October Surprises?

Since my last interaction with you just before the 4th of July quite a bit as transpired – – – – most of it troubling to me – – – –  but the Olympics, the preseason début  of the Redskin’s RG III, and the Nationals pennant run, all seem to be acceptable diversions in the swelter of the dog days of July and August in DC. 

The most visceral and immediately painful events, of course, are the mass shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin perpetrated by troubled lone gunmen.  Both tragedies should be stark reminders to those involved with homeland security of the threat posed by “lone wolf” radicals looking to make some political point.  Of greater concern to me is a transnational terrorist group encouraging either would-be martyrs or disaffected individuals to conduct some type of “lone wolf terror campaign” geared at either interrupting our political processes or slowing our economic recovery.  Surely, there is more intelligence can do to identify potential “lone wolfs” to law enforcement before they strike – such as investigating when 6,000 rounds of ammunition are delivered to a one bedroom apartment.  That doesn’t mean I am in favor of the government interfering with my Second Amendment Rights to bear arms; I just want the government doing all it can to protect me from others building an arsenal in their homes… is that so too hard or to much to expect?!  Again the conflicting issues of security and civil liberties.

The Federal Reserve dutifully confirmed the obvious in July that the US economy is barely growing.  There are lots of causes for this, but the still expanding national debt continues to impact all aspects of the economy.  In the long run our nearly $16 trillion deficit is both the largest and surest threat to the United States’ national security and our standard of living; however, in the short run it is also impacting what spending for national security will be in FY 13.  The Congress adjourned the first week in August telling us the check was in the mail for passage of a Continuing Resolution (CR) in September to avoid a government shutdown on 1 October.  That leaves only the lame duck session of Congress after the election to find and allocate $50 billion in defense cuts for FY 13 that both sides can agree to or sequestration will spread that $50 billion in cuts across all national security accounts on a pro rata basis – something the Congress, the Secretary of Defense, and the defense industry all agree will wreak havoc on the national security landscape.   

The violence in Syria is continuing and escalating but stalemated, where both the government and rebel forces are killing each other with considerable collateral damage in the absence of either side being able to defeat the other.  The United States for its part is war weary and broke (see above), and while it wants Basher Assad out it is also rightly concerned about supporting rebel forces it knows very little about.  Ironically as the Congress and the security apparatus of the IC work to limit contact with the press it seems from nightly news that reporters like Richard Engle have unique access to at least certain factions battling Assad.  In neo-Cold War fashion both Russia and China have vetoed UN sanctioned international action to remove Assad because they want to avoid (for obvious reasons) the precedent of external intervention to remove authoritarian governments.  Continuing the Cold War metaphor (and hopefully not the “Guns of August”) the situation in Syria is creating a volatile de facto alignment between Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Damascus with Pyongyang as a junior partner. 

Speaking of reporters with access and insight, David Ignatius warned in a 6 August OpEd  http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-is-saudi-arabia-on-the-edge/2012/08/05/6758c1e0-dd91-11e1-8e43-4a3c4375504a_story.html that “by appointing Prince Bandar bin Sultan as its new intelligence chief, Saudi Arabia has installed what looks like a war cabinet at a time of rising tensions with Iran and growing internal dissent from its Shiite minority.”  He goes on to say the Saudi military is also quietly canceling leave in order to increase military readiness.  Ignatius speculates that all this is in reaction to increasing concerns by both King Abdullah and the new Crown Prince Salman that Iran does not just want to keep Assad in power but also wants to weaken the monarchy’s ability to rule Saudi Arabia.  Knowing nothing beyond what I read in newspaper (yeah I still read them) and lacking access to even David Ignatius, I would also think that Riyadh has legitimate concerns that  the Shia Ayatollahs would retaliate against the Saudi Sunni Monarchy if there is an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Amazingly (at least to me) none of these macro issues impacting the well being if not the security of the United States has yet to become a matter for debate in what has so far been an issue-free Presidential campaign by both sides.  Based on Presidential campaign tomes such as Game Change and Primary Colors, I am confident both campaigns have subject matter experts writing policy papers on the lone wolf threat, the impact of the deficit on national security, courses of action for Syria, and threats to Saudi Arabia, but neither campaign obviously sees any electoral value in raising these subjects while the voters are not listening in the pre-convention August heat.   Each of these circumstances though, has the potential to deliver an “October Surprise” that neither the Presidential campaigns, our security agencies nor the nation at large are considering seriously enough.

