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October Surprises?
By: Joe Mazzafro

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?


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