Using Water As A Weapon Of War

Herschel Smith · 03 Aug 2014 · 9 Comments

Next City: In a war, anything can be a weapon. In a particularly ruthless war, such as the conflict that has been raging in Syria for more than three years, those weapons are often turned against civilians, making any semblance of normal life impossible. Such is the case, experts say, with the way the nation’s water supply is being manipulated to inflict suffering on the population. According to an article posted by Chatham House, a London-based independent policy institute, water…… [read more]

Gates Indicts NATO While U.S. Stands in the Dock

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 4 months ago

A fascinating speech by outgoing Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, on June 10 in Berlin at the Security and Defense Agenda think tank.

From this AP article:

BRUSSELS (AP) – America’s military alliance with Europe – the cornerstone of U.S. security policy for six decades – faces a “dim, if not dismal” future, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday in a blunt valedictory address.

In his final policy speech as Pentagon chief, Gates questioned the viability of NATO, saying its members’ penny-pinching and lack of political will could hasten the end of U.S. support. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 as a U.S.-led bulwark against Soviet aggression, but in the post-Cold War era it has struggled to find a purpose.

“Future U.S. political leaders – those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost,” he told a European think tank on the final day of an 11-day overseas journey.

The Washington Post summarized it this way:

BERLIN — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates rebuked some of America’s staunchest allies Friday, saying the United States has a “dwindling appetite” to serve as the heavyweight partner in the military order that has underpinned the U.S. relationship with Europe since the end of World War II.

In an unusually stinging speech, made on his valedictory visit to Europe before he retires at the end of the month, Gates condemned European defense cuts and said the United States is tired of engaging in combat missions for those who “don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”

“The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress, and in the American body politic writ large, to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources … to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,” he said in an address to a think tank in Brussels.

There are several points worth noting in Gates’ speech. The most obvious one is aptly noted in both articles: European members of NATO have been starving their defense budgets for years and it is finally becoming painfully, no, embarrassingly clear to everyone by the Afghanistan and Libya campaigns. The AP story notes the contrast between the “mightiest military alliance in history” and the patent failure of this alliance to bring about any kind of victory against a third-rate, tin-pot dictator in Libya:

To illustrate his concerns about Europe’s lack of appetite for defense, Gates noted the difficulty NATO has encountered in carrying out an air campaign in Libya.

“The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference,” he said.

Is it any wonder that the Taliban have adopted a strategy of attrition? The only, credible military force in the field seems to be the U.S., the Canadians and the British and the latter, two have already indicated that they will be pulling out of Afghanistan entirely in the near future.

Add to this the assessment by Gates that, while all NATO member countries voted in favor of intervention in Libya, fewer than half those members have made any contribution toward the effort.

On a political level, the problem of alliance purpose in Libya is even more troubling, he said.

“While every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission,” he said. “Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can’t. The military capabilities simply aren’t there.”

Afghanistan is another example of NATO falling short despite a determined effort, Gates said.

He recalled the history of NATO’s involvement in the Afghan war – and the mistaken impression some allied governments held of what it would require of them.

“I suspect many allies assumed that the mission would be primarily peacekeeping, reconstruction and development assistance – more akin to the Balkans,” he said, referring to NATO peacekeeping efforts there since the late 1990s. “Instead, NATO found itself in a tough fight against a determined and resurgent Taliban returning in force from its sanctuaries in Pakistan.”

So, to sum up what we have learned from Secretary Gates, the chasm between the military and political capabilities of the U.S. and its NATO allies has become so large that, for all practical purposes, NATO has become a toothless organization that cannot even fight a meager enemy like Qaddafi for any length of time without substantial help from the U.S. and cannot be counted on to supply meaningful levels of troops in hot zones like Afghanistan. And despite the strong punch delivered by Gates, at least some in Europe, according to The Washington Post are glad that it is being delivered:

[Jonathan]Eyal, of London’s Royal United Services Institute, said the speech would be “very welcome” in Britain and France, however, because “privately this is what officials have articulated for years.” Gates “identified the key problem, which remains Germany,” he said. “You can argue that there are many countries that do not contribute their fair share, but most of the others don’t matter, and smaller ones would likely fall into line if Germany did.”

