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I Love My Country, But its Government Sucks

I Love My Country, But its Government Sucks

The United States of America is, for me, the greatest nation in the world. I am grateful for having been born here. Begun as an experiment that few believed would succeed, The USA has become a magnet, drawing citizens of other countries eager to prosper from the fruits of their labor.

However, as the nation has evolved during the past 250 years, a number of flies have been dropped into our ointment. Well-intentioned—and a large number of ill-intentioned—politicians have distorted the principles upon which our nation was founded in their attempts to “level the playing field” for the citizenry. Elected officials have passed laws with the intent that everyone could have a piece of the American dream. And while such efforts may seem laudable, they are grossly unfair, and often harm the very groups intended to receive benefit.

Not all Americans are willing to do what is necessary to achieve success; and that’s the crux of the problem. We cannot legislate “fairness,” nor can we guarantee success for everyone. Success is achieved through hard work, creativity, patience, perseverance, and sometimes a bit of luck. Regardless of the number of laws passed in Congress, we will always have a significant percentage of the populace who are unwilling to do what is necessary to succeed.

Attempts by our leaders to “level the playing field” or to “spread the wealth around” encourage some who would otherwise be willing to work, to become wards of the state, awaiting their next government handout. And those handouts seem to grow each year as politicians attempt to pacify and increase their political base.

It’s human nature to try to make our lives easier; and when our leaders begin taking from “each according to their means” and distributing to “each according to their needs,” ever-growing numbers willingly enslave themselves to government, awaiting the largess of their political benefactors. It’s the same in the animal kingdom. In areas where locals or tourists regularly feed the wildlife, animal populations increase, and the animals become dependent upon humans for their survival.

I do believe in a government “safety net.” I believe that we have a responsibility to assist those who, for whatever reason, cannot help themselves. But I also believe that many of the government programs now in place, do nothing to lift up those who could ultimately succeed on their own. In most cases the opposite is true. Our poorly managed assistance programs have become insensitive to the actual needs of those seeking their services. Like parents who suffer guilt for ignoring their children, such efforts are little more than bribery, in reality, a thinly veiled purchase of votes.

What has happened to individual responsibility? Where is our pride of accomplishment? When we willingly allow our government to take the fruits of one’s labor and freely give it to us or others, with little regard for true needs, we have abandoned both reason and responsibility. And when the electorate sit idly by, allowing politicians to encourage such a system, we have failed our fellow citizens and our government.

Twitt

The Buck Doesn’t Stop with Obama . . . It Doesn’t Even Slow Down

Although the President has often said the buck stops with him, the buck doesn’t stop with Obama . . . it doesn’t even slow down. During his term in office, the President has referred to the famous Harry Truman quote a dozen or more times, but in reality he has “passed the buck” on almost every issue when the credibility of his Administration was at stake.

The phrase “The Buck Stops Here,” was popularized by Truman, and the plain-talking President had a sign on his desk as a reminder that he meant it. Never one to mince words, he was also popularized by the slogan, “give ‘em hell Harry, and for good reason. While not as well-known as some presidents, Truman understood the importance of taking responsibility, a trait that our current president not only lacks, but seems to deliberately avoid.

The most recent, and perhaps one of the most blatant, examples of Obama shunning responsibility, occurred during an interview on the Spanish network, Univision, in which he placed blame for the current gun-running scandal squarely on the Bush Administration, “I think it’s important for us to understand that “Fast and Furious” was begun under the previous administration,” he said. “ When Holder found out about it, he discontinued it.” (Neither statement is true.)

And while I’ll leave out the details of the significant differences between “Fast and Furious” and the program begun under Bush known as, “Operation Wide Receiver,” the Bush program was halted in 2007. “Fast and Furious” was begun in 2009.

What I believe this demonstrates is the President’s effort to confuse voters and to have them believe that his Administration is not at all responsible for “Fast and Furious” or for the deaths of two Border Patrol agents and several hundred Mexican citizens killed with guns which our government deliberately placed in the hands of known drug dealers. However, the botched gun program is just one example of the President’s inability to take responsibility for events that occurred under his watch. Below I have listed several others.

The President has blamed:

High unemployment: Bush, Japan’s tsunami, and the European debt crisis

The failure of Solyndra: The Chinese

High oil prices: Speculators and Middle East unrest (Fails to mention his part of that unrest)

Lack of economic improvement: Bush created a bigger mess than he thought

Exploding the national debt: Bush

Gulf oil spill: Bush era regulations

Failure of Simpson-Bowles: Paul Ryan

Loss of U. S. AAA rating: The Tea Party and Standard & Poor’s

Failure to enact immigration reform: Congress and the financial crisis

Failure to protect the U.S. Embassy in Libya: An Internet video

Shortly after taking office, Obama stated that if he didn’t get the job done (improving the economy) in three years, he’d be a one-term president. When questioned about that statement, he refused to acknowledge that he even made it, and once more attempted to redirect the focus from him to the “huge mess he inherited.”

Finally, the President places the responsibility for his re-election on the backs of his supporters. Stating that he doesn’t have as much time to campaign as he did in 2008 (he’s held twice the number of fundraisers as Bush), Obama says that it’s up to his supporters to make it happen.

In the end, the problem with this President is that he is unwilling to take responsibility for his actions; and he has failed miserably to provide the leadership necessary to solve the serious problems our country faces. Are some of his failures due to inaction in Congress? Of course. But a president is elected to lead. When tough decisions are required he must make them; he must be willing to compromise; and he must be honest with himself and with the American people when his policies fail. A president who cannot do those things is unworthy of either our trust or our support.

Twitt

The Best Argument Against Democracy Is a Five-Minute Conversation with the Average Voter

Few Minced Words Here

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Winston Churchill must have been referencing the U.S. electorate when he made that statement more than half a century ago. Otherwise, how can one explain the dramatic swings in the polls leading up to the Iowa caucus? And how can one justify the results?

Americans have become so dependent upon the media to tell them how to vote that we are surely the laughing stock of so-called third world countries whose elections we decry as corrupt. After all, what’s the difference between buying votes and buying media coverage when the outcome is the same? The rise and fall of candidates in this country is a direct result of multimillion dollar media blitzes and attack ads that prey on the uninformed and those too lazy to become informed. If that’s the case, America is toast, and we may as well give up. If our future is dependent upon which candidate has the most money to spend, the outcome of this year’s election is already predetermined.

But just for a lark, why don’t we as voters try to think for a change? Why don’t we research the information presented in the attack ads to see if it’s based in truth? Imagine a candidate’s surprise when voters actually challenged statements about an opponent’s positions. My observation is that virtually ALL negative ads contain distortions of truth, exaggerations or outright lies.

