Pentagon

Jim and the Buried Lede (Mattis Matters for America)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, 19 November 2016, in Bedminster Township, N.J. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It seems worth noting that we are actually through a particular looking glass:

One tense moment came last May as officials grew increasingly concerned about aggressive Iranian behavior.

For weeks, Mattis had been resisting requests from the White House to provide military options for Iran. Now Trump made clear that he wanted the Pentagon to deliver a range of plans that included striking Iranian ballistic missile factories or hitting Iranian speedboats that routinely harassed U.S. Navy vessels.

“Why can’t we sink them?” Trump would sometimes ask about the boats.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster and his staff laid out the president’s request for Mattis in a conference call, but the defense secretary refused, according to several U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. At that point, McMaster took Mattis off speakerphone, cleared his staff from the room and continued the conversation.

“It was clear that the call was not going well,” one official said. In the weeks that followed, the options never arrived.

(Jaffe and Ryan)

Something about buried ledes might go here, but, to be explicit: We are nine months into the period during which the National Security Advisor, a retired Marine Corps general, keeps the peace by refusing or ignoring the president.

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Enterprising Stupidity (American Way Mix)

Detail of frame from 'Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor' episode 8, "Twinkling Sun on a Summer Day …"

This is not a joke:

Hewlett Packard Enterprise allowed a Russian defense agency to review the inner workings of cyber defense software used by the Pentagon to guard its computer networks, according to Russian regulatory records and interviews with people with direct knowledge of the issue.

The HPE system, called ArcSight, serves as a cybersecurity nerve center for much of the U.S. military, alerting analysts when it detects that computer systems may have come under attack. ArcSight is also widely used in the private sector.

The Russian review of ArcSight’s source code, the closely guarded internal instructions of the software, was part of HPE’s effort to win the certification required to sell the product to Russia’s public sector, according to the regulatory records seen by Reuters and confirmed by a company spokeswoman.

(Schectman, Volz, and Stubbs)

At some point, words will fail to fail.

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Image note: Detail of frame from ‘Darker Than Black: Gemini of the Meteor’ episode 8, “Twinkling Sun on a Summer Day …”.

Schectman, Joel, Dustin Volz, and Jack Stubbs. “Special Report: HP Enterprise let Russia scrutinize cyberdefense system used by Pentagon”. Reuters. 2 October 2017.

Your National Security Council (Flynntastic | Great)

#downhill | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Retired Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump's incoming National Security Adviser, listens during the presidential inaugural Chairman's Global Dinner, Tuesday, 17 January 2017, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo)

There is a moment in the New York Times’ account of “Turmoil at the National Security Council” in which the Trump administration pitches apparent incompetence as an asset:

In a telephone conversation on Sunday afternoon, K. T. McFarland, the deputy national security adviser, said that early meetings of the council were brisker, tighter and more decisive than in the past, but she acknowledged that career officials were on edge. “Not only is this a new administration, but it is a different party, and Donald Trump was elected by people who wanted the status quo thrown out,” said Ms. McFarland, a veteran of the Reagan administration who most recently worked for Fox News. “I think it would be a mistake if we didn’t have consternation about the changes―most of the cabinet haven’t even been in government before.”

It remains uncertain just how that should make anyone feel any better, but at least we know why McFarland is there.

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Something About Alfalfa

This is something that has been bugging me, and the question doesn’t seem to want to calm down.

To the one, the infamous Yemen raid is all the more notorious for being the first military action of President Donald Trump’s new administration. To the other, Rachel Maddow spoke with a Colin Kahl, formerly a national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden:

MADDOW: In terms of how President Trump did run this process, we don’t know very much about it. We are told in terms of the timeline that his National Security Advisor briefed him on the plans for the operation one day. The next day, at dinner with his senior strategist Steve Bannon and with his son in law Jared Kushner, and with Secretary of Defense and some other principal-level personnel, he made the decision around the dinner table that it would happen, and then it was launched immediately. That seems like a remarkably informal, small, quick process. Is that totally out of keeping with the kinds of processes that you’ve seen around potentially deadly raids like this, in the past?

