Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
They Said It:
People don’t remember, but when I came into office, the Untied States in world opinion ranked below China and just barley above Russia, and today once again, the Untied States is the most respected country on earth. Part of that I think is because of the work we did to reengage the world and say we want to work with you as partners with mutual interests and mutual respect. It was on that basis we were able to end two wars while still focusing on the very real threat of terrorism and try to work with our partners in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s the reason why we are moving in the direction to normalize relations with Cuba and the nuclear deal that we are trying to negotiate with Iran.
Barack Obama, Answering questions at a “townhall” for leaders of the ASEAN, June 1, 2015.
DONALD RUMSFELD, KNOWNS, AND UNKNOWNS.
To most Americans, Donald Rumsfeld is the man who served as George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense during and after 9/11, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the war with Iraq. To liberals, he is a warmongering criminal who said incredibly stupid things about how “There are known knowns . . . There are known unknowns . . . . But there are also unknown unknowns.” To conservatives, he’s the strong, virile septuagenarian who helped pull men and women out of the Pentagon rubble, who led the military into two wars of necessity, and who put into words such obvious and essential truths as, “There are known knowns . . . There are known unknowns . . . . But there are also unknown unknowns.”
To a handful of old-timers and historians, Rumsfeld is the guy who served as Secretary of Defense under two presidents, separated by a nearly three-decade interval. To the conspiracy nuts and natural food advocates, he is the guy who was the president, CEO, and chairman of G.D. Searle when it developed, patented, and then loosed upon the world the horrendous, death-inducing, Geneva-Convention-defying chemical weapon known as “aspartame.”
But to a very, very small group of us who happened to come of age politically during the 1990s, Donald Rumsfeld is and always will be the man who warned us all of the impending danger lurking in the hearts of men in Islamabad, Pyongyang, and especially Tehran. Rumsfeld was, in short, the chairman of the fortuitously named “Rumsfeld Commission” which, in the late ‘90s issued the equally fortuitously named “Rumsfeld Report” that famously advised the nation’s civilian and military to get serious about the threats posed to the American mainland by the world’s “rogue regimes.”
Officially known as the “Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States,” Rumsfeld’s committee was established by Congress in January 1998 to assess the ballistic missile threat to the United States. In July of that year, it issued its report, which warned that the intelligence agencies were wrong in saying that the ballistic missile threat risk was a distant one, at least ten and more likely twenty years off.
Rumsfeld’s report claimed that five years was a more accurate estimate. Moreover, it stated that rogue regimes would be able to deploy missiles capable of reaching the United States without intelligence or military analysts having much warning. Specifically, the Commission reported the four following unanimous conclusions:
Concerted efforts by a number of overtly or potentially hostile nations to acquire ballistic missiles with biological or nuclear payloads pose a growing threat to the United States, its deployed forces and its friends and allies. These newer, developing threats in North Korea, Iran and Iraq are in addition to those still posed by the existing ballistic missile arsenals of Russia and China, nations with which the United States is not now in conflict but which remain in uncertain transitions. The newer ballistic missile-equipped nations’ capabilities will not match those of U.S. systems for accuracy or reliability. However, they would be able to inflict major destruction on the U.S. within about five years of a decision to acquire such a capability (10 years in the case of Iraq). During several of those years, the U.S. might not be aware that such a decision had been made.
The threat to the U.S. posed by these emerging capabilities is broader, more mature and evolving more rapidly than has been reported in estimates and reports by the Intelligence Community.
The Intelligence Community’s ability to provide timely and accurate estimates of ballistic missile threats to the U.S. is eroding. This erosion has roots both within and beyond the intelligence process itself. The community’s capabilities in this area need to be strengthened in terms of both resources and methodology.
The warning times the U.S. can expect of new, threatening ballistic missile deployments are being reduced. Under some plausible scenarios – including re-basing or transfer of operational missiles, sea- and air-launch options, shortened development programs that might include testing in a third country, or some combination of these – the U.S. might well have little or no warning before operational deployment.
Given this, the Commission recommended that the nation’s intelligence practices concerning ballistic missiles be “reviewed and revised” to reflect reality more accurately.
We mention all of this today for a few reasons. For starters, last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that the meager efforts that have been made on this front – the ballistic missile front, that is – are deeply flawed. Indeed, the flaws are deep and well known but are, more or less, approved anyway. Specifically, the Times reported the following:
Two serious technical flaws have been identified in the ground-launched anti-missile interceptors that the United States would rely on to defend against a nuclear attack by North Korea.