And while I don’t anticipate any changes in the electorate’s willingness to validate the claims of political ads or to bother checking a candidate’s references, I can retain hope until that last vote is counted on November 6th. By that time, however, we’ll probably have eliminated those candidates of honor whose shortcoming was their lack of financial support from big business or connection to the political class whose PAC system only distorts the electoral process. Good luck America; I think you’ll need it, for luck may just be your last hope.

Twitt

Housing and Economic Predictions for 2012 and Beyond

Those following the housing market and economy may find this post from The Housing Guru Blog to be helpful in preparing for the coming year: Housing and Economic Predictions for 2012 and Beyond

As 2011 draws to a close, I once more look to past and current events to provide insights for my housing and economic predictions for 2012 and beyond; and what I see is both problematic and disheartening. Having experienced four years of instability in the housing market and with unemployment remaining at levels not seen since the Great Depression, many look to the coming year with expectations that the effects of this recession will finally lose their grip on the U.S. economy.

While it’s impossible in a few paragraphs to properly analyze the numerous issues affecting the economy, I will briefly describe those I expect most likely to impact the real estate market in the coming year.

CONTINUE READING AT: The Housing Guru Blog

Twitt

Obama’s Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal

Following President Obama”s announcement of the planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, critics from both the left and right attacked the plan as either too risky or insufficient.  However, most seem to ignore the realities of removing thousands of troops and their support mechanisms and more importantly how the drawdown will ultimately impact U.S. security.  Those who would like more in-depth information than is available from the limited and biased reporting of traditional media will find the following article a worthwhile read.

Obama’s Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal

By Nathan Hughes

U.S. President Barack Obama announced June 22 that the long process of drawing down forces in Afghanistan would begin on schedule in July. Though the initial phase of the drawdown appears limited, minimizing the tactical and operational impact on the ground in the immediate future, the United States and its allies are now beginning the inevitable process of removing their forces from Afghanistan. This will entail the risk of greater Taliban battlefield successes.

The Logistical Challenge

Afghanistan, a landlocked country in the heart of Central Asia, is one of the most isolated places on Earth. This isolation has posed huge logistical challenges for the United States. Hundreds of shipping containers and fuel trucks must enter the country every day from Pakistan and from the north to sustain the nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied forces stationed in Afghanistan, about half the total number of Afghan security forces. Supplying a single gallon of gasoline in Afghanistan reportedly costs the U.S. military an average of $400, while sustaining a single U.S. soldier runs around $1 million a year (by contrast, sustaining an Afghan soldier costs about $12,000 a year).

These forces appear considerably lighter than those in Iraq because Afghanistan’s rough terrain often demands dismounted foot patrols. Heavy main battle tanks and self-propelled howitzers are thus few and far between, though not entirely absent. Afghanistan even required a new, lighter and more agile version of the hulking mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle known as the M-ATV (for “all-terrain vehicle”).

Based solely on the activity on the ground in Afghanistan today, one would think the United States and its allies were preparing for a permanent presence, not the imminent beginning of a long-scheduled drawdown (a perception the United States and its allies have in some cases used to their advantage to reach political arrangements with locals). An 11,500-foot all-weather concrete and asphalt runway and an air traffic control tower were completed this February at Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion in Helmand province. Another more than 9,000-foot runway was finished at Shindand Air Field in Herat province last December.

Obama's Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal
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Meanwhile, a so-called iron mountain of spare parts needed to maintain vehicles and aircraft, construction and engineering equipment, generators, ammunition and other supplies — even innumerable pallets of bottled water — has slowly been built up to sustain day-to-day military operations. There are fewer troops in Afghanistan than the nearly 170,000 in Iraq at the peak of operations and considerably lighter tonnage in terms of armored vehicles. But short of a hasty and rapid withdrawal reminiscent of the chaotic American exit from Saigon in 1975 (which no one currently foresees in Afghanistan), the logistical challenge of withdrawing from Afghanistan — at whatever pace — is perhaps even more daunting than the drawdown in Iraq. The complexity of having nearly 50 allies with troops in country will complicate this process.

Moreover, coalition forces in Iraq had ready access to well-established bases and modern port facilities in nearby Kuwait and in Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally. Though U.S. and allied equipment comes ashore on a routine basis in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, the facilities there are nothing like what exists in Kuwait. Routes to bases in Afghanistan are anything but short and established, with locally contracted fuel tankers and other supplies not only traveling far greater distances but also regularly subject to harassing attacks. They are inherently vulnerable to aggressive interdiction by militants fighting on terrain far more favorable to them, and to politically motivated interruptions by Islamabad. The American logistical dependence on Pakistani acquiescence cannot be understated. Most supplies transit the isolated Khyber Pass in the restive Pakistani Federally Administered Tribal Areas west of Islamabad. As in Iraq, the United States does have an alternative to the north. But instead of Turkey it is the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which runs through Central Asia and Russia (Moscow has agreed to continue to expand it) and entails a 3,200-mile rail route to the Baltic Sea and ports in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Obama's Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal
(click here to enlarge image)

Given the extraordinary distances involved, the metrics for defining whether something is worth the expense of shipping back from Afghanistan are unforgiving. Some equipment will be deemed too heavily damaged or cheap and will be sanitized if necessary and discarded. Much construction and fortification has been done with engineering and construction equipment like Hesco barriers (which are filled with sand and dirt) that will not be reclaimed, and will continue to characterize the landscape in Afghanistan for decades to come, much as the Soviet influence was perceivable long after their 1989 withdrawal. Much equipment will be handed over to Afghan security forces, which already have begun to receive up-armored U.S. HMMWVs, aka “humvees.” Similarly, some 800,000 items valued at nearly $100 million have already been handed over to more than a dozen Iraqi military, security and government entities.

Other gear will have to be stripped of sensitive equipment (radios and other cryptographic gear, navigation equipment, jammers for improvised explosive devices, etc.), which is usually flown out of the country due to security concerns before being shipped overland. And while some Iraqi stocks were designated for redeployment to Afghanistan or prepared for long-term storage in pre-positioned equipment depots and aboard maritime pre-positioning ships at facilities in Kuwait, most vehicles and supplies slated to be moved out of Afghanistan increasingly will have to be shipped far afield. This could be from Karachi by ship or to Europe by rail even if they are never intended for return to the United States.

Security Transition

More important than the fate of armored trucks and equipment will be the process of rebalancing forces across the country. This will involve handing over outposts and facilities to Afghan security forces, who continue to struggle to reach full capability, and scaling back the extent of the U.S. and allied presence in the country. In Iraq, and likely in Afghanistan, the beginning of this process will be slow and measured. But its pace in the years ahead remains to be seen, and may accelerate considerably.

