March 19, 2014
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The month of March has not been a comforting one for those of us who are concerned about America’s security. The news in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and right here in the United States is of a world full of threats for which the Obama Administration is unprepared.
In Europe, Vladimir Putin has invaded a sovereign country and annexed part of its territory with little more than verbal protest from the United States and Europe in response. Ukrainian officials reportedly are begging the U.S. for military aid, probably the minimum step Putin would take seriously. We could arm Ukraine without putting a single American soldier at risk, but after nearly three weeks of Russian aggression there, the U.S. has yet to grant the aid request.
Instead, we’ve responded with meaningless gestures–slapping sanctions on the U.S. assets of just seven individual Russian officials. This for invading a European country. As the New Yorker joked, if Putin isn’t careful, we might even freeze his Netflix account next. Barring Russian officials from visiting Disney World is pretty pathetic.
Our failure to respond to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine could have consequences far beyond Crimea’s borders. After America’s weakness there in the last few weeks, we’ll just have to hope Putin doesn’t set his sights on a country like Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia–NATO members that we have an absolute binding obligation to protect with military force. But which of our actions in Ukraine are supposed to convince Russia that the United States is serious and that messing with other Eastern European nations would be a bad idea?
That possibility is just one reason Americans should be alarmed that neither the President nor the Democratic led Senate has mustered a serious response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In fact, after Speaker Boehner and the Republican led House passed aid to Ukraine with a massive bipartisan majority, Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid sent his members on vacation rather than approving an aid package to Ukraine last week.
Bob Schieffer on CBS imagined how the post-Senate adjournment conversation might have gone between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart:
“Absolutely not so!” said Kerry. “Harry Reid, the Senate leader, has assured everyone the aid package is the very first thing the Senate will deal with when they get back from vacation in a week or so.”
“Excuse my limited knowledge of how your government works,” Lavrov said. “But vacation from what?”
Schieffer was being facetious, but his point is serious. For years now, the American government has failed to respond appropriately on critical matters of national security.
The current crisis in Ukraine is certainly one such case. Another was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal last week: a report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which concluded that “the U.S. could suffer a coast-to-coast blackout if saboteurs knocked out just nine of the country’s 55,000 electric transmission substations on a scorching summer day.” The challenge of replacing giant transformers means the resulting power outage could last months–a situation that might bring the country close to societal collapse as well as economic disaster.
Alarmingly, someone–we still have no idea who–has already practiced destroying one of these substations in a professional, astonishing attack on a California power station last year. As the Journal reported and I have discussed in a recent newsletter, a team of snipers destroyed 17 transformers in less than 20 minutes in the middle of the night last April. The crime remains unsolved.
Congress has known about the vulnerability of our nation’s electric grid for years but has done nothing. It has failed to pass commonsense measures like Rep. Trent Franks’s SHIELD Act, which would strengthen the grid against an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) that would, like the destruction of electrical power stations, plunge North America into darkness for months.
An EMP could come from something as simple as a strong solar storm or as complex as a small nuclear device detonated at high altitude.
Anyone who finds the later scenario unimaginable hasn’t been watching the coverage of Malaysian Airlines flight 370. The use of a commercial aircraft for violent purposes, as investigators are considering in the MH370 case, is one of the possibilities those of us who warn of EMPs worry about.
My friend Bill Forstchen has written an amazing novel, One Second After, imagining the aftermath of such an attack. It is frightening enough that it’s clear we should do everything in our power to guard against EMP events. But much like going on vacation in the middle of a major crisis in Europe, Congress can’t seem to take simple steps like those in the SHIELD Act to harden our critical infrastructure.
The events of the last few weeks remind us how dangerous and unpredictable the world can be. Americans deserve leaders who take our national security at least as seriously as their own reelection efforts.
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