Eyal said: “It’s a shame politicians say what they think only when they are about to depart, but the Europeans needed this cold shower, and if it’s up to Gates to administer it, so be it.”

The speech amounted to “an outburst of frustration that is bigger than bottom line of defense cuts,” he said. “It’s about the lethargic way the Europeans walk on the world stage,” lacking a sense of urgency and thinking that “at the end of the day the Americans will always be there and do Europe’s bidding.”

But the speech “hasn’t caused a great rift,” Eyal said. “Deep down, there is no one in Europe that doesn’t think that what Gates said is absolutely the truth. No one argues he’s exaggerating problem. It’s not a rift. It’s worse. It’s an act of indifference.” The missing reaction in Europe, he said, is to reconsider burden-sharing and “how the Europeans can contribute more to the common pot.”

All this is very well and needed to be said. But I cannot help but speculate that perhaps Gates had more than just the Europeans in mind when he made these statements.

Could it be that Gates was placing a shot across the bow of those in the U.S. (both in and outside of the Obama Administration) calling for reductions in U.S. military spending? Looking at Gates’ remarks as a rebuke to U.S. policymakers makes equal sense.

How did Europe become so militarily defenseless? It happened as an irresistible, default choice when European capitals opted for heavy social spending at a time of declining birthrates and economic productivity.

This is the very same choice that is facing the U.S. today. The U.S. Congress is at this very moment locked in a bitter struggle against an inescapable reality: there is simply not enough money coming into the U.S. Treasury to fund the present, enormous welfare entitlements and a robust military. The decision must be made and it must be made now to either gut our military or seriously reform the welfare state as we know it. In all likelihood, given the rate at which the budget deficit is growing (due in large part to a terrible compromise on the 2011 Budget and less-than-expected revenues from a stalling economy), the markets and foreign lenders will not be content to wait until the 2012 elections for a responsible plan to control the deficit.

So, whatever satisfaction we get, whatever approval we may have for Secretary Gates’ jabs at NATO members for their pathetic military budgets, the U.S. seems to be taking the very same road as Europe. There are already too many in Congress and in the political class class who gladly concede that the Defense budget should be subjected to deep cuts in order to preserve our welfare state. Here is a typical example from Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Ron Paul. While this is expected from Democrats, even “conservatives” have been making similar noises. See this piece on Haley Barbour for example.

This is not to say that any cuts to the Defense budget are out of the question. The Captain’s Journal has long advocated smarter spending, as with the proposed, new landing craft for the Marines. Savings can certainly be found in better management and prioritizing. In light of Gates’ speech, it is worth re-examining the costs of keeping troops stationed in Europe versus the benefits of having troops pre-deployed close to the Middle East and to Russia. But, in the end, these savings will never amount to enough to reduce the Federal deficit in any meaningful way or balance the Federal budget.

The only way to do that is to either gut Defense or gut Entitlements.

I do not believe that the U.S. can make moderate cuts to both for the simple reason that the trajectory of Entitlement spending is such that it will eat up the entire Federal tax revenues by 2049. As shown in this chart from The Heritage Foundation (click to enlarge):

The U.S. faces now the very same choices that the Europeans faced some 50 years ago: guns or butter; continue funding social spending or provide for a credible military. We simply cannot do both and, as noted above, it is no longer possible to delay the decision. If we elect to cut Defense spending (and it will mean significant cuts) there should be no illusion about the results. We will soon be in the same position as Britain and France, sharing aircraft carriers; we will be unable to protect any national interest beyond our borders for any real length of time; we will be consigned to watching as thugs and fanatics remake the world into one of their liking. And you can be sure that such a world will not be to our liking. Unlike the Europeans, however, there will be no United States to come to the rescue.