Obama's Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal
(click here to enlarge image)

The first areas slated for handover to Afghan control, the provinces of Panjshir, Bamiyan and Kabul — aside the restive Surobi district, though the rest of Kabul’s security effectively has been in Afghan hands for years — and the cities of Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat, Lashkar Gah and Mehtar Lam have been relatively quiet places for some time. Afghan security forces increasingly have taken over in these areas. As in Iraq, the first places to be turned over to indigenous security forces already were fairly secure. Handing over more restive areas later in the year will prove trickier.

This process of pulling back and handing over responsibility for security (in Iraq often termed having Iraqi security forces “in the lead” in specific areas) is a slow and deliberate one, not a sudden and jarring maneuver. Well before the formal announcement, Afghan forces began to transition to a more independent role, conducting more small-unit operations on their own. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops slowly have transitioned from joint patrols and tactical overwatch to a more operational overwatch, but have remained nearby even after transitions formally have taken place.

Under the current training regime, Afghan units continue to require advice and assistance, particularly with matters like intelligence, planning, logistics and maintenance. The ISAF will be cautious in its reductions for fear of pulling back too quickly and seeing the situation deteriorate — unless, of course, Obama directs it to conduct a hastier pullback.

As in Afghanistan, in Iraq the process of drawing down and handing over responsibility in each area was done very cautiously. There was a critical distinction, however. A political accommodation with the Sunnis facilitated the apparent success of the Iraqi surge — something that has not been (and cannot be) replicated in Afghanistan. Even with that advantage, Iraq remains in an unsettled and contentious state. The lack of any political framework to facilitate a military pullback leaves the prospect of a viable transition in restive areas where the U.S. counterinsurgency-focused strategy has been focused tenuous at best — particularly if timetables are accelerated.

In June 2009, U.S. forces in Iraq occupied 357 bases. A year later, U.S. forces occupied only 92 bases, 58 of which were partnered with the Iraqis. The pace of the transition in Afghanistan remains to be seen, but handing over the majority of positions to Afghan forces will fundamentally alter the situational awareness, visibility and influence of ISAF forces.

Casualties and Force Protection

The security of the remaining outposts and ensuring the security of U.S. and allied forces and critical lines of supply (particularly key sections of the Ring Road) that sustain remaining forces will be key to crafting the withdrawal and pulling back to fewer, stronger and more secure positions. As that drawdown progresses — and particularly if a more substantive shift in strategy is implemented — the increased pace begins to bring new incentives into play. Of particular note will be both a military and political incentive to reduce casualties as the endgame draws closer.

The desire to accelerate the consolidation to more secure positions will clash with the need to pull back slowly and continue to provide Afghan forces with advice and assistance. The reorientation may expose potential vulnerabilities to Taliban attack in the process of transitioning to a new posture. Major reversals and defeats for Afghan security forces at the hands of the Taliban after they have been left to their own devices can be expected in at least some areas and will have wide repercussions, perhaps even shifting the psychology and perception of the war.

When ISAF units are paired closely with Afghan forces, those units have a stronger day-to-day tactical presence in the field, and other units are generally operating nearby. So while they are more vulnerable and exposed to threats like IEDs while out on patrol, they also — indeed, in part because of that exposure — have a more alert and robust posture. As the transition accelerates and particularly if Washington accelerates it, the posture and therefore the vulnerabilities of forces change.

Force protection remains a key consideration throughout. The United States gained considerable experience with that during the Iraq transition — though again, a political accommodation underlay much of that transition, which will not be the case in Afghanistan.

As the drawdown continues, ISAF will have to balance having advisers in the field alongside Afghan units for as long as possible against pulling more back to key strongholds and pulling them out of the country completely. In the former case, the close presence of advisers can improve the effectiveness of Afghan security forces and provide better situational awareness. But it also exposes smaller units to operations more distant from strongholds as the number of outposts and major positions begins to be reduced. And as the process of pulling back accelerates and particularly as allied forces increasingly hunker down on larger and more secure outposts, their already limited situational awareness will decline even further, which opens up its own vulnerabilities.

One of these will be the impact on not just situational awareness on the ground but intelligence collection and particularly exploitable relationships with local political factions. As the withdrawal becomes more and more undeniable and ISAF pulls back from key areas, the human relationships that underlie intelligence sharing will be affected and reduced. This is particularly the case in places where the Taliban are strongest, as villagers there return to a strategy of hedging their bets out of necessity and focus on the more enduring power structure, which in many areas will clearly be the Taliban.

The Taliban

Ultimately, the Taliban’s incentive vis-a-vis the United States and its allies — especially as their exit becomes increasingly undeniable — is to conserve and maximize their strength for a potential fight in the vacuum sure to ensue after the majority of foreign troops have left the country. At the same time, any “revolutionary” movement must be able to consolidate internal control and maintain discipline while continuing to make itself relevant to domestic constituencies. The Taliban also may seek to take advantage of the shifting tactical realities to demonstrate their strength and the extent of their reach across the country, not only by targeting newly independent and newly isolated Afghan units but by attempting to kill or even kidnap now-more isolated foreign troops.

Though this year the Taliban have demonstrated their ability to strike almost anywhere in the country, they so far have failed to demonstrate the ability to penetrate the perimeter of large, secured facilities with a sizable assault force or to bring crew-served weapons to bear in an effective supporting manner. Given the intensity and tempo of special operations forces raids on Taliban leadership and weapons caches, it is unclear whether the Taliban have managed to retain a significant cache of heavier arms and the capability to wield them.

The inherent danger of compromise and penetration of indigenous security forces also continues to loom large. The vulnerabilities of ISAF forces will grow and change while they begin to shift as mission and posture evolve — and those vulnerabilities will be particularly pronounced in places where the posture and presence remains residual and a legacy of a previous strategy instead of more fundamental rebalancing. The shift from a dispersed, counterinsurgency-focused orientation to a more limited and more secure presence will ultimately provide the space to reduce casualties, but it will necessarily entail more limited visibility and influence. And the transition will create space for potentially more significant Taliban successes on the battlefield.


Obama’s Afghanistan Plan and the Realities of Withdrawal is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Twitt

Headed Towards Armageddon or on the Path to Recovery?

Fanning the Flames of Rebellion

A potential disaster looms over the United States; but are we headed towards Armageddon or on the path to recovery?  I’m not referring to an imminent terrorist attack, natural calamity or the embarrassment of Lindsay Lohan going to jail.  The disaster I see coming is the collapse of the very foundation of our society.  As the United States nears the brink of financial collapse, a calamity which could easily turn to anarchy, casts an ominous shadow over our future.  Politicians either fail to see it or believe such an occurrence impossible; amazingly, the majority of the masses, wherein the uprising is simmering, seem oblivious to the approaching cataclysm.

