Obamanation: A Day of Truth
Accuracy in Media Conference 9/21/2012
Speaker: Frank Gaffney
“After Four Years of Obama, the World isn’t Better Off”
Transcribed by J. C. Hendershot & Bethany Stotts
ROGER ARONOFF: Sorry to do that to you.
FRANK GAFFNEY: It’s all right.
ARONOFF: Thank you very much.
GAFFNEY: My general rule is, “Yield to a beautiful woman.” Where was I? I was talking about the fact that we have this other question that I think deserves an answer: “Are you, as citizens of the world”—can I use that expression?—“better off than you were four years ago?” I just want to tick off a couple of things that, I believe, suggest you are not—and that, more to the point, we as a nation are not.
Andy [McCarthy], of course, and I just did a little dog and pony show for you on the Islamist problem, the extent to which that is materially worse than it was four years ago. I don’t think there’s any disputing that, whether it’s the eruption of violence—and, by the way, it’s worse today, thanks to prayer services that happen, of course, on Fridays, which have an uncanny resemblance to hate rallies, and violence-breeding events throughout much of this region. I’ve mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood in America, which, I think, is suggested as helping frame policies that, in turn, are emboldening, certainly enriching, and legitimating, and otherwise enabling the Muslim Brotherhood. We didn’t touch about Iran. I don’t know if that’s come up in previous conversations this morning, but just let me say briefly, Iran, of course, is a problem on myriad different scores. It is, of course, run by an Islamist regime, albeit of the Shi’ite stripe. It has been engaged in terror; it has, for that matter, been at war with us since 1979. It has been destabilizing its neighborhood and any place else it can get its operatives, including now, increasingly, as I’ll say in a moment, our own hemisphere. We’re learning that it is engaged in cyber warfare against American entities right now, and I suspect that that will kick up more. And, of course, at any given moment we may well see the Strait of Hormuz closed, at least temporarily, with all kinds of repercussions for energy flows and the world economy. Then, as if that weren’t enough, there’s the nuclear weapons program, which is, I believe, at the cusp of finally realizing the decades-long ambition of the Mullahs to acquire and, perhaps, to use nuclear weapons. So that’s not perfect.
Then there’s Russia. We have a demonstrably failed “reset policy” that, essentially, was born of the notion that if a charming guy like Barack Obama simply spent some time with Vladimir Putin, or, before him, Dimitri Medvedev, and engaged with them unconditionally, relations would improve considerably over what they were under President [George W.] Bush, and the world would be, at least with respect to this relationship, better. That led to the cancellation of the European missile defense system, something one would very much like to have in place at a moment like this, given what I was just saying, particularly about an Iranian threat. T hat missile defense system, of course, was also designed to provide not only protection against ballistic missile attack to Europe, but also to us—something with which we no longer are equipped as a result of President Obama’s preemptive decision to cancel that deployment. We got, as a result of the deal-making, the “reset” notions, the nostrums that arms control would help improve this relationship, or at least make the world a safer place, because it would advance the goal of Global Zero, nuclear weapons: We got the new START Treaty, the treaty that did not require the Russians to reduce any nuclear weapons but did require us to reduce a considerable number of them, was unverifiable, and gave rise to a whole new imbalance—or intensified, you might say, an imbalance—in regard to theater nuclear weapons, which the Russians have huge numbers of, we have very few, uncontrolled by this regimen. But despite that, we did seem to give the Russians one of the things that they were very keen on, which was the commitment to restrict our missile defenses, or, at least, they took away from it that if we improve them quantitatively or qualitatively, they would be able to withdraw from the treaty. They put that marker down, we profess that it didn’t apply, they insist that it does, so we’re at a point now where, if we try it, we’ll see what happens. But, of course, I don’t think we will try it, because the administration is not that keen on missile defense. So you see a certain pattern developing here, of accommodation to the Russians and them taking advantage of it, which has not proven to be, I think, an improvement over the condition that those relations were in with George W. Bush.