The only answer, in the end, is to radically alter the welfare society that we have become.   Even if we were to gut Defense spending, that would be merely a sacrificial lamb to the ever-growing appetite of entitlements.  For proof we need only look to Europe to see that their decades of sacrificing Defense for social benefits has left them now facing the stark reality that there is nothing left to cut except the social spending.  But any attempt to do so results in riots and anarchy by a people too long accustomed to pampering and privilege.    God forbid that the U.S. reaches that stage of decay.
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Obama’s April 13 Speech: No We Won’t!

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 5 months ago

The reaction to President Obama’s April 13 speech at George Washington University has been, predictably, partisan and all over the map.

Democrats have hailed it as “real leadership” and Republicans have denounced it as harsh and misleading.

After reading the text of the speech, I have an altogether different reaction.  I wonder if any of you share it.

Obama’s speech leaves me with a profound sense of loss.

It is a sense of deep disbelief, that we, as a nation, could have drifted so far from our original moorings that we are reduced to this kind of speech.   That feeling is deepened by the events of  early April where the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, faced with a 2011 Budget they inherited from a reckless Democrat-controlled Congress that is on course to spend more than $1.7 trillion beyond revenues, did not have the nerve to push for more than a pittance in spending reductions.

Even the budget proposal put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan (R- OH) is no, real encouragement.  It takes such small steps over such a long period of time and does nothing to address the looming budget killer– Social Security– that it requires an impossible leap of faith to believe that intervening elections will not derail even this modest attempt at fiscal sanity.

Now we are being told that the national debt limit must— MUST!– be raised again just one year after it was raised to $14.294 trillion.

A friend recently pointed me to an opinion piece by David Brooks in The New York Times that is notable only for its inane quality.  I include it here as just a sample of how utterly clueless the State-run Media seem to be about current events.

Brooks’ main point is that, while everything may look much the same in today’s political landscape as it has since the 1980′s, his clairvoyance is telling him that some sort of change is coming:

If you dive deeper into the polling, you see the country is not mobilized by this sense of crisis but immobilized by it. Raising taxes on the rich is popular, but nearly every other measure that might be taken to address the fiscal crisis is deeply unpopular. Sixty-three percent of Americans oppose raising the debt ceiling; similar majorities oppose measures to make that sort of thing unnecessary.

There is a negativity bias in the country, especially among political independents and people earning between $30,000 and $75,000 (who have become extremely gloomy). It is hard to rally majorities behind immigration, energy or tax reform.

At some point something is going to happen to topple the political platform — maybe a debt crisis, maybe when China passes the United States as the world’s largest economy, perhaps as early as 2016. At that point, we could see changes that are unimaginable today.

New political forces will emerge from the outside or the inside. A semi-crackpot outsider like Donald Trump could storm the gates and achieve astonishing political stature. Alternatively, insiders like the Simpson-Bowles commission or the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of Six” could assert authority and recreate a strong centrist political establishment, such as the nation enjoyed in the 1950s.

Neither seems likely now. But in these circumstances, rule out nothing.

Maybe it is just the cozy, isolated, elitist cocoon that Brooks inhabits, but it is fairly clear that the “new political forces” that Brooks is searching for have been on exhibition since 2009: the Tea Party movement.   How did Brooks miss the entire 2010 elections?  The enormous change in the House and even the Senate could not have slipped Brooks’ notice, could it?

And what about the Union Mobs in Madison, Wisconsin, trying to intimidate duly elected officials from carrying out their duties (with the direct and coordinated aid of Democrat “flee-bagger” lawmakers who hid out in Illinois)?

I am in my mid-forties, so my direct recollection of U.S. history prior to the early 1970′s is rather limited, but does anyone remember a time when the Federal government was so hamstrung and a President so disconnected from reality?

Where does this lead us?  The U.S. is on a collision course with the proverbial, economic iceberg and what passes for leadership at the moment is debating whether our final meal should be in the dining room or out on the ship deck.

