The talking point top lines that the White House is sending to the people who will yak about the State of the Union address on television:
An America Built to Last
· In his State of the Union Address, the President will lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last – an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.
· The President believes this is a make or break moment for the middle class and those trying to reach it. What’s at stake is the very survival of the basic American promise that if you work hard, you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, and put a little away for retirement.
· The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive. No challenge is more urgent; no debate is more important. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while more Americans barely get by. Or we can build a nation where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.
· The fact is, the economic security of the middle class has eroded for decades. Long before the recession, good jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores. Hard work stopped paying off for too many Americans. Those at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but the vast majority of Americans struggled with costs that were growing and paychecks that weren’t.
· In 2008, the house of cards collapsed. Mortgages were sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them. Banks made huge bets and bonuses made with other people’s money. It was a crisis that cost us more than eight million jobs and plunged our economy and the world into a crisis from which we are still fighting to recover.
· The President has been clear that we need to do more to create jobs and help economic growth. But under his leadership and thanks to action taken by this President, the economy is growing again. The economy has added a total of 3.2 million private sector jobs over the last 22 months.
· American manufacturing is creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s. The American auto industry is coming back. Today, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion. And the President signed into law new rules to hold Wall Street accountable. He stands on a solid record and tonight will lay out a blueprint that will ensure an economy built to last over the long term.
· For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. We’ve decimated al Qaeda’s leadership, delivered justice to Osama bin Laden, and put that terrorist network on the path to defeat. We’ve made important progress in Afghanistan, and begun a transition so Afghans can assume more responsibility. We joined with allies and partners to protect the Libyan people as they ended the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.
· We cannot go back to an economy based on outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits. The President intends to keep moving forward and rebuild an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded – an economy built to last.
The reason Admiral William McRaven, the Commander of the Special Operations Command, deserves the extraordinary and public recognition he’ll get tonight is not — I repeat not — because of his role in planning and commanding the DevGru SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden last year.
Surely, McRaven merits accolade for an excellent, precise special operation of the type he studied and wrote about. But Operation Neptune’s Spear will go down in history as a textbook op because of its target, UBL, and not because of any particular or paranormal activity undertaken by the combatants.
Cynically, here’s there because a re-election seeking President Obama needed a face to associate with the triumph that marked bin Laden’s death, a true accomplishment, and a tough call for a young President.
Leon Panetta could have filled that role. And McRaven is shy. By nature and by design. He once told a reporter that he really wanted JSOC to be “left alone to do our thing.”
However I think that the reason why this shadow warrior gets to sit in the FIrst Lady’s box is because he transformed the way the US combats violent extremism, from, basically, 2002 until today.
Actually, he invented that phrase “Combating Violent Extremism,” when the Obama administration wanted to broaden the concept of the Bush Administrations “War On Terrorism.”
McRaven, in one form of another, either wrote the plans for or had some role in executing every major offensive counter-terrorism tactic that significantly degraded the Al Qaeda network. As Task Force Commander in Iraq, he and Gen. Stanley McChrystal and intelligence chief LTG Michael Flynn fused intelligence and operations and got inside the insurgent information loop at precisely the right moment, turning the streets of Baghdad into a Valhalla of special operations. Upon taking over as JSOC commander in 2008, McRaven set out to institutionalize the revolutionary warfare techniques that made the Command so successful in Iraq.
All this sounds like cheerleading. He did come along at the right moment…at a time when the only thing that was actually working was JSOC….and he has proved himself a masterful bureaucratic force multiplier.
JSOC does basically five things. It kills people — hopefully bad people. It steals things that are really hard to get. It collects intelligence. It dabbles in the occultist word of chemical and biological and nuclear weapons, spoofing them, disabling them, rendering them safe. And it penetrates deep into enemy territory to destroy targets that are critical part of information links during war — think of the relay stations for China’s satellites.
Neptune’s Spear aside, there is a lot that JSOC does that the public will never know. When JSOC does make the news, it’s generally because people messed up — they participated in the torture of detainees in Iraq in 2002 — or because of a once in a life time op that must because of the nature of the target be made public.
But 4,000+ people work in silence, always in silence, doing other things that even the most grizzled critic of the Command would acknowledge are essential to national security.