The so-called financial bailout was the catalyst that initiated the coming disaster.  Weary of politicians and of the business of politics, a growing number of Americans are truly, “mad as hell,” and will not stand for it anymore. And the solutions to our nation’s problems won’t come from DC; in fact, congressional “leaders” from both sides of the aisle will oppose the only viable remedies. 

The solution may require a bit of anarchy.  As Thomas Jefferson said:

I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions, indeed, generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.

Here’s my view on how it is beginning:

It is now evident that the financial bailout, TARP and all the billions spent to restore the economy were not intended to save the folks from economic ruin, but were instead a way of transferring the economic failures of the big banks and Wall Street firms to the U. S. taxpayer.  Not only did the people not receive benefit, we’ve been left with a burdensome obligation nearly impossible to repay.  It’s obvious that we’re not going to see dramatic economic improvement or the “shovel ready” jobs that were promised as politicians rushed to pass the bill.  (And that’s a perfect description of what they did, literally passing the bill from their cronies to the U.S. taxpayer.)

All the talk of recovery or “jobs saved and created” can now be seen as so much political hogwash.  Regardless of what the government’s manipulated numbers report, the economy for the folks remains in a full-blown recession.  We have high unemployment (much higher than reported), banks continuing to fail, inflation (also much higher than reported) imposing an additional tax upon consumers, and fully one-third of homeowners with mortgages owing more on their home than it is worth.  Yet, politicians continue to ignore the only workable solutions, instead focusing their efforts upon being re-elected or gaining an upper hand against their political opponents.

However, as more begin to see through partisan politics and demand action from their elected leaders, we’re seeing the beginning of a revolution unlike anything seen in the U.S.  People are demanding an explanation for the billions spent to save big corporations and want to know why it had no impact on the financial problems of Main Street.

And while hard-core politicians continue spouting the same rhetoric they have in the past, more of their constituents are awakening to the lies and deception.  Though many continue to slumber and ignore the growing crisis, growing numbers see the hypocrisy, dishonesty and ignorance of their so-called leaders and have begun a call to action with the potential to bring about the change our country has long needed.

Additionally, a new breed of leader is being born, not out of self interest, but with a sincere desire to serve and with the courage to stand up to the old guard and kick them out of power.  But they need more support than is currently visible, for the old guard is well entrenched, with both the power and money to maintain their position.  They will not willingly relinquish their seats.

In order for the new leaders to increase their following, they must be compelling, able to get the attention of the masses and they must demonstrate both knowledge and confidence in their beliefs.  They cannot be merely recycled politicians, regurgitating slogans and empty promises of politicians past.  The leaders our country needs should offer themselves as true public servants with both a passion for service and an understanding of the failures of our system.

The old political parties have neither relevance nor substance, and can no longer justify their existence.  Like the dinosaurs, they must pass into extinction. We may choose to keep the party names, but little else should remain.  Such changes could bring about a productive and meaningful restructuring of government.

Significant changes often come with initial pain, just as birthing does, but just as birthing brings forth new life, the changes clamoring for birth have the potential to restore our great country to the position we all believe it should have.  There may be much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but in the end, the great majority of the people will see the benefits of the transformation; those who do not will sink into the darkness of their ignorance and wither to dust.

Our new leaders will be serious men and women who will create a new way of governance that is truly, “of the people, by the people and for the people.”  A transform will occur allowing our nation fo once more serves as a beacon of hope to other nations.  The core values upon which we were founded will prevail.

What I describe cannot occur overnight; no, the changes I’ve described will take many years of error and experimentation.  Americans have forgotten how to govern and be governed, and we must re-learn much of what has been lost.  We have the potential to triumph.  The question we must answer is: Do we have the fortitude?  Are we headed towards Armageddon or on the path to recovery?  The choice is ours.

Twitt

Life As It Is

In the movie version of Don Quixote, one of my all time favorites, the protagonist, played by Peter O’Toole has been imprisoned by the Inquisition and responds when a fellow prisoner comments, “A man has to come to terms with life as it is.”

Don Quixote responds, proceeding to describe why merely observing the realities of life is never enough, how man’s greatest insanity may be to see life as it is, and not as it should be.”

Isn’t that where we are today?  With ample help from the media, we focus upon the disasters, the pain and suffering, distortions and dishonesty from business and government; and all too often we accept those circumstances as beyond our control.  In the words of Don Quixote, we’re engulfed in a world “where evil brings profit and virtue . . . none at all.” Merely human, individually we are but one person against a sea of corruption; what more can we do?

While it may not appear so, WE THE PEOPLE, have the power to control our government.  We can change the very leaders who threaten our future.  Collectively, we have superhuman strength.   And that’s what politicians fear most.  With help from their allies in the media, they strive to keep us from reclaiming our power, from returning the U.S. to a nation “of the people.”  But that’s exactly what we must do; and though our time is short, we can and we must prevail.

Our quest is no Impossible Dream, and we must neither yield nor despair. There is work to be done.  We can once again return our nation to the principles upon which it was founded; once more enjoy the liberties guaranteed by our Constitution.  Though obstacles be thrown in our path and partisan hacks seek to divide, there are no “unbeatable foes.”  To be willing to “fight for the right without question or pause,is more than a duty; it is our destiny.

It is time.  Let us saddle up, don our armor and mount a crusade to return sanity, honesty, integrity, and accountability to our government and to business; and let us agree to never again accept our nation being less than it could be . . . less than it should be.

Twitt

The Egypt Crisis in a Global Context: A Special Report

Thanks to Stratfor.com for the following look into how the current crisis in Egypt could possibly undermine what stability currently exists in the Middle East and how an Islamist Egypt would dramatically alter U.S. strategy and alliances.   I heartily recommend this article to all who wish to understand the current unrest.

The Egypt Crisis in a Global Context: A Special Report

By George Friedman

It is not at all clear what will happen in the Egyptian revolution. It is not a surprise that this is happening. Hosni Mubarak has been president for more than a quarter of a century, ever since the assassination of Anwar Sadat. He is old and has been ill. No one expected him to live much longer, and his apparent plan, which was that he would be replaced by his son, Gamal, was not going to happen even though it was a possibility a year ago. There was no one, save his closest business associates, who wanted to see Mubarak’s succession plans happen. As his father weakened, Gamal’s succession became even less likely. Mubarak’s failure to design a credible succession plan guaranteed instability on his death. Since everyone knew that there would be instability on his death, there were obviously those who saw little advantage to acting before he died. Who these people were and what they wanted is the issue.