But wait—it gets better! We now know, through an offhand and surreptitiously overheard conversation, that there will be more “flexibility” exhibited by Mr. Obama once his last election is behind him. Not entirely clear what that means, but it almost certainly isn’t going to be good. If this is how he has behaved in the spirit of trying to accommodate the Russians, cultivate friendlier relations with them on a pretty accommodationist line with an election, one can only imagine what he will do with more “flexibility.”
Turning to China: At a moment when China is undergoing considerable political and economic instability, giving rise, it seems to me, to a classic totalitarian response which is known by the political scientists as “social engineering.” It’s a fancy term for saying, “Don’t look over here, folks, where things are lousy, look over there at that threat—which we will then use to justify our repressing you here and vectoring your energy towards dealing with that threat.” At the moment it’s Japan. There is active promotion by the Chinese government, in myriad cities around the country, of war fever against Japan. Will it eventuate? Hard to say. But you can bet that one of the things that is going to come out of all of this is a growing degree of concern on the part of our ally, Japan, and probably others in the region, which may or may not translate into their own decisions about conventional, or perhaps even nuclear, weapons, which may make that region more prone to conflict. Or perhaps they won’t; perhaps they’ll simply accommodate the Chinese, which will simply play into the increasing aggressiveness of the Chinese. Did you know that they’ve essentially claimed sovereignty of the entire South China Sea to the point where they’ve actually now established representation of it in the Chinese People’s Congress—representing the people of islands, or shoals, or what-have-you, that actually have other people in the region thinking they own them, rather than the Chinese? All of this at a moment when there is a leadership transition, at best, perhaps struggle—a lot of mixed signals about that, and it gives rise, I’m afraid, folks, to the possibility that, at a minimum, the Chinese military will be the kingmaker, which can translate into more resources, or at least more latitude for some people who are actually pretty aggressive.
And that’s before the full fruits of the investment that they have been now making, much of it below the radar horizon, for decades, comes to fruition. Let me give you a couple of examples: The Chinese, as you may know, have built something that has come to be called the “Underground Great Wall.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with this. These are estimated to be 3,000 miles of hardened underground tunnel networks, for the purpose of concealing and operating nuclear missiles, which they have, now, four new long-range variants, some of which will have multiple warheads. The estimates are that there will be, probably, an order of magnitude more of these weapons in the Chinese arsenal than some of the very low figures that have been projected for the Chinese for some time. 300 to 400 of these things may be 3,000—if not now, certainly in the not too distant future, given the emphasis, given the investment they’re making. Similarly, they are working hard at anti-satellite capabilities. Space control, if you will—an incredibly dangerous thing for us, both from a military and an economic point of view, given our dependency upon space for both. Then there is “access denial,” a kind of clinical term for the ability to kill U.S. aircraft carriers at great remove from China, keeping us out of areas that they don’t want us—for example, coming to the aid of the Taiwanese. Then there’s just a more general conventional force buildup: It seems, every time we turn around, there’s some new weapons system that we didn’t realize was out there being rolled out, usually when a Defense Secretary turns up in Beijing. This week it was Leon Panetta, a couple of months back it was Bob Gates, and two different stealth fighters were unveiled on the occasion.
So what’s going on in China, and what that’s likely to translate into in terms of future capability to act offensively, is worrying enough, but you throw into the mix their proxy, their bad-boy client-state—however you want to describe North Korea, which is under new management but seems to be increasingly pursuing some of the same programs that Kim Jong-il followed, namely nuclear programs; nuclear weapons programs; collaboration with the Iranians on both nuclear missiles and weapons; and, probably, the proliferation of these things, because they’re the only cash crop that the North Koreans have, to other parties as well. Which can translate into, of course, not just a problem in the immediate region—of an unstable regime given to lashing out often at South Korea, sometimes threatening Japan—but also being able to metastasize its capabilities elsewhere.