Pentagon officials were informed of the problems as recently as last summer but decided to postpone corrective action. They told federal auditors that acting immediately to fix the defects would interfere with the production of new interceptors and slow a planned expansion of the nation’s homeland missile defense system, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office.
As a result, all 33 interceptors now deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County and Ft. Greely, Alaska, have one of the defects. Ten of those interceptors — plus eight being prepared for delivery this year — have both.
Remember a couple of weeks ago, when we mentioned that Boeing was up to its armpits in the Clinton Foundation’s “honest graft”? Would it surprise any of you to learn that the manufacturer of these flawed weapons systems is Boeing? Granted, there aren’t that many companies in the world who could build these systems. But it looks like Boeing can’t really build them either – or at least it can’t build them to work. Of course, it’s not like anyone is insisting that they do work. According to the Times, Boeing notified the government of the flaws in its design last summer. And the government, in turn, “did not insist upon repair or replacement of the defective.” That’s comforting, no? Not only does the missile defense system not work, but we know it doesn’t work, and yet we’ll just go ahead and keep the defective parts in place, even as we deploy new units.
A second reason that we mention all of this today is the fact that, in an interview that aired on Israeli TV on Monday, Obama declared that there is no way to stop Iran from developing and deploying nuclear weapons. The American president was, of course, trying to sell the Israeli public on his negotiations with the Iranian regime, but his defeatist comments were anything but reassuring. Speaking about the Iranian nuclear program, Obama said, “A military solution will not fix it. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it.” In other words, then, Obama told the Israelis, “I’m your only hope.”
The problem here is twofold. First, Obama cannot be trusted. He is telling the Israelis that they need to trust him, to take him at his word, even as they – along with just about everybody else in the world – know that his word means absolutely nothing. Second, even as Obama is asking the Israelis to put their faith in him, he has already conceded nuclear weapons to the Iranians and makes no serious attempt to hide this fact.
In April, you may recall, Obama sat down for an interview with the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. And while Obama used some of his time with Friedman to talk tough, he used much of the rest of it to try to prepare the world for the eventuality of a nuclear Iran. At one point, he told Friedman, that “I’ve been very clear that Iran will not get a nuclear weapon on my watch, and I think they should understand that we mean it.” The key words in that phrase, we think, are “on my watch,” – a watch that lasts only another 19 months. As for his expectations for the longer term – which is to say beyond the next election – Obama was blunter. To wit:
The notion that Iran is undeterrable — “it’s simply not the case,” he added. “And so for us to say, ‘Let’s try’ — understanding that we’re preserving all our options, that we’re not naïve — but if in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows? Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place.
Of course, this “notion” that Iran is “undeterrable” comes from Obama himself, who has long insisted that traditional deterrence is of little value against a rogue regime like that of the Mad Mullahs. Now that the Mullahs are nearing their objective, however, Obama is altering his calculus a bit. Now, the Mullahs CAN be deterred, so there is still nothing to worry about.
What this tells us, we think, is that Obama knows full well that the Iranians will have a nuclear weapon and will have it soon. They may wait to demonstrate their capabilities until after he’s left office so as not to embarrass him. Or they may not wait, choosing instead to expose him as the fool he is. Either way, the Iranians will have nukes. No one can say for certain when these nukes will be deployable. And no one can say what the Mullahs will do with them or whom they will threaten first. We know only that they will have them. And we know this because Obama has said as much.
The third reason that we’ve been thinking about the Rumsfeld Commission and its report is the fact that we are quickly approaching the anniversary of the report’s release – the 17th anniversary of its release. In July 1998 Rumsfeld et al. warned that the world’s rogue regimes were five years from producing long-range missile systems. The intelligence community scoffed, naturally, and insisted that they were actually closer to fifteen or twenty years from production. And that was 17 years ago.
The political class in this country has a tendency to presume that nuclear weapons possessed by rogue regimes are someone else’s problem. The Russians and the Chinese can get nukes to the American mainland, but they are large, powerful nations that can be deterred by traditional means. The rogues, though? They’re no problem – for us, at least. The Iranian nukes are always couched in terms of being an Israeli problem. The North Korean nukes are a Japanese or Chinese problem. The Pakistani nukes are exclusively India’s concern. The only catch here is that this is utterly untrue.