That’s what I think; what do you think?

3 comments on “October Surprises?

  1. Keith Herrington says:

    While I’m not going to directly disagree with some of your points, I would like to share an obliquely alternate view.

    1. I don’t want the government monitoring my ammunition purchases for any reason, unless or until they have probable cause sufficient to open an investigation and have a warrant that allows them to access those transactions. Why? Because I don’t trust the government. Not just the current government – any and all governments. My purchase of ammo far exceed what both of these guys did put together. Why? I’m a competitive shooter and go through ammo like I do Kleenex. But the government doesn’t know this and my transactions without that context would raise all sorts of red flags IF THEY HAD THE AUTHORITY TO INVADE MY PRIVACY LIKE YOU MAINTAIN.

    2. Your lament that both campaigns are missing an opportunity to discuss issues of real substance while interesting is really beside the point of the campaign. Purpose of the campaign is simple to either maintain the current regime or replace it. The purpose of the process has never been to resolve important issues, but rather put in power those that will advocate and accomplish actions that benefit “me”. While in times of great crisis, like 9/11, we can pull together and put the country first, if the threat is allowed to become part of our everyday background (again, like 9/11) then we very quickly regain our focus on “me”. The critical mistake by “W” was claiming he was not going to allow 9/11 to disrupt our comfortable daily lives. He would have served this country far better by putting us on a true war footing, then deferring to Congress with regards to funding and supporting that effort appropriately. We should have allowed the people and their representatives more say in how earnest they wanted to be in eliminating the threat.

    3. Last, when families are underwater with their mortgages, having trouble paying their credit cards, and don’t know if they’ll have an income this time next year, the environment is ripe for those that they “deserve” to have everything the guy next door has, or better yet, the guys on Wall Street have. The fact that they, like most of the rest of us, foolishly spent money we didn’t have on a lifestyle we didn’t need (myself included) when money was easy and the banks were seemingly generous, doesn’t releave any of us from having the responsibility of getting out of the mess we made for ourselves. But is does explain why the electorate has no patience with debates about issues they don’t think they can influence. These folks, by and large, want to know how the election will effect them, and they won’t give a damn about issues that don’t. What both campaigns have failed to do to date, and Romney’s is only now beginning to do is relate these issues to the common man and woman, and try at least to educate them as to what the stakes of this election really are. I wish them luck but I will continue to manage my expectations.

    • joemazzafro says:

      Keith I am not taking a position here on the Second Amendment; rather, I am trying to raise the question of security verses civil liberities. A debate that has not occurred in the last two Presidential elections and it looks like the streak will continue in 2012.

      I agree very much with your observation that people want to hear political candidates speak about what is important to them and what they believe they can effect with their votes. I actually passed all four examples in the blog through those filters.

      The DC Sniper incident certainly impacted most people’s sense of personal security and resulted in modified behavior. Scale that out with a campaign of lone wolf terror and I can easily envsion a paralyzed country.

      Issues of monetary collapse aside, the current debt will effect every citizen when interest rates are allowed to rise when the federal government can no longer use fiscal policy to keep them artificially low and/or the Chinese just decide to not buy as many treasuries.

      Fighting in Syria can easily broaden into a larger conflict that if the US stays clear of will drive up the cost of gasoline —– that will push the economy back into recession.

      Iran attacking Saudi Arabia — see price of gasoline above

      Given the potential impact I see this events having my standard of living if not personal safety I want to know that those seeking to be our Nation’s chief executive at least understand them and perhaps have a strategy for dealing with them.


      • Keith Herrington says:

        I understand completely. My only real concern is the growing argument among a certain slice of society that the American people should be willing to give up some of their liberty for security. I am not!

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