The G.O.P. And the Federal Budget: Piecemeal Approach Is The Key

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 7 months ago

Peter Ferrara has an opinion piece at Pajamas Media that urges the Republican leadership in the House to “get over” their fear of a government shutdown and get on with meaningful cuts to the budget.  Ferrara urges Rep. John Boehner:

The Republican leadership is losing their own base by displaying too much of a ready willingness to compromise, while Obama and the Democrats are not losing any support from their spending addicted political machine. The Republicans need to go on the offensive to reverse this political dynamic.

They must pass a continuing resolution (CR) for the rest of this fiscal year, which goes to September 30, with at least their original $100 billion in budget cuts for the year. No more 2 or 3 week extensions. Then fan out across the country and take their case to the people

Ferrara sees the fight playing out in Republicans’ favor:

That budget needs to inspire the grassroots by taking spending for every budget line item, not just discretionary spending, back to 2007 budget levels, except for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and of course interest on the national debt. That was just 4 years ago and America survived just fine then at those levels of federal spending. That would save roughly $500 billion in year one, and provide the foundation for balancing the entire budget within a reasonable time. The House should pass appropriations bills to implement this budget, and then again fan out across the country and take its case to the people.

This would frame the issue in the Republicans’ favor, for to resist them President Obama, Harry Reid, and the rest of the Democrats would have to publicly fight for higher federal spending, deficits, and debt. The Tea Party would then have its target clearly exposed.

If the Democrats can’t get their act together to pass a reasonable CR for this year and appropriations bills for next year that put the federal budget on a path to balance within a reasonable time, then the government can just shut down and stay shut down until the election, when the people can decide. There are big virtues to shutting the Obama administration down until the election. No funding for the EPA to implement cap and trade by regulation. No funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement ObamaCare. ObamaCare implementation funding may have been buried in the ObamaCare bill itself. But without continuing funding to keep the administrative offices open at HHS and elsewhere, there will be no one functioning to carry the implementation out.

In a shutdown impasse, House Republicans can continue to pass CRs and appropriations bills to fund the government, and demand to know why the Democrats won’t do their job and fund essential government services. They can pass bills to fund particular sensitive parts of the government. One bill can fund the federal courts. Another bill can fund the Social Security Administration.

While there is much to recommend Ferrara’s approach, particularly with regards to favoring a bold approach in the face of fiscal crisis, there is still plenty of opportunity for the Democrats to continue their intransigence by insisting that they cannot vote for a bill that cuts this vital program or fails to fund that urgently-needed priority.   So long as the Republicans present complete budgets to the Democrats, the Democrats can simply pick them apart as mean-spirited, devastating to the poor and disadvantaged, etc…  Worse, Ferrara’s approach still allows Democrats to claim that the Republicans are forcing a government shutdown by insisting on “draconian” cuts that will hurt the common person.

But Ferrara may have, unintentionally, hit on the key to drastically reducing the size and expense of the federal government.   In fact, it is a better and smarter way, politically, to achieve significant reductions in spending and put the big-spenders in D.C. on the defensive.

Republicans in the House need to fund the federal government in a completely upside-down manner, and they need to do this not only for 2011 but also for 2012 and, perhaps, beyond until some mechanism is put into place that can reliably shrink the federal government.   The solution is to stop funding the government with comprehensive, unitary budgets and, instead, as Ferrara alludes to as a sort of desperate measure, fund the government in piecemeal fashion with bills that fund specific government departments or activities.

As things stand, the Republicans in the House have been hitting a brick wall when it comes to passing a comprehensive, 2011 budget.   As Ferrara well notes, this was the work of the previous Congress run by Nancy Pelosi and they failed miserably despite having majorities in both chambers and the White House.   Whether one believes that a government shutdown is disastrous or not, it is clear that the GOP approach so far is not going to achieve any serious reductions in the 2011 budget.   Ferrara cites the horrific deficit numbers, so I will not repeat them here.   The GOP House has been forced to agree to temporary, continuing resolutions to keep the government funded on an ad hoc basis.