KAHL: Well, it is unusual, especially in a context where a raid like this represents a significant escalation in the nature of our actions in Yemen. So it’s not just the raid itself, it’s that there’s a broader set of authorities that are behind that, that deserve deliberation, and what I mean by that is you need to have not just the Defense Department around the table. You also need your intelligence professionals, so that they can vet the intelligence to make sure that they agree with the risk assessment the Pentagon is making. You also need the State Department at the table, so that they can go through the political implications; what happens if civilians die, what are the implications for tribal relations in Yemen, or diplomatic relations? You need the communicators in the room so that you know that you’re on message and you can coordinate with your allies. You also need the legislative team in the room so that you can notify Congress. This is a deliberate process that you owe the president a holistic assessment, and the problem is even if you’ve got a bunch of smart capable people around the table at dinner―like Secretary Mattis, who I think the world of, and Joe Dunford, our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who’s an amazing man―you need a fuller picture than those two general can provide so the president to make a decision of this gravity.

Quite the question; quite the answer. Nor should we look past the rest of it but for the moment, well, the words “significant escalation” stand out. And it’s just one more reason.

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Pedantry in High Dudgeon

D City Rock: Detail of frame from "Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt", 'Help! We Are Angels', by TeddyLoin featuring Debra Zeer.

“In a press release Thursday, the committee accused the Pentagon of not being upfront about what it knew:”

Amanda Terkel

This is a pet peeve.

Look: “Upfront” is not a word.

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The Marco Rubio Show (Fadeout)

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) listens to a question at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, 13 May 2015. (Photo: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

One of the interesting things about the Trumpapalooza going on in the GOP nomination contest has to do with the cover lesser candidates are getting. Then again, this is the GOP nomination contest, so taking cover from seemingly inevitable flak has its drawbacks; rhetorical martyrdom is the way to score points with the conservative base, so perhaps Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was hoping for louder criticism:

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio sounded the alarm about the state of U.S. armed forces in a foreign-policy speech today. But his claims and campaign promises don’t account for the impact of improvements in U.S. military technology or in some cases their production schedule.

Rubio, a Florida senator, said the U.S. Navy is “now smaller than at any time since before World War I” and the Air Force “has the smallest and oldest combat force in its history.”

Yet the numbers of ships and planes don’t define U.S. military capabilities.

Mike Dorning and John Walcott of Bloomberg Politics consider the issue, and let us simply pause for a moment to appreciate the magnitude of Mr. Rubio’s utter stupidity.

When Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made the same argument — that the U.S. Navy is smaller than at any time since 1917 — during a 2012 campaign debate, President Barack Obama responded with a mocking rejoinder.

“We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed,” Obama said. “We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

Yes, really. Mr. Rubio hoped to get attention by recycling a damaging argumentative failure from Mitt Romney’s disastrous 2012 presidential campaign.

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A Good Day (Defense and Dignity Edition)

Then Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Ashton Carter testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee 19 May 2011, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“Discrimination of any kind has no place in America’s armed forces.”

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter

yeah, and don’t get me started on the word meritocracy ....

Huh? Oh.

Raise a glass to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Tuesday that gay and lesbian troops for the first time will be protected from discrimination by the same equal opportunity policy that protects other servicemembers.

Carter announced the change at the Pentagon’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride event.

The change ensures that gay and lesbian troops’ complaints about discrimination based on sexual orientation will be investigated by the Military Equal Opportunity program, the same office that handles complaints based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

“Discrimination of any kind has no place in America’s armed forces,” Carter said.

(Vanden Brook)

I admit that after I outgrew childhood dreams of glory it really did become difficult to comprehend why anybody would want to be a soldier. Just sayin’. I mean, there are all sorts of jokes over the years; what was that one Doonesbury about signing up for the college benefits, not for a war? You know, that sort of thing. And it’s also true I have known families in which military service is traditional. But still, I don’t get it. What, would I join the military but only if I got to stay home and do paperwork instead of go fight and kill and maybe die?Transgender sign

Never mind. That’s me, and my own damn problem.

Reality, after all, doesn’t give a damn about what I wonder. People still apparently want to join the military.

We can certainly continue to fret about our estimated fifteen thousand transgendered service personnel; the armed forces can still kick them out for (ahem!) “health” reasons. But at the same time, a periodic policy review is underway, the Secretary seems to want to end the policy, and the services themselvs―including the Air Force―are leading the way by adding extra steps and requiring higher approval for those discharge processes.

That review is going to take a while; it is unfair to expect more good news next week, or next month. Maybe we can hope for substantive answers and substantial policy revisions next year, but in any question involving such bureaucracies, I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

But, you know. They’re on it.

And today was a good day.

Today brought something real and substantial.

Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

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Image note: 19 May 2011: Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Ashton Carter testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Vanden Brook, Tom. “Gay and lesbian troops will be protected by new Pentagon policy”. USA Today. 9 June 2015.

Your Morning Misty Memory

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Photo: Dennis Cook/AP)

This is just for the hell of it, because I had cause to think of it the other day. Never mind.

Hart Seely for Slate, circa 2003:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is an accomplished man. Not only is he guiding the war in Iraq, he has been a pilot, a congressman, an ambassador, a businessman, and a civil servant. But few Americans know that he is also a poet.

Until now, the secretary’s poetry has found only a small and skeptical audience: the Pentagon press corps. Every day, Rumsfeld regales reporters with his jazzy, impromptu riffs. Few of them seem to appreciate it.

But we should all be listening. Rumsfeld’s poetry is paradoxical: It uses playful language to address the most somber subjects: war, terrorism, mortality. Much of it is about indirection and evasion: He never faces his subjects head on but weaves away, letting inversions and repetitions confuse and beguile. His work, with its dedication to the fractured rhythms of the plainspoken vernacular, is reminiscent of William Carlos Williams’. Some readers may find that Rumsfeld’s gift for offhand, quotidian pronouncements is as entrancing as Frank O’Hara’s.

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A Note on the Republican Clown Car

Kamon Dreams and Stranger Things: Detail of frame from 'FLCL' episode 5, "Brittle Bullet".

There is little about Timonthy Egan’s blistering critique of the Republican Clown Car that we might call … er … ah … not unkind:

Last election cycle, the Republican presidential field was a clown car, holding the thrice-married Newt Gingrich lecturing about values, the pizza magnate Herman Cain fending off sexual harassment claims, and Michele Bachmann confusing John Wayne with a serial killer. That was just the front seat. This time around it’s a clown bus, with as many as 17 Republicans expected to compete for the nomination.

Most of them are unelectable, to say the least. But can any of them get out of the party’s winnowing period without saying things they picked up in the far right netherworld? Probably not. As previous gaffe-a-matics have shown, it pays to be crazy. And for many Republicans, crazy is the new mainstream.

† † †

There is no ceiling for crazy in Texas, nor political consequence. This year, the Lone Star State’s most odious export is Senator Ted Cruz, who also has some concern about the nefarious designs of our military, and those Walmart tunnels. He couldn’t just say, as the Pentagon did, that our troops would soon be conducting a long-planned field operation, called Jade Helm 15. He had to dog-whistle to the mouth frothers.

“I understand a lot of the concerns raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm,” said Cruz. “It’s a question I’m getting a lot, and I think part of the reason is we have seen, for six years, a federal government disrespecting the liberty of citizens.” Dwight Eisenhower — look him up, Texans — is rolling over in his five-star grave.

If you don’t think the inability to distinguish a military exercise from a totalitarian takeover disqualifies you from leading the free world, Fox News has a hosting chair for you in its studios. That’s where Mike Huckabee promoted his brand of Gomer Pyle politics over the last few years, building a following for quack health remedies and Christian victimhood.

It is not so much a matter of being funny because it’s true. Rather, this bit that reads like comedy is, at the very least, a little sad because it really, really is happening. Now and then it is easy enough to fancy that what voters really want is a spectacle, but the problem with that notion is the proposition that every spectacle must be a bacchanal of ignorance and clodhopping disgrace.

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Egan, Timothy. “Fringe Festival”. The New York Times. 8 May 2015.

Absurd

Detail of frame from The Rachel Maddow Show, msnbc, 6 May 2015.

This is important: Over the years we witness much political wrangling over our American military. Even the question of whether our service members should answer to the law can become fraught with the cheap politics of patriotism. But a question has been nagging at me for years: Why do conservatives get to abuse our service members this way?

Via msnbc:

The perils of political paranoia in Texas (MaddowBlog, 29 April)

Cruz sympathizes with ‘Jade Helm 15’ conspiracy theorists (MaddowBlog, 4 May)

Walmart, Pentagon try to knock down conspiracy theory (MaddowBlog, 5 May)

Fearful Texas GOP base amuses nation with conspiracy panic (TRMS, 6 May)

Two points:

(1) Look me in the eye and tell me our service members would do it. I dare you.

(2) This insulting nonsense has reached the top valence of American politics, with at least three Republican presidential candidates joining in: Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

There is no point three.

This is absurd.

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Image note: Detail of frame from The Rachel Maddow Show, msnbc, 6 May 2015.