Let’s begin by considering the regime. In 1952, Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser staged a military coup that displaced both the Egyptian monarchy, civilian officers in the military, and British influence in Egypt. Nasser created a government based on military power as the major stabilizing and progressive force in Egypt. His revolution was secular and socialist. In short, it was a statist regime dominated by the military. On Nasser’s death, Anwar Sadat replaced him. On Sadat’s assassination, Hosni Mubarak replaced him. Both of these men came from the military as Nasser did. However their foreign policy might have differed from Nasser’s, the regime remained intact.

Mubarak’s Opponents

The demands for Mubarak’s resignation come from many quarters, including from members of the regime — particularly the military — who regard Mubarak’s unwillingness to permit them to dictate the succession as endangering the regime. For some of them, the demonstrations represent both a threat and opportunity. Obviously, the demonstrations might get out of hand and destroy the regime. On the other hand, the demonstrations might be enough to force Mubarak to resign, allow a replacement — for example, Omar Suleiman, the head of intelligence who Mubarak recently appointed vice president — and thereby save the regime. This is not to say that they fomented the demonstrations, but some must have seen the demonstrations as an opportunity.

This is particularly the case in the sense that the demonstrators are deeply divided among themselves and thus far do not appear to have been able to generate the type of mass movement that toppled the Shah of Iran’s regime in 1979. More important, the demonstrators are clearly united in opposing Mubarak as an individual, and to a large extent united in opposing the regime. Beyond that, there is a deep divide in the opposition.

Western media has read the uprising as a demand for Western-style liberal democracy. Many certainly are demanding that. What is not clear is that this is moving Egypt’s peasants, workers and merchant class to rise en masse. Their interests have far more to do with the state of the Egyptian economy than with the principles of liberal democracy. As in Iran in 2009, the democratic revolution, if focused on democrats, cannot triumph unless it generates broader support.

The other strand in this rising is the Muslim Brotherhood. The consensus of most observers is that the Muslim Brotherhood at this point is no longer a radical movement and is too weak to influence the revolution. This may be possible, but it is not obvious. The Muslim Brotherhood has many strands, many of which have been quiet under Mubarak’s repression. It is not clear who will emerge if Mubarak falls. It is certainly not clear that they are weaker than the democratic demonstrators. It is a mistake to confuse the Muslim Brotherhood’s caution with weakness. Another way to look at them is that they have bided their time and toned down their real views, waiting for the kind of moment provided by Mubarak’s succession. I would suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood has more potential influence among the Egyptian masses than the Western-oriented demonstrators or Mohamed ElBaradei, who is emerging as their leader.

There is, of course, the usual discussion of what U.S. President Barack Obama’s view is, or what the Europeans think, or what the Iranians are up to. All of them undoubtedly have thoughts and even plans. In my view, trying to shape the political dynamics of a country like Egypt from Iran or the United States is futile, and believing that what is happening in Egypt is the result of their conspiracies is nonsense. A lot of people care what is happening there, and a lot of people are saying all sorts of things and even spending money on spies and Twitter. Egypt’s regime can be influenced in this way, but a revolution really doesn’t depend on what the European Union or Tehran says.

There are four outcomes possible. First, the regime might survive. Mubarak might stabilize the situation, or more likely, another senior military official would replace him after a decent interval. Another possibility under the scenario of the regime’s survival is that there may be a coup of the colonels, as we discussed yesterday. A second possibility is that the demonstrators might force elections in which ElBaradei or someone like him could be elected and Egypt might overthrow the statist model built by Nasser and proceed on the path of democracy. The third possibility is that the demonstrators force elections, and the Muslim Brotherhood could win the election and move forward with an Islamist-oriented agenda. The fourth possibility is that Egypt will sink into a political chaos. The most likely path to this are elections that result in political gridlock in which a viable candidate cannot be elected. If I were forced to choose, I would bet on the regime stabilizing itself and Mubarak leaving because of the relative weakness and division of the demonstrators. But that’s a guess and not a forecast.

Geopolitical Significance

Whatever happens matters a great deal to Egyptians. But only some of these outcomes are significant to the world. Among radical Islamists, the prospect of a radicalized Egypt represents a new lease on life. For Iran, such an outcome would be less pleasing. Iran is now the emerging center of radical Islamism; it would not welcome competition from Egypt, though it may be content with an Islamist Egypt that acts as an Iranian ally (something that would not be easy to ensure).

For the United States, an Islamist Egypt would be a strategic catastrophe. Egypt is the center of gravity of the Arab world. This would not only change the dynamic of the Arab world, it would reverse U.S. strategy since the end of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Sadat’s decision to reverse his alliance with the Soviets and form an alliance with the United States undermined the Soviet position in the Mediterranean and in the Arab world and strengthened the United States immeasurably. The support of Egyptian intelligence after Sept. 11 was critical in blocking and undermining al Qaeda. Were Egypt to stop that cooperation or become hostile, the U.S. strategy would be severely undermined.

The great loser would be Israel. Israel’s national security has rested on its treaty with Egypt, signed by Menachem Begin with much criticism by the Israeli right. The demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula not only protected Israel’s southern front, it meant that the survival of Israel was no longer at stake. Israel fought three wars (1948, 1967 and 1973) where its very existence was at issue. The threat was always from Egypt, and without Egypt in the mix, no coalition of powers could threaten Israel (excluding the now-distant possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons). In all of the wars Israel fought after its treaty with Egypt (the 1982 and 2006 wars in Lebanon) Israeli interests, but not survival, were at stake.

If Egypt were to abrogate the Camp David Accords and over time reconstruct its military into an effective force, the existential threat to Israel that existed before the treaty was signed would re-emerge. This would not happen quickly, but Israel would have to deal with two realities. The first is that the Israeli military is not nearly large enough or strong enough to occupy and control Egypt. The second is that the development of Egypt’s military would impose substantial costs on Israel and limit its room for maneuver.

There is thus a scenario that would potentially strengthen the radical Islamists while putting the United States, Israel, and potentially even Iran at a disadvantage, all for different reasons. That scenario emerges only if two things happen. First, the Muslim Brotherhood must become a dominant political force in Egypt. Second, they must turn out to be more radical than most observers currently believe they are — or they must, with power, evolve into something more radical.

If the advocates for democracy win, and if they elect someone like ElBaradei, it is unlikely that this scenario would take place. The pro-Western democratic faction is primarily concerned with domestic issues, are themselves secular and would not want to return to the wartime state prior to Camp David, because that would simply strengthen the military. If they win power, the geopolitical arrangements would remain unchanged.