In March, for example, Iran unveiled its latest and greatest missile, the Soumar, which is based on the Russian KH-55. The missile can carry a nuclear payload and has an estimated range of 2500 km – all of which means that Iran is now a bigtime player in the missile game. Or as Aviation Week reported in March:
“This missile represents a significant leap in the Middle East arms race,” says Col. Aviram Hasson of Israel’s Missile Defense Organization. “It positions Iran among the world’s leaders in missile technology,” a Western intelligence source adds.
Iranian defense minister Hussein Dehghan presented the new surface-to-surface missile on March 8 as an “effective step” in boosting the country’s defense and deterrence capabilities. Dehghan described the Soumar as capable of hitting long-range targets with “high accuracy, while evading enemy counter-measures.” Western intelligence sources noted that the missile’s warhead appears smaller than the Russian original and is incapable of carrying a nuclear device. Iranian media reported that the missile completed its testing and is now in serial production.
Now here’s the best/worst part about the whole Iranian missile business: we only know about this missile because the Iranians told us about it. The Iranians unveiled the Soumar at what Haaretz calls “an unusual public display.” They put the thing on TV, for cripes sake, and invited the whole world to look at it. We understand, of course, that the Mad Mullahs have a vested interest in showcasing their military wares, but this also makes us a little bit nervous, wondering what they might be working on in secret if a missile that can hit Europe is something that they are showcasing in public. We don’t have any idea what they might be doing clandestinely – but then, no one does, which is kind of the point.
Seventeen years ago, Donald Rumsfeld warned us all that ballistic missiles posed a grave danger to our safety and national strategic purpose. Missile systems capable of hitting long range targets, he cautioned, were but a few years away. Worse still, they would likely be developed without our knowledge and would be sprung upon an unsuspecting intelligence community that would, therefore, be caught flatfooted, unable to respond in any meaningful way.
The Left mocked Rumsfeld then for his “alarmism.” They mock him still today for the mistakes he made during the George W. Bush administration. At the same time, though, we know that current generation our missile-defense systems are flawed. We know as well that the Iranians will have nukes, we just don’t know when. And lastly, we don’t know anything, really, about what the world’s rogue regimes may or may not be developing in terms of missile capabilities.
The only reason we think we know anything at all is because the Mad Mullahs showed us something three short months ago. We have no idea, unfortunately, if what they showed us represents the high-point of the endeavors or merely a middle-of-the-road, routine production element. We are completely in the dark about Iranian – much less North Korean – capabilities.
In short, then, what we have here with respect to ballistic missiles are a known known, a known unknown, and an unknown unknown.
As always, Israel is the wild card in all of this. Obama may find comfort in his contention that even if Iran has nuclear weapons “our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place.” But given Obama’s fecklessness and his barely disguised dislike of Israel, the Jewish state cannot be similarly nonchalant about Iran’s nuclear capabilities. As the most likely target of Iran’s “inevitable” nuclear capability, it must – and will – protect itself with all means available to it. And, each day, the list of “means” gets shorter. Obama insists that there is no military solution to the problem of Iranian nukes. He may or may not be right about this. But the longer the Israelis wait, the righter he becomes.
Our view is that trouble lies ahead. And possibly quite soon.
DENNIS HASTERT AND THE WAY OUR RULING CLASS LIVES.
Let us state up front that we don’t have any idea what Denny Hastert did or didn’t do. Or when he did or didn’t do these things. Or how many times he did or didn’t do them. Nor do we know what further ramifications there may be respecting the current case against him.
We do know that the accusations against him are both sad and disturbing. Moreover, we know that the case against him has become a sign of our times. This is we how live now. This is our ruling class in all its glory.
According to the media, Denny Hastert sexually molested a male high school student some four decades ago. If he did this, he is a sick and twisted man who should have been in jail rather than Congress for all those years. It has also been reported that he agreed to pay his accuser some $3.5 million in “hush money.” That he chose NOT to go to the police and instead agreed to pay the blackmailer does not inspire confidence in his personal conduct, even if it also does not prove anything in a legal sense. And in any case, the ransom money itself is a fascinating and integral part of this story.
Our first reaction upon reading that Hastert had been accused of paying – or trying to pay – $3.5 million in hush money was to wonder how on God’s green earth a guy like Hastert had $3.5 million lying around that he could afford to give to a blackmailer. After all, he was a high school teacher and wrestling coach before he got into politics. When he headed to Congress in 1987, he was worth less than a quarter-million dollars. And yet he had $3.5 million that he could not only give to a blackmailer, but which neither he nor Mrs. Hastert would miss? He just took it out of his bank account. No Big Deal. How does that happen?