How about in our own backyard? Speaking of Iranian missiles, we’re seeing Hugo Chavez create missile bases—silos for Iranian missiles. Shades of the Cuban Missile Crisis, except, probably, more formidable missiles, will eventually be deployed there, all other things being equal. In fact, Hugo Chavez has been turning Venezuela into, essentially, a safe haven for all kinds of malevolent activities, including turning the Monroe Doctrine on its head, bringing in several of the parties that I’ve just described—the Russians, armaments by the vast amount from Russia, small arms, aircraft of various kinds, helicopters, missiles and the like—and, of course, the support that we’re seeing Hugo Chavez get from China, buying up a lot of oil in exchange for cash that is helping to prop up his regime, probably facilitating other influence- and infrastructure-building for China in Venezuela, and maybe elsewhere in the region. The point of Hugo Chavez is not simply to destroy democracy and any remnant of pro-American sentiment in his own country; he’s seeking to do it through the region much more broadly, and has brought to power a number of proxies, in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, and elsewhere for that purpose. He is, in fact, I believe, implementing Fidel Castro’s grand design; he long ago ran out of money to pursue it, but Hugo Chavez, with the oil wealth of his country, or at least what used to be the oil wealth of his country, has been able to mount it.
Now all of this is taking place, all of these things that are exemplary of a world becoming more dangerous by the day, at the very moment that, under the Obama administration, and with the assent or at least the acquiescence, of the Congress, we are witnessing the evisceration of the United States military. This is happening in any number of forms. I don’t have enough time to do justice to it, but suffice it to say, you simply cannot take $1.2 trillion out of the defense expenditures of the next decade—especially as we’re now doing with this impending sequestration round of cuts, $500 billion in an across-the-board fashion—without wreaking havoc on both the individuals in uniform, who are serving their country, and everything that goes into enabling them to be able to do their jobs, from the equipment and weaponry they have, to the infrastructure that they rely upon, to the training that they require, to the maintenance of the equipment we’ve been intensively, to using to any kind of research and development that we will need to have for a future defense capability. You add on top of it what is being done to our budget more generally, and our fiscal condition, with our petrodollar transfers of unimaginable size’ the growth of entitlements and government spending more generally, especially with the stimulus; the cumulative effects of the wars; and not, least, as Kevin Freeman has talked about—if you haven’t heard of his brief I commend it to you—Kevin is the author of Secret Weapon, the story of how on 9/11, in 2008, a systematic and sustained and very devastating financial warfare attack was mounted against Lehman Brothers, with catastrophic effects, of course, not only on the U.S. economy but also the John McCain campaign; it’s well worth looking at. You put all this together, and you unmistakably convey, to the world at large, and, most especially, the more dangerous parts of it, an America that is in decline, is weak, has irresolute leadership, and is ripe for the taking. And if you have behavios, I argued earlier, that is perceived, above and beyond all that, as submissive—well, as several eminent figures have said over the years, “Weakness is provocative.” History is replete with examples where people respond to that badly—at least, badly for us.
In closing, Mitt Romney has 45 days to make this case. If he picks up on these points, I think he will find the American people resonate to them, and I think he may win. If he does not, I don’t know that he can get there from here. So I hope you will lend a hand to help make this case, and help us fix the problems associated with it. Do I have time for a question?
ARONOFF: Yeah, let’s [unintelligible].
GAFFNEY: Thank you. Anybody want to slit their wrists?
ARONOFF: Let me start: Where are the David Petraeus—somebody to stand up from inside this intelligence or the military organization and say, “Enough! I can’t serve this administration any more!” Do you see that happening? Anybody?
GAFFNEY: Well, it hasn’t happened so far, that’s for sure.
GAFFNEY: I will tell you, having had the experience of actually resigning, as a matter of principle, from the [Ronald] Reagan Defense Department, it doesn’t happen very often. My experience is that, generally, people console themselves with the thought that, as bad as this is, if they don’t stay there, there’s going to be somebody who will be either less well-equipped to contend with it than they, or who will be, maybe, more accommodating of it than they. That’s a rationalization, frankly, but who knows?
Look: Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe what I’ve just described to you is not actually happening. Maybe somebody who has, say, the access to the full panoply of intelligence resources of the United States government will tell you everything’s just coming up roses. I hope that’s true. Honestly, I’m fond of saying I consider myself something of a worst case planner, as you may have figured out. You’re always happy to be wrong, and never more so than at the present moment with respect to all of the things that I’ve just laid out for you.
