The March To More War, Anonymous Lights Out, Greek Drama, Troops Stoke Fires, Moon Magma

The March To War

The march toward open hostilities with Iran seems to be progressing unabated.  The Obama administration has continued it’s public policy of supporting and enhancing the sanctions against Iran, even as news is breaking that memebers of the administration are expecting sanctions to fail behind closed doors.  The Obama administration’s hesitancy has always struck me as somewhat like the brilliant Kristen Wiig’s Saturday Night Live skit in which she implores her guests, “don’t make me sing.”

As the hysteria over Iran continues to be transparently ramped up every day, little attention has been given to what the real experts are saying about a conflict with Iran.  Peter Beimart wrote a very informative piece for The Daily Beast in which he asks three basic questions.  First, if Iran’s leaders got the bomb, would they use it or give it to people who might? Second, would a strike substantially retard Iran’s nuclear program? Third, if Israel attacks, what will Iran do in response?

Beimart looks to the recent comments of the people entrusted with assessing the Iranian situation and answered the three basic questions as follows:

Start with the first question: whether Iran would be suicidal enough to use or transfer a nuke. In 2007, the U.S. intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iran argued that the Iranian regime—loathsome as it is—is “guided by a cost-benefit approach.” In 2011, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress that “we continue to judge Iran’s nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach.” Last week, Gen. Ron Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress that “the agency assesses Iran is unlikely to initiate or provoke a conflict.” Last weekend, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: “We are of the opinion that Iran is a rational actor.”

Most of the Israeli security officials who have commented publicly have said similar things. In December, Haaretz reported that Mossad chief Tamir Pardo had called Iran a threat, but not an existential one. Earlier this month, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy echoed that view, declaring that “it is not in the power of Iran to destroy the state of Israel.” That same week, former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said virtually the same thing: that “Iran poses a serious threat but not an existential one.” In other words, Iran might use a nuclear weapon to put additional pressure on Israel, but not to wipe it off the map.

Then there’s an attack’s likelihood of success. In congressional testimony this week, Clapper warned that an Israeli strike would set back Iran’s nuclear program by only one to two years. In January, Michael Hayden, who led the CIA from 2006 to 2009, said a successful strike was “beyond their [Israel’s] capacity.” This week in The New York Times, David Deptula, the Air Force general who planned the bombing campaigns against Iraq in 1991 and Afghanistan in 2001, mocked “the pundits who talk about, ‘Oh, yeah, bomb Iran’” and said that only the United States could launch a strike massive enough to seriously retard Iran’s dispersed and hardened nuclear program.

Finally, there’s the likely fallout. This week, Dempsey predicted that an attack would have a “destabilizing” influence on the region. Last month, Hayden warned that while the U.S. intelligence community does not currently know whether Iran has decided to build a bomb—as opposed to developing the capacity to build one—an attack would “guarantee that which we are trying to prevent: an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon.” Meir Dagan, who ran Mossad from 2002 to 2011, warned last year that attacking Iran “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.”

In assessing those most vocal in calling for a strike against Iran, Beimart sums it up like this:

Can you find former military and intelligence officials who are more sympathetic to a strike? Sure. But in my lifetime, I’ve never seen a more lopsided debate among the experts paid to make these judgments. Yet it barely matters. So far, the Iran debate has been a rout, with the Republican presidential candidates loudly declaring their openness to war and President Obama unwilling to even echo the skepticism of his own security chiefs.

And who are the hawks who have so far marginalized the defense and intelligence establishments in both Israel and the U.S.? They’re a collection of think-tankers and politicians, most absolutely sincere, in my experience. But from Rick Santorum to John McCain to Elliott Abrams to John Bolton, their defining characteristic is that they were equally apocalyptic about the threat from Iraq, and equally nonchalant about the difficulties of successfully attacking it. The story of the Iraq debate was, in large measure, the story of their triumph over the career military and intelligence officials—folks like Eric Shinseki and Joseph Wilson—whose successors are now warning against attacking Iran.

We’ve all seen this movie before.  It seems incredulous that the exact same build-up to a badly advised and strategically unnecessary military engagement could again be used to drive the engine of endless war.  And yet, here we are.

Anonymous Lights Out

According to USAToday, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, has expressed fears in White House meetings and “other private gatherings” that the hactivist group Anonymous could cause a “limited blackout” of the power grid.  This warning comes despite the fact that Anonymous has never indicated it would be interested in such an attack.  So far, Anonymous has only claimed credit for attacks on government and corporate web sites.  Alexander believes, however, that Anonymous is moving in a more “disruptive direction.”  Alexander points to the threat, attributed to Anonymous, that they will be attempting to blackout the Internet on March 31st.

