentagon even asked for.

Conventional wisdom touts the F-35 as an aerial Swiss army knife, but the F-35 is proving to be more like a butter knife — one that only slices taxpayer dollars. A recent report by the nonprofit Project On Government Oversight (POGO), highlights the conclusions in the latest F-35 report from the Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E). Among the problems highlighted in the DOT&E report:

• Software glitches disrupting enemy identification and weapons employment
• A redesigned fuel tank that continues to demonstrate unacceptable vulnerability to explosion from lightning or enemy fire
• Wing issues that cause loss of controlled flight during high-speed maneuvering, a six-year-old problem that apparently will not be solved without sacrificing stealth or combat capability
• Helmet issues that prevent pilots from seeing things approaching from the side
• Engine problems so severe they’re impeding the test schedule, and generating risky operational decisions
• Maintenance issues leading to over-reliance on contractor support

The Marines’ version of the plane won’t be operational until this summer, while the Navy’s version won’t be operational until at least 2018.

There are accusations that Lockheed Martin has papered over these problems, failing to include certain failures or re-categorizing them to improve program statistics. Taken together, the GAO and DOD reports make for an unambiguous headline:

The F-35 is years away from being the next-gen fighter jet promised by Lockheed to the Pentagon.

More time, more money and unresolved problems. What is going on here?

That’s not all. Head-to-head competition with the Russian SU-30 fighter/bomber was conducted in the US in 2008, and the results favored the Russian aircraft. Now, aircraft have two primary missions, air-to-air combat (ATA), and air-to-ground attack (ATG). The F-35 failed the ATA exercises SIX YEARS AGO.

If you find this summary alarming, consider taking a tranquilizer or two before digesting the full POGO article (“Not Ready for Prime Time”) or the detailed DOT&E report, both of which focus on a subject that are the eventual cost equivalent to the combined GDP’s of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

We are at the point where we will be fielding yesterday’s aircraft solution tomorrow. To a great degree, this is a failure of the Defense Department’s Acquisition Process. POGO believes that the problem is not nearly as much with the detailed laws and regulations that govern the acquisition of military goods, as it is in the management by the people who have been operating the system. In the case of the F-35, while several nations are providing elements of the plane, Lockheed is the sole source contractor for the DOD.

This creates a case of moral hazard. Moral hazard is the idea that misplaced incentives can create unintended and adverse behaviors. For example, an insurance policy with no deductible could embolden some drivers to discount the consequences of reckless driving, raising the likelihood of accidents. Applied to a defense contractor, this policy can cause a heavy economic toll.

The F-35 program is an example of moral hazard. By continuing to lavish cash upon a failing program, Congress risks making failure a financially viable strategy. The predictable result would be more failure. This debacle is, in many ways, a sign of what happens when Congress is no longer the domain of the kind of statesmanlike adult behavior that puts the country first.

Congress itself has incentives to set perverse incentives for others. Unfortunately for the country, the first sign that moral hazard has truly captured our national defense maybe relying on a program that is supposed to be the single answer, one that does not perform, continues to be postponed, and costs far too much.

The second sign will be the inability of our airpower to effectively support our ground and sea military efforts, as and when called upon.

This will happen if bad decisions continue to bleed our resources, and Congress continues to try to make room for the F-35, a weapon that has not proven itself.