Similarly, the geopolitical arrangements would remain in place if the military regime retained power — save for one scenario. If it was decided that the regime’s unpopularity could be mitigated by assuming a more anti-Western and anti-Israeli policy — in other words, if the regime decided to play the Islamist card, the situation could evolve as a Muslim Brotherhood government would. Indeed, as hard as it is to imagine, there could be an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood designed to stabilize the regime. Stranger things have happened.

When we look at the political dynamic of Egypt, and try to imagine its connection to the international system, we can see that there are several scenarios under which certain political outcomes would have profound effects on the way the world works. That should not be surprising. When Egypt was a pro-Soviet Nasserite state, the world was a very different place than it had been before Nasser. When Sadat changed his foreign policy the world changed with it. If Sadat’s foreign policy changes, the world changes again. Egypt is one of those countries whose internal politics matter to more than its own citizens.

Most of the outcomes I envision leave Egypt pretty much where it is. But not all. The situation is, as they say, in doubt, and the outcome is not trivial.

*****

Thanks to Stratfor.com for allowing us to share their analysis of the current Egyptian crisis.

Twitt

The Egyptian Unrest: A Special Report

The professionals at Stratfor.com have put together a report on the Egyptian crisis that goes beyond the superficial reporting on TV and in print.  With the stability of Egypt in the balance and future relations with the U.S. in jeopardy, the crisis extends far beyond cries for democracy or fairness, and threaten the stability of the entire t region.  I recommend this article to all who would like a better understanding of the current demonstrations, and the dangers and implications for the U.S.

The Egyptian Unrest: A Special Report

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak remains the lifeblood of the demonstrators, who still number in the tens of thousands in downtown Cairo and in other major cities, albeit on a lesser scale. After being overwhelmed in the Jan. 28 Day of Rage protests, Egypt’s internal security forces — with the anti-riot paramilitaries of the Central Security Forces (CSF) at the forefront — were glaringly absent from the streets Jan. 29. They were replaced with rows of tanks and armored personnel carriers carrying regular army soldiers. Unlike their CSF counterparts, the demonstrators demanding Mubarak’s exit from the political scene largely welcomed the soldiers. Despite Mubarak’s refusal to step down Jan. 28, the public’s positive perception of the military, seen as the only real gateway to a post-Mubarak Egypt, remained. It is unclear how long this perception will hold, especially as Egyptians are growing frustrated with the rising level of insecurity in the country and the army’s limits in patrolling the streets.

There is more to these demonstrations than meets the eye. The media will focus on the concept of reformers staging a revolution in the name of democracy and human rights. These may well have brought numerous demonstrators into the streets, but revolutions, including this one, are made up of many more actors than the liberal voices on Facebook and Twitter.

After three decades of Mubarak rule, a window of opportunity has opened for various political forces — from the moderate to the extreme — that preferred to keep the spotlight on the liberal face of the demonstrations while they maneuver from behind. As the Iranian Revolution of 1979 taught, the ideology and composition of protesters can wind up having very little to do with the political forces that end up in power. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) understands well the concerns the United States, Israel and others share over a political vacuum in Cairo being filled by Islamists. The MB so far is proceeding cautiously, taking care to help sustain the demonstrations by relying on the MB’s well-established social services to provide food and aid to the protesters. It simultaneously is calling for elections that would politically enable the MB. With Egypt in a state of crisis and the armed forces stepping in to manage that crisis, however, elections are nowhere near assured. What is now in question is what groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and others are considering should they fear that their historic opportunity could be slipping.

One thing that has become clear in the past several hours is a trend that STRATFOR has been following for some time in Egypt, namely, the military’s growing clout in the political affairs of the state. Former air force chief and outgoing civil aviation minister Ahmed Shafiq, who worked under Mubarak’s command in the air force (the most privileged military branch in Egypt), has been appointed prime minister and tasked with forming the new government. Outgoing Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who has long stood by Mubarak, is now vice president, a spot that has been vacant for the past 30 years. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi (who oversees the Republican Guard) and Egypt’s chief of staff of the armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sami Annan — who returned to Cairo Jan. 29 after a week of intense discussions with senior U.S. officials — are likely managing the political process behind the scenes. More political shuffles are expected, and the military appears willing for now to give Mubarak the time to arrange his political exit. Until Mubarak finally does leave, the unrest in the streets is unlikely to subside, raising the question of just how much more delay from Mubarak the armed forces will tolerate.

The important thing to remember is that the Egyptian military, since the founding of the modern republic in 1952, has been the guarantor of regime stability. Over the past several decades, the military has allowed former military commanders to form civilian institutions to take the lead in matters of political governance but never has relinquished its rights to the state.

Now that the political structure of the state is crumbling, the army must directly shoulder the responsibility of security and contain the unrest on the streets. This will not be easy, especially given the historical animosity between the military and the police in Egypt. For now, the demonstrators view the military as an ally, and therefore (whether consciously or not) are facilitating a de facto military takeover of the state. But one misfire in the demonstrations, and a bloodbath in the streets could quickly foil the military’s plans and give way to a scenario that groups like the MB quickly could exploit. Here again, we question the military’s tolerance for Mubarak as long as he is the source fueling the demonstrations.

Considerable strain is building on the only force within the country that stands between order and chaos as radical forces rise. The standing theory is that the military, as the guarantor of the state, will manage the current crisis. But the military is not a monolithic entity. It cannot shake its history, and thus cannot dismiss the threat of a colonel’s coup in this shaky transition.

The current regime is a continuation of the political order, which was established when midranking officers and commanders under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, a mere colonel in the armed forces, overthrew the British-backed monarchy in 1952. Islamist sympathizers in the junior ranks of the military assassinated his successor, Anwar Sadat, in 1981, an event that led to Mubarak’s presidency.

The history of the modern Egyptian republic haunts Egypt’s generals today. Though long suppressed, an Islamist strand exists amongst the junior ranks of Egypt’s modern military. The Egyptian military is, after all, a subset of the wider society, where there is a significant cross- section that is religiously conservative and/or Islamist. These elements are not politically active, otherwise those at the top would have purged them.

But there remains a deep-seated fear among the military elite that the historic opening could well include a cabal of colonels looking to address a long-subdued grievance against the state, particularly its foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States and Israel. The midranking officers have the benefit of having the most direct interaction — and thus the strongest links — with their military subordinates, unlike the generals who command and observe from a politically dangerous distance. With enough support behind them, midranking officers could see their superiors as one and the same as Mubarak and his regime, and could use the current state of turmoil to steer Egypt’s future.