Since 9/11/ JSOC has become one part of the government that actually works. It gets along better with its counterparts at the CIA. It has improved information sharing. It has (of course) expanded its turf. It is more responsive to Congress than ever before. Everyone who wants to be anyone in the U.S. military now wants a tour through Fayetteville and Pope AFB.
As the leader of this force of secret squirrels, McRaven has shown his chops as a commander. But his real contribution has been the way he figured out how to defeat disrupt and dismantle terrorist networks using intelligence, technology and teamwork.
The story of special operations forces is hard to tell, but McRaven has reason to think it is a very good one, one that Americans can be proud of, and McRaven’s presence ought to honor all who cannot be named.
Whenever the bright orange helicopters fly, whenever there are extra DC cops idling in patrol cars on the street, whenever the zone around Capitol turns into a fortress, it can mean one of two things: a classified homeland security exercise, or an NSSE — a National Special Security Event. The State of the Union Address is by necessity given that formal designation by the Secretary of Homeland Security even in the absence of specific intelligence indicating a threat.
It makes sense: the line of presidential succession, the entire Congress, probably close to half of the Supreme Court, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House staff, all in one place. Terrific and awful novels have begun with that premise.
The networks like to point out the designated cabinet member who is sent to an “undisclosed location,” as if that were the only thing the government does to prevent an all-out catastrophe.
Well — that cabinet member actually becomes a shadow president for about six hours. He or she will be briefed on the procedures needed to executive nuclear war plans and given a Top Secret intelligence briefing to make sure that the “surviving” president would be read in to the latest analysis of the world should the unthinkable happen.
The security plan for the SOTUA is designed by the Secret Service, with the FBI playing the lead role in preventing and deterring terrorist attacks. In practice, that means all hands on deck, and the use of Coast Guard, FBI and Department of Energy surveillance helicopters. (At one recent NSSE, a Customs and Border Patrol UAV was used to patrol DC airspace.) The DOE helicopters check for unusual radiation patterns. The FBI helicopters have other missions.
The Joint Forces Headquarters for the National Capital Region stands up a task force of responders, and its command center, Guardian, is on full alert, to respond a CBRNE attack. The 1st Helicopter Squadron based at Andrews Air Force Base pre-deploys its helos to locations closer to the Capitol in order to more easily evacuate cabinet members and those in the line of succession.
All that — for a speech.
All that, and a lot more that we don’t know about, to keep continuity of government.
At the heart of the government’s case against former CIA officer John Kiriakou, the author of a best-selling (and heavily redacted) book about his experiences interrogating Al Qaeda suspects, is a question that Aristotle would appreciate: does a person exist only when he is named?
The facts, very briefly, are best understood with reference to the charge that we can find the most public references to.
The New York Times published a story in 2008 detailing the interrogation of KSM by a “soft spoken” CIA analyst named Deuce Martinez. Though Martinez was not a CIA case officer, his identity the government considers to be a state secret because he was associated with the classified program, GREYSTONE, that permitted the CIA to rough up suspects and transfer them to third countries that might do the same.
By associating Martinez with the program, the article allowed at least one GTMO defense attorney to link his client’s interrogation to Martinez, something that, without access to classified information the government wouldn’t provide, the attorney would not have been able to do. In 2009, the government somehow confiscated from GTMO detainees pages of photographs of government employees provided by their defense attorneys - legally, it seems. The lawyers wanted their clients to be able to identify their interrogators, and were trading information with journalists in order to compile a list of potential FBI agents and CIA officers… and obtain photographs of them.
There is a sticky question here: the CIA claims that Martinez’s identity was a valid secret. The New York Times believed that it was a procedural secret — that is, there was no exigent reason to believe that Martinez himself was properly covered by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act but simply that the CIA was trying to keep the names of everyone associated with interrogations a secret because disclosures of any sort tended to complicate the policy.
The complaint against Kiriakou also alleges that he disclosed Officer B’d identity to two other journalist, disclosed the name of a serving CIA case officer to another journalist, and lied to the CIA about whether a technique used in interrogation was “fictional” — and thus could be included in his book. The government seems to have an extensive e-mail trail connecting the dots
Some uncomfortable points: the government seems to have obtained e-mail records for either at least one journalist and one GTMO defense interrogator, because it refers to e-mail correspondence between the two.
