A Day For Those Who Served

Power Day:  59th Ordnance Brigade recognizes achievement

Memorial Day comes very early this year, but for a grateful nation it is never too early to appreciate those who have served on behalf of their country.  On this day, we take time to remember the selfless men and women who have fallen, and to recognize those who are serving yet today.  We say thank you to the soldiers and sailors, to the Marines, the Air Force pilots, and the Coast Guard captains, and — because it is the 21st century, after all — to the members of the newest branch of the U.S. military, to the members of the U.S. Space Force.

Thank you for all you have done and are doing to keep our nation safe and strong!

The U.S. Space Force

Earlier this week, Congress approved the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.  Among its other provisions, the legislation has officially created the U.S. Space Force, which will become the sixth branch of the U.S. military — after the Navy, Army, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force.

spaceforce1_1533570559Although the legislation authorizes the creation of the U.S. Space Force, it does so in a cautious way.  The U.S.S.F. will initially be created under the Department of the Air Force, and it won’t be able to start hiring new service members.  Instead, to reduce redundancy and maximize efficiency, no new “billets” are authorized, which means that the U.S.S.F. will use existing personnel from the Air Force Space Command to staff the new branch.  That means that, at least initially, the U.S.S.F. will have a very strong Air Force feel to it.  During its first year, the Space Force will establish a headquarters, and the President is empowered to appoint a Chief of Space Operations, who will report to the Secretary of the Air Force and be a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

What, exactly, will the U.S. Space Force do?  The legislation identifies its core functions as follows:  “protect the interests of the United States in space; deter aggression in, from, and to space; and conduct space operations.”  That’s a pretty broad mission.  You can read one recently retired Air Force General’s view of the case for the Space Force, the need to seize the “high ground” of space, and the need to counter actions by the Chinese government in space, here.  His remarks also indicated that significant new technology has already been developed, and is currently being developed, that will help the U.S.S.F. fulfill its broad mission.  We can expect to see some advances in satellites, spacecraft, communications, space transportation, robotics, and life support technologies, among others, as the U.S.S.F. gets underway in earnest.  And don’t be surprised to see contracts awarded to SpaceX and other private space technology and exploration companies.

When the creation of the U.S.S.F. was first suggested, some people made fun of it as a silly Buck Rogers adventure, and others bemoaned the official militarization of space as inconsistent with the notion of space as the peaceful final frontier.   Congress, however, clearly saw a strategic need for a new branch of the service to focus on space, and the legislation approving the creation of the Space Force passed by overwhelming, bipartisan majorities.  The U.S. Space Force is here, and it signals a new era in the “Space Race.”  Exactly what that new era will look like will be sketched out in the next few years.

Old Ironsides Sets Sail

Tomorrow the USS Constitution — America’s oldest still-commissioned warship, and the world’s oldest commissioned ship that is still afloat — sets sail for only the second time in more than 130 years.

The Constitution will leave Boston Harbor tomorrow for a 10-minute deep water cruise under the power of the sails on its towering masts.  Its tour will commemorate the 200th anniversary of its famous battle against the British ship HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812.  In that battle, the Guerriere‘s cannonballs bounced harmlessly off the Constitution‘s sturdy oak hull, causing a sailor to exclaim that the ship’s sides were “made of iron” — and giving the Constitution her great nickname, Old Ironsides.  The Guerriere eventually surrendered to the American ship, shocking the British press and giving American morale a much-needed boost.

Old Ironsides was launched in 1797, sailed the high seas during the Napoleonic period, fought the Barbary pirates, and defeated all four British ships it encountered during the War of 1812.  The ship continued to sail under the American flag until 1855, when it was taken out of active duty, undefeated.  Since 1881, the USS Constitution has sailed the ocean seas under its own power only once — in 1997, on the 200th anniversary of its launching.  Tomorrow, Old Ironsides sails again.

Osama’s Porn Stash

Could Osama bin Laden have been a secret porn freak — in addition to being one of the world’s most notorious terrorists?