As it turns out, Hastert made his money the old fashioned way: he leveraged his political power. Our friend John Fund explains it this way in National Review.
Denny Hastert used to visit the Wall Street Journal, where I worked while he was the speaker. He was a bland, utterly conventional supporter of the status quo; his idea of reform was to squelch anyone who disturbed Congress’s usual way of doing business. I saw him become passionate only once, when he defended earmarks — the special projects such as Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” that members dropped at the last minute into conference reports, deliberately leaving no time to debate or amend them. Earmarks reached the staggering level of 15,000 in 2005, and their stench helped cost the GOP control of Congress the next year.
But Hastert was unbowed. “Who knows best where to put a bridge or a highway or a red light in his district?” I recall him bellowing. I responded that the Illinois Department of Transportation came to mind, and we then agreed to disagree.
It wasn’t long after that the Sunlight Foundation reported on just how much Hastert thought himself qualified to steer earmarks back home. The foundation found that Hastert had used a secret trust to join with others and invest in farm land near the proposed route of a new road called the Prairie Parkway. He then helped secure a $207 million earmark for the road. The land, approximately 138 acres, was bought for about $2.1 million in 2004 and later sold for almost $5 million, or a profit of 140 percent. Local land records and congressional disclosure forms never identified Hastert as the co-owner of any of the land in the trust. Hastert turned a $1.3 million investment (his portion of the land holdings) into a $1.8 million profit in less than two years.
Hastert claimed at the time that the land deals had nothing to do with the federal earmark he had secured. “I owned land and I sold it, like millions of people do every day,” he told the Washington Post. Or, as George Washington Plunkitt, the former Tammany Hall leader in New York, once said of someone who made a killing in local land that later became part of a lucrative subway development: “He saw his opportunities and he took ’em.” Plunkitt called such “opportunities” a form of “honest graft.”
As Fund reports, Hastert came to office with a pittance, but left with “a fortune estimated at $4 million to $17 million.” Of course, having left office, that’s when the fun really began. Or as Ana Marie Cox (a.k.a. “Wonkette”) put it:
Hastert made even more money once he was out of office. One study found that, on average—and when the information is publicly available—former lawmakers get a 1,425 percent raise when they make the jump from Capitol Hill to K Street. Hastert, who was worth between $4 million and $17 million when he left Congress, was making $175,000 as a representative. His K Street bump would be to almost $2.5 million a year.
Selling influence. Leveraging power. Making “lucky investments.” This is the game our ruling class plays. And certainly, this is a game that pays.
The second thought that we had after learning of Hastert’s indictment was . . . “Since when is it a crime to PAY blackmail?” We know that it’s illegal to demand blackmail money, but how, when, and why is it illegal to pay it? As it turns out, it’s not. And yet. . .
Hastert was “caught” because of federal “structuring statutes,” which are laws created to help the feds identify and prevent money laundering, particularly that which involves drug dealing and fraud. Financial institutions are required by these laws (and regulations, natch) to report when anyone withdraws money from an account in a pattern that appears intended to avoid the bank’s legal obligations to report larger withdrawals. These small withdrawals constitute a larger total, over the life of the pattern, and thus should be reported. Or so the laws say.
The catch here is that Hastert wasn’t involved in any of the illegal activities that should have triggered an investigation into his withdrawals. He was obviously not laundering money for a cartel. He was not selling meth. He was not avoiding his taxes. He was, in short, doing nothing illegal, except he lied to them initially about what he was doing with his own money. But the lie did NOT involve covering up an illegal act. All of this could easily have been overlooked or dismissed once the truth was known.
In an interview with the former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, broadcast on Newsmax TV, famed civil rights lawyer and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz declared that “This case just smells.” He continued:
“I’m shocked that a prosecutor would allow this kind of case to be brought knowing that it will reveal the secrets, that it would open doors up to things that are alleged or have occurred almost half a century ago. . . . This is not a case that should’ve been brought in federal court”
“Paying hush money is not illegal,” Dershowitz said. “He didn’t want anybody to know about it, so he took money out in small amounts and the banks wouldn’t report it. That is not within the heartland of what this statute was intended to cover – and then to have an indictment which essentially reveals that which Hastert was trying to conceal puts the government in the position of essentially being part of the blackmail – and it’s just not right.”