Signs of such a coup scenario have not yet surfaced. The army is still a disciplined institution with chain of command, and many likely fear the utter chaos that would ensue should the military establishment rupture. Still, those trying to manage the crisis from the top cannot forget that they are presiding over a country with a strong precedent of junior officers leading successful coups. That precedent becomes all the more worrying when the regime itself is in a state of collapse following three decades of iron-fisted rule.

The United States, Israel and others will thus be doing what they can behind the scenes to shape the new order in Cairo, but they face limitations in trying to preserve a regional stability that has existed since 1978. The fate of Egypt lies in the ability of the military to not only manage the streets and the politicians, but also itself.

*****

Thanks to our good friends at Stratfor.com for allowing us to share their analysis of the Egyptian crisis.

Twitt

Taking Stock of WikiLeaks

STRATFOR has published an informative article about the WikiLeaks controversy that answers many of the questions ignored by those in traditional media.  Although the piece is a bit long, like other STRATFOR articles, it’s educational and worth the read.

Taking Stock of WikiLeaks

By George Friedman

Julian Assange has declared that geopolitics will be separated into pre-“Cablegate” and post-“Cablegate” eras. That was a bold claim. However, given the intense interest that the leaks produced, it is a claim that ought to be carefully considered. Several weeks have passed since the first of the diplomatic cables were released, and it is time now to address the following questions: First, how significant were the leaks? Second, how could they have happened? Third, was their release a crime? Fourth, what were their consequences? Finally, and most important, is the WikiLeaks premise that releasing government secrets is a healthy and appropriate act a tenable position?

Let’s begin by recalling that the U.S. State Department documents constituted the third wave of leaks. The first two consisted of battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. Looking back on those as a benchmark, it is difficult to argue that they revealed information that ran counter to informed opinion. I use the term “informed opinion” deliberately. For someone who was watching Iraq and Afghanistan with some care over the previous years, the leaks might have provided interesting details but they would not have provided any startling distinction between the reality that was known and what was revealed. If, on the other hand, you weren’t paying close attention, and WikiLeaks provided your first and only view of the battlefields in any detail, you might have been surprised.

Let’s consider the most controversial revelation, one of the tens of thousands of reports released on Iraq and Afghanistan and one in which a video indicated that civilians were deliberately targeted by U.S. troops. The first point, of course, is that the insurgents, in violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, did not go into combat wearing armbands or other distinctive clothing to distinguish themselves from non-combatants. The Geneva Conventions have always been adamant on this requirement because they regarded combatants operating under the cover of civilians as being responsible for putting those civilians in harm’s way, not the uniformed troops who were forced to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants when the combatants deliberately chose to act in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

It follows from this that such actions against civilians are inevitable in the kind of war Iraqi insurgents chose to wage. Obviously, this particular event has to be carefully analyzed, but in a war in which combatants blend with non-combatants, civilian casualties will occur, and so will criminal actions by uniformed troops. Hundreds of thousands of troops have fought in Iraq, and the idea that criminal acts would be absent is absurd. What is most startling is not the presence of potentially criminal actions but their scarcity. Anyone who has been close to combat or who has read histories of World War II would be struck not by the presence of war crimes but by the fact that in all the WikiLeaks files so few potential cases are found. War is controlled violence, and when controls fail — as they inevitably do — uncontrolled and potentially criminal violence occurs. However, the case cited by WikiLeaks with much fanfare did not clearly show criminal actions on the part of American troops as much as it did the consequences of the insurgents violating the Geneva Conventions.

Only those who were not paying attention to the fact that there was a war going on, or who had no understanding of war, or who wanted to pretend to be shocked for political reasons, missed two crucial points: It was the insurgents who would be held responsible for criminal acts under the Geneva Conventions for posing as non-combatants, and there were extraordinarily few cases of potential war crimes that were contained in the leaks.

The diplomatic leaks are similar. There is precious little that was revealed that was unknown to the informed observer. For example, anyone reading STRATFOR knows we have argued that it was not only the Israelis but also the Saudis that were most concerned about Iranian power and most insistent that the United States do something about it. While the media treated this as a significant revelation, it required a profound lack of understanding of the geopolitics of the Persian Gulf to regard U.S. diplomatic cables on the subject as surprising.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ statement in the leaks that the Saudis were always prepared to fight to the last American was embarrassing, in the sense that Gates would have to meet with Saudi leaders in the future and would do so with them knowing what he thinks of them. Of course, the Saudis are canny politicians and diplomats and they already knew how the American leadership regarded their demands.

There were other embarrassments also known by the informed observer. Almost anyone who worries about such things is aware that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is close to the Russians and likes to party with young women. The latest batch of leaks revealed that the American diplomatic service was also aware of this. And now Berlusconi is aware that they know of these things, which will make it hard for diplomats to pretend that they don’t know of these things. Of course, Berlusconi was aware that everyone knew of these things and clearly didn’t care, since the charges were all over Italian media.

I am not cherry-picking the Saudi or Italian memos. The consistent reality of the leaks is that they do not reveal anything new to the informed but do provide some amusement over certain comments, such as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev being called “Batman and Robin.” That’s amusing, but it isn’t significant. Amusing and interesting but almost never significant is what I come away with having read through all three waves of leaks.

Obviously, the leaks are being used by foreign politicians to their own advantage. For example, the Russians feigned shock that NATO would be reassuring the Balts about defense against a potential Russian invasion or the Poles using the leaks to claim that solid U.S.-Polish relations are an illusion. The Russians know well of NATO plans for defending the Baltic states against a hypothetical Russian invasion, and the Poles know equally well that U.S.-Polish relations are complex but far from illusory. The leaks provide an opportunity for feigning shock and anger and extracting possible minor concessions or controlling atmospherics. They do not, however, change the structure of geopolitics.

Indeed, U.S. diplomats come away looking sharp, insightful and decent. While their public statements after a conference may be vacuous, it is encouraging to see that their read of the situation and of foreign leaders is unsentimental and astute. Everything from memos on senior leaders to anonymous snippets from apparently junior diplomats not only are on target (in the sense that STRATFOR agrees with them) but are also well-written and clear. I would argue that the leaks paint a flattering picture overall of the intellect of U.S. officials without revealing, for the most part, anything particularly embarrassing.

At the same time, there were snarky and foolish remarks in some of the leaks, particularly personal comments about leaders and sometimes their families that were unnecessarily offensive. Some of these will damage diplomatic careers, most generated a good deal of personal tension and none of their authors will likely return to the countries in which they served. Much was indeed unprofessional, but the task of a diplomat is to provide a sense of place in its smallest details, and none expect their observations ever to be seen by the wrong people. Nor do nations ever shift geopolitical course over such insults, not in the long run. These personal insults were by far the most significant embarrassments to be found in the latest release. Personal tension is not, however, international tension.