“Journalist A,” who is not identified, allegedly provided a GTMO attorney with the identity of a covert CIA officer after learning it from Kiriakou. Context for this information exchange is not provided. From experience, I can attest to the fact that transactions are often at the heart of national security journalism. It does appear that both Journalist A and the defense attorney properly decided not to disclose the CIA officer’s identity publicly because he was definitely covert and still serving.
Kiriakou’s opposition to the rough treatment of prisoners (the catalyst for his book) and his decision to go public a few years ago may elevate his status and earn him sympathy as a whistleblower of immoral government conduct. Or it may not — he originally told ABC News that waterboarding worked to break KSM, when in fact, it hadn’t…. was the first person to admit openly that wate boarding had been used but wasn’t prosecuted for it.
So far, we don’t know his side of the story.
Is this the start of a concerted campaign against the “John Adams Project,” which aims to help GTMO lawyers identify the folks who may have tortured their clients? Marcy Wheeler makes the case that it is.
As the economy improves, it may be harder and harder for the Obama campaign to gain traction with arguments that Romney’s personal economic advantages mean he is out of touch with suffering Americans. But Republicans, by airing these arguments early, are providing in-kind donations to the president’s re-election campaign.
Romney said today he pays an effective tax rate of around 15 percent, owing largely to the way he makes his money. Actually, aside from speaking engagements, he doesn’t make a lot of money, because he already has a lot of money. His investments, largely through dividends, kick in the rest. (NPR notes that the Obamas, you know, work for a living and pay a tax rate closer to that of their income bracket — about 26%.)
When the economy is historically bad, and people are losing their jobs, it is easier to exploit submerged class and status resentments. When the economy is improving, people, and Americans especially, tend to switch moods relatively rapidly and become aspirational and much less class conscious. That’s one reason I think political populism doesn’t work in times of relative economic prosperity even when the gap between the rich and the poor is large and growing.
Late last year, Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, told me that Mitt Romney will be called to account, over and over for his Bain record, and for his attitude — for the way he dismisses, often with a throwaway phrase, how people can suffer when the vicissitudes of the economy throw surprises. More viscerally, Romney is easily cast as the guy “who fired you, or fired your brother, or your friend,” Messina told me. I asked Messina if Obama could do this if the economy was improving. I don’t remember the exact response, but Messina was confident that the charges would stick in any environment.
Over the past few months, Democrats and the Presidents have finally figured out how to harness economic anxieties in a politically fruitful way. It took them…well, decades. But better late than never, I suppose, at least for them.
But the economy really is getting better. An exogenous shock from Europe notwithstanding, it is indeed possible that by the time Obama and Romney start to argue directly at each other, poll numbers showing pessimism about the future will begin to reverse.
That is to say, really, that the arguments are going to be less important than the environment. If the environment is better, the arguments, the contrasts — these won’t matter as much. The Democratic base is in a state of excitement — witness the 1 million signatures that the Wisconsin Democratic Party gathered to put Scott Walker on the recall block — and growing confidence of an Obama victory will probably sustain their passion through the summer.
The challenge for Obama’s team is to make Romney’s Management-Consultant-capitalism into a bugbear, complete with self-sustaining resentment triggers. But if people are feeling more confident come this summer, it’s harder to do this. It will ring hollow. People don’t live in the past. “Remember how bad those Republicans were” was and is Obama’s least effective general election argument, not because it’s not a good argument, but because it doesn’t track with the way voters process information outside focus groups.
That’s one reason why they are so…well…thrilled, that those Americans who incidentally tune in to the national coverage of the GOP debate right now are still hearing Rick Perry talk about Vulture Capitalism and might even see a replay of an advertisement about how Bain did X to town Y. It’s why the debate about Romney’s taxes is probably worth them having now, when people still feel vulnerable, as opposed to in the fall, when they feel more confident.
The flip side, of course, is that if these charges don’t stick, if the labeling doesn’t work now, if people ignore it, it has even less of a chance to adhere to the minds of those (a) working class whites in the Midwest and (b) professional suburbanites who will need to find ways of identifying and sorting in their heads the Republican presidential nominee.