Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Defense of the Nation

By Carol Gee

It will be assured by a well-executed presidential transition plan. The American people are curious about whether current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will be staying on after President-elect Obama takes the oath of office. It looks like there is some possibility that he will, based on these news items: Gates and Danzig? -- A former Navy secretary praises the man whom he might eventually replace. "Obama Mulls Plan to Keep Gates at Pentagon," from the 11/11/08 CQ Politics. To quote:

President-elect Obama is strongly considering keeping Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates in that post for a limited time in the new administration, several sources close to the discussions said Tuesday.

Under the still-tentative plan, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig would become deputy secretary and take over the job when Gates departs, perhaps after up to one year. Gates has not formally been asked to stay, sources close to the Pentagon and the transition team said. A source close to Gates said he is reluctant but willing to stay on in the short term.

The general in charge of the Missile defense program is leaving his post soon and has prepared a briefing for President-elect Obama, should he want it. Obama has not said what his final views on the subject are, though he has not ruled it out. The story, "General Warns Obama on Missile Defense," is from the 11/12/08 CBS News. To quote the piece's sub-head, "Head Of Missile Defense Agency Says U.S. Would Be "Severely Hurt" If Plan Is Abandoned; Russia Rejects More U.S. Proposals." As for the Middle East war situation, "Obama faces major challenge in Afghanistan/Pakistan," from Juan Cole's (11/12/08) Informed Comment, is one of the very best available current background readings on the subject.

Public Diplomacy as an element of national security has been an abysmal failure under the Bush administration. Here is an example: "USC Study of Alhurra Withheld from Public; Inquiries of Network's Operation Deepen" from the 11/4/08 ProPublica. To quote:

The government board that oversees the US-funded Arabic satellite channel Alhurra has refused to make public an independent study commissioned last year to review the network’s content.

People who have read the study, which was completed in July, described it as highly critical of Alhurra, a four-year-old government broadcasting effort begun by President Bush that has cost U.S. taxpayers $500 million and has been shrouded in controversy.

Bush’s public diplomacy efforts have been widely criticized by Democrats and even within his own party and corners of his administration. It is likely that his successor will review some of the most expensive efforts such as Alhurra which was designed to promote a positive image of U.S. policies in the Muslim world.

Defense acquisition will need an enormous amount of revamping if the following two examples are any indication of how wrong-headed it has been under the Bush administration:

  1. "Army Orders Pain Ray Trucks; New Report Shows 'Potential for Death'," is from the 10/10/08 Wired: Danger Room. To quote:

    After years of testing, the Active Denial System -- the pain ray which drives off rioters with a microwave-like beam -- could finally have its day. The Army is buying five of the truck-mounted systems for $25 million. But the energy weapon may face new hurdles, before it's shipped off to the battlefield; a new report details how the supposedly non-lethal blaster could be turned into a flesh-frying killer.

    The contract for the pain ray trucks is "expected to be awarded by year's end," Aviation Week notes. "A year after the contract is signed, the combination vehicle/weapons will start be fielded at the rate of one per month."

  2. "Packs of robots will hunt down uncooperative humans"* comes from the 10/22/08 Short Sharp Science. To quote:

    The latest request from the Pentagon jars the senses. At least, it did mine. They are looking for contractors to provide a "Multi-Robot Pursuit System" that will let packs of robots "search for and detect a non-cooperative human".

    One thing that really bugs defence chiefs is having their troops diverted from other duties to control robots. So having a pack of them controlled by one person makes logistical sense. But I'm concerned about where this technology will end up.

    Given that iRobot last year struck a deal with Taser International to mount stun weapons on its military robots, how long before we see packs of droids hunting down pesky demonstrators with paralysing weapons? Or could the packs even be lethally armed?

In conclusion, as Commander in Chief, President-elect Obama will be challenged to restore and repair the U.S. military to full effectiveness. Our professional military has not been well-served by the current Commander in Chief. You can be assured that President-elect Obama would have an entirely different "take" on the last three stories in this post than our current president would have. Though Obama is a "techie," he would likely look askance at deploying pain ray trucks and pursuit robots. And because he is so bright, he would read with fascination my last story: "Scientists Identify Brain's 'Hate Circuit'"* from the 10/29/08 Yahoo! News. To quote:

British researchers say they've identified a "hate circuit" in the brain.

This hate circuit shares part of the brain associated with aggression, but is distinct from areas related to emotions such as fear, threat, and danger, said researchers Professor Semir Zeki and John Romaya, of University College London's laboratory of neurobiology.

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are "betmo"* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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