This raises the question of why diplomats can’t always simply state their minds rather than publicly mouth preposterous platitudes. It could be as simple as this: My son was a terrible pianist. He completely lacked talent. After his recitals at age 10, I would pretend to be enthralled. He knew he was awful and he knew I knew he was awful, but it was appropriate that I not admit what I knew. It is called politeness and sometimes affection. There is rarely affection among nations, but politeness calls for behaving differently when a person is in the company of certain other people than when that person is with colleagues talking about those people. This is the simplest of human rules. Not admitting what you know about others is the foundation of civilization. The same is true among diplomats and nations.

And in the end, this is all I found in the latest WikiLeaks release: a great deal of information about people who aren’t American that others certainly knew and were aware that the Americans knew, and now they have all seen it in writing. It would take someone who truly doesn’t understand how geopolitics really works to think that this would make a difference. Some diplomats may wind up in other postings, and perhaps some careers will be ended. But the idea that this would somehow change the geopolitics of our time is really hard to fathom. I have yet to see Assange point to something so significant that it would justify his claim. It may well be that the United States is hiding secrets that would reveal it to be monstrous. If so, it is not to be found in what has been released so far.

There is, of course, the question of whether states should hold secrets, which is at the root of the WikiLeaks issue. Assange claims that by revealing these secrets WikiLeaks is doing a service. His ultimate maxim, as he has said on several occasions, is that if money and resources are being spent on keeping something secret, then the reasons must be insidious. Nations have secrets for many reasons, from protecting a military or intelligence advantage to seeking some advantage in negotiations to, at times, hiding nefarious plans. But it is difficult to imagine a state — or a business or a church — acting without confidentiality. Imagine that everything you wrote and said in an attempt to figure out a problem was made public? Every stupid idea that you discarded or clueless comment you expressed would now be pinned on you. But more than that, when you argue that nations should engage in diplomacy rather than war, taking away privacy makes diplomacy impossible. If what you really think of the guy on the other side of the table is made public, how can diplomacy work?

This is the contradiction at the heart of the WikiLeaks project. Given what I have read Assange saying, he seems to me to be an opponent of war and a supporter of peace. Yet what he did in leaking these documents, if the leaking did anything at all, is make diplomacy more difficult. It is not that it will lead to war by any means; it is simply that one cannot advocate negotiations and then demand that negotiators be denied confidentiality in which to conduct their negotiations. No business could do that, nor could any other institution. Note how vigorously WikiLeaks hides the inner workings of its own organization, from how it is funded to the people it employs.

Assange’s claims are made even more interesting in terms of his “thermonuclear” threat. Apparently there are massive files that will be revealed if any harm comes to him. Implicit is the idea that they will not be revealed if he is unharmed — otherwise the threat makes no sense. So, Assange’s position is that he has secrets and will keep them secret if he is not harmed. I regard this as a perfectly reasonable and plausible position. One of the best uses for secrets is to control what the other side does to you. So Assange is absolutely committed to revealing the truth unless it serves his interests not to, in which case the public has no need to know.

It is difficult to see what harm the leaks have done, beyond embarrassment. It is also difficult to understand why WikiLeaks thinks it has changed history or why Assange lacks a sufficient sense of irony not to see the contradiction between his position on openness and his willingness to keep secrets when they benefit him. But there is also something important here, which is how this all was leaked in the first place.

To begin that explanation, we have to go back to 9/11 and the feeling in its aftermath that the failure of various government entities to share information contributed to the disaster. The answer was to share information so that intelligence analysts could draw intelligence from all sources in order to connect the dots. Intelligence organizations hate sharing information because it makes vast amounts of information vulnerable. Compartmentalization makes it hard to connect dots, but it also makes it harder to have a WikiLeaks release. The tension between intelligence and security is eternal, and there will never be a clear solution.

The real issue is who had access to this mass of files and what controls were put on them. Did the IT department track all external drives or e-mails? One of the reasons to be casual is that this was information that was classified secret and below, with the vast majority being at the confidential, no-foreign-distribution level. This information was not considered highly sensitive by the U.S. government. Based on the latest trove, it is hard to figure out how the U.S. government decides to classify material. But it has to be remembered that given their level of classification these files did not have the highest security around them because they were not seen as highly sensitive.

Still, a crime occurred. According to the case of Daniel Ellsberg, who gave a copy of the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam to a New York Times reporter, it is a crime for someone with a security clearance to provide classified material for publication but not a crime for a publisher to publish it, or so it has become practice since the Ellsberg case. Legal experts can debate the nuances, but this has been the practice for almost 40 years. The bright line is whether the publisher in any way encouraged or participated in either the theft of the information or in having it passed on to him. In the Ellsberg case, he handed it to reporters without them even knowing what it was. Assange has been insisting that he was the passive recipient of information that he had nothing to do with securing.

Now it is interesting whether the sheer existence of WikiLeaks constituted encouragement or conspiracy with anyone willing to pass on classified information to him. But more interesting by far is the sequence of events that led a U.S. Army private first class not only to secure the material but to know where to send it and how to get it there. If Pfc. Bradley Manning conceived and executed the theft by himself, and gave the information to WikiLeaks unprompted, Assange is clear. But anyone who assisted Manning or encouraged him is probably guilty of conspiracy, and if Assange knew what was being done, he is probably guilty, too. There was talk about some people at MIT helping Manning. Unscrambling the sequence is what the Justice Department is undoubtedly doing now. Assange cannot be guilty of treason, since he isn’t a U.S. citizen. But he could be guilty of espionage. His best defense will be that he can’t be guilty of espionage because the material that was stolen was so trivial.

I have no idea whether or when he got involved in the acquisition of the material. I do know — given the material leaked so far — that there is little beyond minor embarrassments contained within it. Therefore, Assange’s claim that geopolitics has changed is as false as it is bold. Whether he committed any crime, including rape, is something I have no idea about. What he is clearly guilty of is hyperbole. But contrary to what he intended, he did do a service to the United States. New controls will be placed on the kind of low-grade material he published. Secretary of Defense Gates made the following point on this:

“Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The fact is, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us, and not because they believe we can keep secrets. Many governments — some governments — deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, the indispensable nation.

“Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”

I don’t like to give anyone else the final word, but in this case Robert Gates’ view is definitive. One can pretend that WikiLeaks has redefined geopolitics, but it hasn’t come close.

Taking Stock of WikiLeaks is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Twitt