Instead, Boehner should flip the funding process on its head and abandon the comprehensive approach.  Rather than presenting one, unitary budget with spending cuts reflected in it, Boehner should present to the floor of the House a whole series of individual bills that fund only those essential functions of government that must be funded.  And the funding bills should be presented in order of political priority.

So, for example, the first funding bill to come up would be funding for Social Security for the balance of the 2011 budget year.  Let the Democrats in the Senate try to explain to the public why they are voting against Social Security.   They will cave in a heartbeat.  Just as liberal Senators, in the end, caved in on voting for military funding for the Iraq war in 2007, although they denounced the war as a lost cause and a crime against humanity, they knew that they could not face re-election having voted to deny our soldiers and marines the materiel needed in the midst of combat.  Same thing applies here.

Boehner and the majority in the House would continue to line up single funding bills in similar fashion:  for the Defense Department, for Medicare, for Veterans Affairs, for payment of interest on the national debt — there goes that favorite argument about raising the debt ceiling.

In short, this is a historic opportunity for the GOP to fund only those federal activities that are clearly necessary and Constitutionally prescribed.

Everything else never gets a vote.

The Department of Education?  No funding bill.  Note how this completely changes the debate.  According to the Department of Education’s own website, the Department oversees a budget of slightly more than $69 Billion.  Presumably this includes not only the cost of personnel but also programs such as the popular Pell Grant.   According to Higher Ed Watch the Pell Grant program grew from $14 Billion in 2008 to over $40 Billion for 2011.   If the GOP House took a piecemeal approach to government funding, it could easily introduce a bill that would fund the Pell Grant program at the 2008 levels and package it as a block grant of sorts to the States for each State to administer, saving the costs of federal administration.

Notice how completely different this equation is from a budgeting approach that automatically includes the Department of Education within an overall budget but seeks to cut its funding down to $14 Billion.   It effectively de-couples those who want an ever-larger budget for the Department of Education from those who do not care as much about education but strongly resist any cuts to the Federal Communications Commission.   It effectively splits the forces of the big-spenders.

Even better, piecemeal budgeting allows the House to specifically fund those programs that it finds appropriate and necessary without funding programs that are wasteful, better left to the States or are contrary to Americans’ values and beliefs.   The funding bill can specifically tie release of the funds to only specific activities or programs.

And because the most politically sensitive issues are voted on and approved first, the big spenders are left with fewer and fewer effective funding issues to demagogue.   For instance, once the funding has been set for Social Security, Medicare, Defense, the Courts and other, similar services considered essential, how effective will it be for the big spenders to howl about the House’s refusal to introduce a bill that would renew the $2.4 Million funding to New York state for, “Determining the connectivity among and fine-scale habitat use within Atlantic sturgeon aggregation areas in the Mid-Atlantic Bight: Implications for gear restricted management areas to reduce bycatch.”

Think of this approach as an aquarium tank full of electric eels.   So long as the tank is full of water, the eels can multiply the effect of their sting.  But by passing appropriation bills individually, the water in the tank is steadily drained out.   By the time the major spending bills are passed there are only the puddles of water left along with the eels harmlessly writhing on the floor.

Perhaps the biggest problem all along has been the method used to fund the federal government.  So long as funding is done in large, amorphous chunks, billions of dollars of waste and unneeded programs can slip through and no one is willing to sink the entire budget for the sake of cutting funding for what amounts on an individual level to small amounts.   But once the spending is broken down into individual and more manageable amounts, it is an entirely different matter.