ARONOFF: Okay, one more. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Thank you, Frank. I thought, as you went through these things, I was thinking about yesterday, what was going through my mind when I looked at what we’re going to do here today. You very aptly summarized a lot of the things that I was thinking about and was aware of. You didn’t even touch on employment and debt, which are other topics, but, to me, it’s just a tragedy that Romney has not seen fit—I don’t know why—to address a number of these things in the many, many different opportunities that he’s had to do this. Somehow, somebody’s got to wake up that great RNC and get things moving.
GAFFNEY: Let me, if I may—
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: That’s not a question, just a comment.
GAFFNEY: Well, if I may take a minute to respond, because it’s a hugely important observation. I’ve been wrestling with it a lot lately.
I would argue that part of this is a function of what I think of as a “lost generation.” You look at the conservative movement, you look at the Republican Party more generally—we have had, basically, a generation that, since the Berlin Wall fell, with the notable spikes of a couple of crises like 9/11, has mostly stopped thinking about the sorts of issues that I’ve just described to you. It’s not necessarily that we’re ignorant of them, it’s just that we don’t know very much about them, and there’s so much other stuff that’s really important that we do know a lot about. Taxes, for example—I’d mention Grover Norquist—fiscal issues, and all that flows from it: The quality of health care, the quality of our educational system, and so on—the kinds of things that democracies typically focus on when there’s not some imminent threat. The problem is, there are lots of imminent threats, and if you have a generation that has, essentially, gone to sleep—not for the first time, and usually with very, very deleterious effects—but when you have a generation that’s gone to sleep, you wind up having people make foolish decisions—or simply failing to act, which is the same thing.
I think Mitt Romney’s instincts, probably, are rather better than the people who seem to be counseling him not to touch this. It’s not to say that I think he’s anxious to get into this, because I think he recognizes this is not an area of deep particular personal expertise, but, on the other hand, I’ve got to believe that a guy who is anxious to become Commander-in-Chief understands this has got to be part of the job, and this has got to be part of getting the job. But there’s no doubt, folks, that he is being told, “Don’t go there,” and it’s been—let’s face it—compounded by the few occasions where he has literally gone there, in Israel and Britain and so on, and figuratively gone there, as in the response, I think, entirely correct, to the outrage in Libya last week, and the apologies from the administration—for what, for our freedom of expression? Well, he’s gotten hammered, not just by the administration, but by its amplifying chorus in the media. So there’s a lot of reasons to understand why he won’t, or doesn’t, at least, to date, hasn’t gone there. All I’m saying is, 45 days from now, he will either have turned around what is, at the moment, I think, an adverse trajectory, or he won’t. And I honestly don’t know what else he could possibly address, or turn to, or seize upon, that has a chance of doing that, given how focused he’s been on the economy and so on, and that isn’t doing it.
But lastly, let me just leave you with this, because I’m really trying to think my way through this and would welcome any suggestions, and I’m sure he would, too. If, in the meantime, something is not done to awaken the American people to the kinds of problems I’ve just given you a very cursory, superficial treatment of, if something is not done to turn them on to the fact that what they’re seeing happen to our ambassador in Libya and our interests and assets throughout that region—and what is coming, there and elsewhere—as they contemplate who they want to have as their next Commander-in-Chief, [Romney] approaches, at his extreme peril, the last of three Presidential debates, which is going to be on this subject. I keep asking myself, “What’s he going to talk about for an hour-and-a-half, other than maybe try to zing the President here or there? What is it that will cause people to come away from watching him engage in that contest, in the last debate, shortly before the election, that isn’t going to, basically, be read as, ‘Well, he’s not a bad guy, I guess, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be packing the gear’?” Personally, I don’t want to see him in that position. So, again, I will leave you with this appeal: Please, to the extent that you can, or the people you know can, help us elevate these issues, these vital national security issues—not just for political purposes, but because the fate the of the country literally rests on getting this right. Indeed, so does this election.
Thank you very much.