Dershowitz called the case “an abusive prosecutorial discretion” for using the structuring statute “to try to go after somebody who was trying to solve a rather personal problem. . . .”
We’re with Dershowitz on this one. The federal structuring statute serves a purpose, we suppose. But like most federal laws, the power vested in this one has slowly but surely become a tool for the pursuit of less noble purposes, for the government’s purpose of sticking its big, fat nose anywhere it damn well pleases.
Even despite this, we’d guess that the most troubling aspect of this whole business is the fact that we were not especially shocked to learn that Denny Hastert may have been a sexual predator. It sorta fits with what we’ve come to expect from our ruling class, especially the top levels of that ruling class. Orrin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and a blogger for the Washington Post, summed up our thoughts on the matter quite nicely:
If I understand the history correctly, in the late 1990s, the President was impeached for lying about a sexual affair by a House of Representatives led by a man who was also then hiding a sexual affair, who was supposed to be replaced by another Congressman who stepped down when forced to reveal that he too was having a sexual affair, which led to the election of a new Speaker of the House who now has been indicted for lying about payments covering up his sexual contact with a boy.
Yikes indeed. But at the same time, what’s the big deal? Corruption and sexual misconduct among the ruling class has been going on since the beginning of time. Of course, the American public has become more tolerant of such things over the years. As Father John Neuhaus pointed out in the March 1997 issue of First Things, “a sympathetic press hushed up John F. Kennedy’s womanizing precisely because it was assumed that, were it known, it would be politically deadly.” But that’s probably because the American public’s own conduct has become increasingly decadent.
So it’s nothing more than the “same ol’, same ol.’” Right?
Well, in a way yes. But there is something particularly fishy about this scandal.
According to both the police and the school district of Yorkville, Illinois – where the abuse allegedly occurred – no one has ever filed any complaint of any sort against Hastert, which is to say that in a legal sense there is no “crime” to be covered-up here. And yet Hastert risked his entire reputation – not to mention his marriage and his family – to do just that.
At the same time, we can’t but wonder about Hastert’s behavior over the course of his political career. One thing that we’ve learned from the various sexual abuse scandals that have cropped up in this country over the last couple of decades is that predators, the likes of which Hastert is now presumed to be, don’t just stop assaulting people, even after they’ve been caught.
Indeed, the key “crime” in the Catholic Church abuse scandal is the fact that many of these abusive priests were caught, punished, and then moved to different parishes, where the whole process started again. Are we to believe that Hastert is the exception to this rule, that he abused a young man – or two – and then quit once he entered politics? Everyone who ever knew Dennis Hastert, from Yorkville to Washington, insists that he or she is “shocked” to hear of the charges against the former Speaker. Given the nature of these crimes and the criminals who commit them, we have to wonder if that’s really true, if all these people are really that shocked to learn of these charges.
In short, nothing in this scandal makes much sense. We don’t know why the feds went after Hastert. We don’t know why Hastert didn’t just lawyer up and tell the feds to mind their own business, since he clearly wasn’t laundering money. We don’t know why Hastert still hasn’t lawyered up and sent his lawyer out to deny the allegations, but has rather simply disappeared. We don’t know why the blackmail-ee, as opposed to the blackmailer is under investigation here. We don’t know much of anything about any of this.
It strikes us, though, that there is something else going on here, something about which the public and journalists are not yet aware; another shoe to drop, if you will.
Was Hastert involved in any sexual crimes while in office? Did anyone know about this and cover for him? Did the seemingly low-key and cordial Hastert nevertheless make powerful enemies so as to see his life destroyed so publicly even nearly a decade after he left office?
Obviously, we don’t know the answers to these questions – or a host of others that could be asked about this case. We do know, though, that this entire scandal is bizarre and has been handled in a generally bizarre manner. We can’t help but think that there is something else going on here that we don’t yet know – and may never know.
In the meantime, we have a case in which no one in our illustrious ruling class looks particularly good. We have a powerful man who, like nearly all of his colleagues, has profited handsomely from his power. We have an expansive government that uses and abuses its discretion to punish whomever it wants for whatever it wants, using arbitrary evidence of arbitrary crimes to demonstrate criminality. And we have a political caste in which personal moral corruption is the rule rather than the exception.
What else we may have, God only knows.