Another huge benefit of the piecemeal approach to funding is where it leaves Senate Democrats who form the majority.   With the House churning out spending bills by the dozen and sending them up to the Senate for approval, the burden of keeping essential government functions instantly passes to the Senate.   If Harry Reid somehow refuses or fails to schedule the bills for a vote or cannot get the votes to pass the bills, then it will be Reid who has caused a shutdown of that government agency.   It is true that Reid could try to modify the bill and call for a committee to reconcile the two bills, but it will be a steep uphill climb for the Democrats to argue in this economic atmosphere that there must be more spending or they will shut down Social Security completely.   The American people are clearly in the mood for fiscal restraint and reduced spending.   Republicans should welcome any opportunity that paints them as the responsible cost-cutter versus Democrat big spenders.

It is time for Rep. Boehner and the House to get to work.   The present Continuing Resolution expires on April 8th.   Between  now and then, the House can vote to fund the government but only those functions and departments which are deemed essential or allow Democrats to demagogue.   Everything else must rise or fall on its merits and only after severe scrutiny.

The worst thing that could happen is the House democrats take the familiar approach and hide out in Illinois until the adults in Congress finish up the job properly.   That’s tough luck for Illinois, but, then again, Illinois is a far, far cry from the land of Lincoln.   Perhaps they should change the state motto to “Refuge of Scoundrels.”

Help Wanted Fixing Budget Deficit (Spineless Need Not Apply)

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 8 months ago

Although this information has been out since last year, in view of the $1.5 Trillion Deficit for 2011 projected by the Congressional Budget Office, it is well worth taking another look at this, updated report from The Cato Institute (and the accompanying video), titled, “New CBO Numbers Re-Confirm that Balancing the Budget Is Simple with Modest Fiscal Restraint.”

(Hat tip to Instapundit).

Here is the money quote:

Many of the politicians in Washington, including President Obama during his State of the Union address, piously tell us that there is no way to balance the budget without tax increases. Trying to get rid of red ink without higher taxes, they tell us, would require “savage” and “draconian” budget cuts.

The Congressional Budget Office has just released its 10-year projections for the budget, so I crunched the numbers to determine what it would take to balance the budget without tax hikes. Much to nobody’s surprise, the politicians are not telling the truth…

The chart below shows that revenues are expected to grow (because of factors such as inflation, more population, and economic expansion) by more than 7 percent each year. Balancing the budget is simple so long as politicians increase spending at a slower rate. If they freeze the budget, we almost balance the budget by 2017. If federal spending is capped so it grows 1 percent each year, the budget is balanced in 2019. And if the crowd in Washington can limit spending growth to about 2 percent each year, red ink almost disappears in just 10 years.

When was the last time that our political leaders found the spine to balance the budget?

… I also examined how we balanced the budget in the 1990s and found that spending restraint was the key. The combination of a GOP Congress and Bill Clinton in the White House led to a four-year period of government spending growing by an average of just 2.9 percent each year.

Mr. Mitchell perhaps gives Bill Clinton and the GOP Congress too much credit.  Recall that the 1990′s involved huge cuts to the Defense budget (which came back to haunt us later).  The savings in Defense outlays was plowed into all sorts of domestic goodies for both Clinton and Congressional constituencies, but the fact remains that the politicians somehow managed to keep overall spending down even in the midst of increasing revenues from a booming economy.

The lesson seems clear:  get the Federal budget in line with revenues and start reducing the overall, Federal debt.   This seems to be experience elsewhere in the world:

We also have international evidence showing that spending restraint – not higher taxes – is the key to balancing the budget. New Zealand got rid of a big budget deficit in the 1990s with a five-year spending freeze. Canada also got rid of red ink that decade with a five-year period where spending grew by an average of only 1 percent per year. And Ireland slashed its deficit in the late 1980s by 10 percentage points of GDP with a four-year spending freeze.

No wonder international bureaucracies such as the International Monetary fund and European Central Bank are producing research showing that spending discipline is the right approach.

As Mr. Mitchell’s article notes, fixing the deficit is not a complicated matter.  It simply requires our elected leaders to say no to the ever-growing wish lists of the Left and the President.

Hopefully the new Congress is up to the task.


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