Reuters is reporting that the U.S. Navy Seal raid on bin Laden’s compound not only produced a dead Osama, it also uncovered a cache of pornography.  The article quotes officials as saying that the stash consisted of “modern, electronically recorded video” and “is fairly extensive.”  The officials said they do not know whether bin Laden himself acquired or watched the porn, which may have been delivered by couriers.  There also was no information about what kind of pornography was involved — which could be instructive.  Was it Playboy-type T&A stuff or at the more violent, hard-core end of the pornography spectrum?

Interestingly, the American officials are quoted as saying that, in our investigations of other Islamic militants, it is not uncommon to find pornography.  What does that tell you about our terrorist foes?

Don’t Disclose The Photos

Normally I am a proponent of full disclosure of government documents, government meetings, and government decisions. In the case of the bin Laden death photos, however, I agree with the President that the prudent course is to not release them to the press and public.

I don’t agree with the President that releasing the photos would be like “spiking the football.”  It is a close question, and I don’t think the people who favor of disclosure (or most of them, anyway) are doing so because they want to rub bin Laden’s death in the noses of terrorists and al Qaeda sympathizers.  Instead, the three main pro-disclosure arguments seem to be that (1) doing so will avoid conspiracy theories about the fact of bin Laden’s death, (2) disclosure favors legitimate interests in transparency (and the photos are sure to be leaked eventually), and (3) there is no reason to treat bin Laden differently from mobsters who were gunned down and whose gruesome death photos have long been part of the public record.

I understand these reasons, but I don’t agree with them.  There is no need to release the photos to avoid conspiracy theories.  Members of bin Laden’s family have confirmed that he was shot and killed.  We’re kidding ourselves if we think releasing the photos is going to prevent nuts from developing nutty scenarios; they will just claim the photos were Photoshopped or use the photos to spin some other web of conspiracy.  Nor should the call for transparency trump everything else; the government has a legitimate interest in keeping some things secret. And bin Laden’s situation is different from that of a gangster — the St. Valentine’s Day massacre didn’t pose a risk of inflaming the sensibilities of millions of people in faraway parts of the world where American soldiers are currently engaged in hostile operations.

The short of it is, we don’t need to release the photos, and there are reasons of military advantage and good taste not to do so.  It is not as if the government hasn’t disclosed the facts of bin Laden’s death — it is just withholding one particularly gruesome piece of the record in the interests of decency.  Years from now, perhaps, when the furor has died down and soldiers are out of harm’s way, the photos can make their way into the public record.

Au Revoir, Osama

UJ and I don’t agree on a lot politically, but we agree that the news that U.S. special forces killed Osama bin Laden is very good news, inceed.  Osama bin Laden was a bloodthirsty zealot whose creation of al Qaeda and terrorist machinations caused thousands of innocent people to lose their lives on September 11, 2001.  He deserved to die to pay for his heinous act, and the fact that he was finally caught and killed means that justice has been served.

I give credit to President Obama and the U.S. military and intelligence forces who never wavered in their hunt for bin Laden.  The American political system often seems broken, but it says something positive that we kept our focus on bin Laden through two different administrations — one Republican, one Democrat — over a ten-year period.  It is nice to know that Americans can still stick to important goals and see them through to completion.

And I don’t want to hear right now about what this means for the 2012 presidential campaign, or why bin Laden was able to hide in the capital of Pakistan, or whether the administration should have announced the news differently, or any other second-guessing or political spinning arising from the death of bin Laden.  For now, let’s just quietly appreciate the fact that a horrible mass murderer has finally gone to his just reward.

The Man, The Mission, And The Message

Kish and I listened to President Obama’s speech tonight about the United States’ participation in the international coalition efforts in Libya.  I am glad that he decided to speak to the American people about the nature and scope of the United States’ mission in Libya, because I think Presidents have a responsibility give the American people an explanation whenever they determine that military force is necessary.

