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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Yellow Ribbons, Pink Slips and Extortion

I admit it. After the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary in November of 2006, I was not in favor of the nomination of Robert Gates to replace him. (#1) The concerns at the time were:

1) he's an intelligence guy, not a "big iron" and weapons systems kind of guy and might be tempted to do his old job rather than his new job
2) he had prior work involving illicit arms sales to Iran, Iraq and Nicaragua
3) he was a trusted member of the inner circle of "Daddy's fixers" surrounding GWB, which means his ideas are still very much like those that got us into the war in the first place
4) as an insider, his selection made it more clear the Bush Administration was suffocating from within because of the toxic environment they created in the first six years

I'm still not a fan of Gates' work under item 2 and still think item 4 held true but Robert Gates has proven to be not only the best leader President Bush appointed to the Cabinet but one of the most effective Defense Secretaries ever. Gates demonstrated superior leadership virtually from Day One by immediately reorienting the Pentagon's lackadaisical approach to correcting shoddy facilities and shoddy care given to returning veterans. After appalling conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center came to light in February of 2007, Gates pressured the Secretary of the Army to can the head of Walter Reed. That was done but the when it was found the replacement had been aware of the poor conditions from a prior stint as commander of the facility in 2003 and had taken no actions at that time, Gates IMMEDIATELY fired the Secretary of the Army, pressured the new replacement out of the Army and appointed a widely respected General and doctor over the Walter Reed facility. In a matter of days. Talk about sending clear messages.

Gates has also done well at the task of leading the Pentagon organizationally while allowing career military personnel to lead at the purely military strategic and tactical levels. There's no better proof of this balance and its benefits than the recent budget proposal provided to Congress by the Pentagon. Key highlights of the new budget plan include: (#2)

* cancelling purchase of a replacement for Marine One
* an end to the F-22 fighter program, a 16-year old design superseded by the JSF
* a halt to the vehicle portion of the Future Combat Systems program (roughly $87 billion)
* increasing the budget for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance by $2 billion
* adding 2800 personnel to Special Operations
* replacement of 11,000 contractors with 9,000 permanent employees in the Pentagon's procurement organization

Even ignoring the current financial meltdown that demands budget reductions, these changes prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Gates GETS IT. He understands the nature of the wars we have been fighting, understands we can't afford to have it all and understands that we can't use many of the toys favored by Pentagon desk jockeys, defense contractors and corrupt politicians.

Put quite bluntly, the new 2010 Pentagon budget proposal is the near perfect crystallization of the financial and moral choice America must make between merely claiming to "support our troops" and crassly protecting local parochial and political interests in the name of "jobs". You can't have it both ways. You can't claim to support the troops by insisting on the building of aircraft carriers we can't use to protect jobs in Virginia and Connecticut. You can't claim to support the troops by insisting on the development of lightweight, fuel efficient troop transports loaded with electronics that can't protect troops from roadside bombs to protect jobs at Boeing, SAIC, BAE Systems and General Dynamics.

The final 2010 budget level and specific contents are far from finalized but the political debate in the coming months could best be described as the ultimate choice between yellow ribbons and pink slips with vast amounts of hidden political extortion between defense contractors, politicians and constituents over who feels the pain the most or least.

Robert Gates has laid out an effective budget for critical military needs in a desperate financial climate and has framed the rational for spending priorities so effectively that any argument against the plan will expose members of both parties for the charlatans and hypocrites they are if they choose to fight it wrapped in the flag claiming to protect our troops and our jobs. For this alone, Robert Gates deserves a hearty thank you from taxpayers.

===================================

I had planned on posting all of the above based solely upon the terms of the latest Defense Department budget proposal and the difficult choices between truly productive support of our troops and political protection of jobs for favored states and defense contractors.

The trade-offs between true security and jobs takes on an entirely different dimension in light of the investigation broadcast April 7, 2009 on the PBS show Frontline concerning systemic international bribery paid by huge corporations to corrupt government officials.

The Frontline show, entitled Black Money (#3), examined cases involving Germany's Siemens and Britain's BEA dating back as far as 1990. Thirty minutes into the program is a STUNNING series of findings involving an investigation by Britain's Serious Fraud Office (a "major case squad" within the equivalent of their DoJ) into payments to Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar made by BAE. The SFO had collected significant amounts of evidence about illegal payments made by BAE and was beginning to apply pressure to officers of BAE and thus to Bandar and the Saudi government.

In the weeks following the July 2005 terrorist bombings in London, the SFO was within weeks of pursuing action in its case against BAE. In that tense, post-attack climate, Prince Bandar himself hand-delivered a personal letter from Crown Prince Sultan of Saudi Arabia to Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street that threatened a halt to any Saudi cooperation in the war on terror if Britain pursued any continued investigation of the BAE payments -- essentially stating the investigators would have blood on their hands for any attacks that might occur after they continue their criminal investigation and the Saudis halt cooperation on terrorism. Tony Blair shortly thereafter held a meeting with all of the heads involved with the BAE investigation, relayed the same message, and the British investigation has gone exactly nowhere since.

At present, the only country moving forward with any investigation is the United States but even that has a twist. Former FBI director Louie Freeh is now representing Prince Bandar who is now arguing the US has no role in investigating potential bribery payments, even though BAE is the fifth largest defense contractor for the United States Department of Defense.

Let's review, shall we?

1) Saudi Arabia, a supposed ally of the United States in the "war on terror",
2) within DAYS of a Islamic terrorist bombing of a United States ally,
3) hand-delivered a written letter directly to the head of state of that ally,
4) threatening to halt any cooperation on terrorist investigations current and future,
5) unless said ally ceased all criminal investigations of a British firm involved with bribe payments to Prince Bandar and other Saudi royal family members

Does anyone think Saudi Arabia has the ****s to extort the United States like it did Britain?

Does anyone think the United States would cave like Tony Blair did?

Does anyone still think these are purely hypothetical questions?

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#1) http://watchingtheherd.blogspot.com/2006/12/bush-ignores-everyone-surprises-no-one.html

#2) http://thehill.com/leading-the-news/gates-forecasts-change-for-obama-pentagon-budget-2009-04-06.html

#3) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/blackmoney/