Greek Drama

After two years of austerity measures resulting from the first Greek bailout, the financial “experts” have decided that what Greece needs is more austerity.  Reuter’s reports the details of the bail out as follows:

The complex deal wrought in overnight negotiations buys time to stabilize the 17-nation currency bloc and strengthen its financial firewalls, but it leaves deep doubts about Greece’s ability to recover and avoid default in the longer term.

After 13 hours of talks, ministers finalized measures to cut Athens’ debt to 120.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2020, a fraction above the target, securing a second rescue in less than two years in time for a major bond repayment due in March.

“We have reached a far-reaching agreement on Greece’s new program and private sector involvement that would lead to a significant debt reduction for Greece … to secure Greece’s future in the euro area,” Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs the Eurogroup of finance ministers, told a news conference.

Greece will be placed under permanent surveillance by an increased European presence on the ground, and it will have to deposit funds to service its debt in a special account to guarantee repayments.

The 5 a.m. deal (0400 GMT) was hailed as a step forward for Greece, but experts warned that Athens will need more help to bring its debts down to the level envisaged in the bailout and will remain worryingly “accident prone” in coming years.

By agreeing that the European Central Bank would distribute its profits from bond-buying and private bondholders would take more losses, the ministers reduced Greece’s debt to a point that should secure funding from the International Monetary Fund

Despite all the happy talk making the rounds, there is still a great deal of concern that Greece is FAR from out of the woods.  According to Bloomberg:

Even with investors and central bankers chipping in to relieve the debt burden, economists from Citigroup Inc. to Commerzbank AG concluded Greece may again fail to deliver amid a fifth year of recession, looming elections and social unrest. The upshot could be the removal of aid and renewed debate over the merits of fresh assistance before year-end as policy makers shift toward doing more to inoculate the rest of Europe.

“The bailout bandage is on, but it won’t take much to unravel,” said David Miller, partner at Cheviot Asset Management in London. “The euro zone has done its best to ensure that Greece will deliver on promises, but there is considerable scope for backtracking on deficit reduction.”

Financial markets signaled doubt the accord will fix Greece’s travails permanently or spell an end to the two-year debt crisis. The euro surrendered initial gains against the dollar and European stocks fell from a six-month high.

So we kick the can a little way down the road again. But the road to default seems to get shorter and shorter despite all this so-called “progress.”

Troops Stoke Fires

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.  After all of the ruckus last year over a Florida preacher’s threat to burn copies of the Koran, after members of the pentagon and the intelligence community warned that burning the Koran would present unnecessary risks to military serving overseas, the military itself burns the Koran in Afghanistan.

According to the Washington Post, U.S. officials said that the copies of the Koran were mistakenly included in a bundle of material bound for an incinerator on the base. The books were quickly removed once Afghan employees told American soldiers that burning them would be deeply sacrilegious.

But that intervention happened only after the pages of some books were charred. Afghan employees of the base carried those remains outside the Bagram’s front gate as evidence of what had happened, galvanizing a growing crowd of protesters.

“The people who do this are our enemies,” said a 27-year-old who has worked at a warehouse on the base for two years. “How could I ever work for them again?”

Another Bagram employee who joined the protest said, “Whoever goes back to work will be killed. They’ll think of us as a traitors.”

The books were handed to local parliamentarians and religious officials,who took them to the Interior Ministry in Kabul, where officials said they will be held as evidence

After ten years in Afghanistan, how can such a mistake be made?

Moon Magma

The Moon might not be so lifeless, after all.  The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that images collected by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter hints the moon has probably seen tectonic activity within the last 50 million years.

In these photos, researchers spotted a dozen or so narrow, trenchlike features known as graben in the lunar highlands and in the dark plains of volcanic rock known as the mare basalts. Graben are essentially troughs with two faults or cracks in the surface on either side of them. They are thought to have formed as the lunar crust was stretched. [10 Coolest Moon Discoveries]

“Overall on the moon, you have this contracting, shrinking environment, but in some places, apparently there’s this stretching extension of the crust,” said study lead author Thomas Watters, a planetary scientist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

The graben the scientists detected, which reach up to about 1,640 feet (500 meters) wide and 1.1 miles (1.8 kilometers) long, appear relatively pristine. This suggests they formed recently — otherwise, they would be marred more often by craters from meteor impacts over time.

“We think they’re less than 50 million years old, but they could be 10 million years old, could be 1 million years old, could have happened 40 years ago,” Watters told “The intriguing picture that’s emerging of the moon is that there is recent geological activity going on.”

Moonquakes detected by seismic sensors installed during the Apollo missions support the notion of recent activity on the moon, researchers added. All in all, the moon’s interior may still be hot.

“The moon may not only have been tectonically active recently, but may still be tectonically active today,” Watters said.

Re-write the books one more time.

Write if you hear something good.