I say this not because I think people should second-guess the President’s reasons for action — in my view, performing the kind of complex foreign policy balancing that tonight’s speech described is one of the reasons why we elect a President in the first place — but because I agree with the President that the decision to use military force is one of the most momentous decisions any President can make.  The sons and daughters of Americans are put at risk whenever the United States military is summoned to duty, and it is not unfair to require a President to explain why that risk is necessary.  Indeed, if a President were unable to bring himself to address the nation to provide such an explanation, that probably would indicate that the decision was not a well-reasoned one.

I do not understand why President Obama delayed in providing his explanation about Libya.  Perhaps he wanted to wait until he could announce a date certain for the hand-off of responsibility to NATO forces, or until the military situation was clarified.  In any case, I am relieved that he has now spoken to the nation and described the basis for his decision.  Having that explanation, all Americans now can decide whether we agree with the President’s reasoning and can draw our own conclusions.  That is how democracy should work.


The Long Overdue Demise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Yesterday President Obama signed into law the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.  I commend the President and the Congress for taking an action that was inevitable, and long overdue.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a stupid policy from the beginning, the kind of awkward “compromise” that politicians devise and view as a real accomplishment and that rational people find mystifying.  DADT confirmed that being gay was not an impediment to serving with valor and distinction in the American armed forces.  (Did anyone really think it was, or would be?)  But gay Americans who wanted to serve their country had to do so at a price not paid by heterosexual Americans.  They had to disclaim a fundamental part of themselves and keep it secret from their comrades, upon pain of being drummed out of the service.  The patriotic gay Americans who were willing to pay that price are true heroes who should be recognized as such.

The contradictions of DADT made is inevitable that it would not last.  Still, someone had to take that step.  More so than the “stimulus” legislation or the “health care reform” initiative, I think the repeal of DADT will be viewed by history as a signature accomplishment of the Obama Administration — one which eliminates an irrational policy and recognizes that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong.  We should also be grateful that the policy was ended by the legislative and executive branches, and not by the courts.  Too often, Americans have looked to courts to resolve issues that really should be resolved through political processes.  In this instance, it is encouraging to see our politicians step up and do the right thing.

Bless Our Veterans, Their Families, And Their Sacrifices


The American cemetery in Normandy

Veterans’ Day is the most important federal holiday we have, because of what it means and the enormous sacrifices it commemorates.  All Americans should be deeply and forever grateful to our veterans for their service and their willingness to fight so that our great nation can remain a beacon of freedom and tolerance in the world.

Condemning The Book-Burning Idiocy

I’m sure most everyone has heard by now of the Florida church that is planning on burning the Koran on Saturday to commemorate, in the most wrong-headed way imaginable, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  The book-burning exercise has been roundly condemned throughout the world, and General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has warned that the act would put the lives of American troops in even greater danger.

It is unnecessary, but I nevertheless want to add my voice to the chorus of disapproval for two reasons.  First, book-burning is unacceptable, period.  Anyone who believes in free speech believes that the appropriate response to speech is more speech, not censorship — and certainly not the pointlessly provocative act of burning a book that is sacred to another religion.  This is America, not Nazi Germany, and the ignorant members of the Dove World Outreach Center would do well to remember that.

Second, the contemplated action of this obscure church is exactly the kind of thing that makes non-religious Americans cringe in shame and shake their heads in dismay — and I am sure it is even more embarrassing and infuriating to Americans who are religious.  America is founded on fundamental concepts of religious tolerance.  Freedom of religion means that we put up with the apparently nutty members of the Dove World Outreach Center and allow them to gather and celebrate their religious beliefs, whatever they may be, without interference.  All we ask is that they behave responsibly and respect the views of others who hold different beliefs.  Any Americans who put members of our armed forces, who already are in harm’s way, in even more peril in order to receive publicity or to further their obscure religious beliefs are acting with unforgivable recklessness.  They are perversely giving America a black eye for religious intolerance when, to the contrary, the very existence of the Dove World Outreach Center is compelling evidence of the sweeping religious tolerance that characterizes this country.

What the members of the Dove World Outreach Center are planning on doing is shameful, and they should be denounced by every American.