Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I love history
I have never made any secret of that fact and consider myself fortunate to live in the times we find ourselves in. History is all around us and when we have opportunities to see it unfold before us we should feel ourselves fortunate, even if it is a negative event.
As I was growing up, the benchmark events were always marked by my elders who asked questions like “where were you and what were you doing when Kennedy was shot?” or “where were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed?” For my generation, the benchmarks were somewhat the same. The questions “were where you and what were you doing when Reagan was shot?” or “where were you when the towers fell..?” All these have been watershed events of our time. The problem is that in the not so distant past, we had leadership that followed through and would accept nothing less than absolute victory. That concept seems to have been lost to our political and governmental leadership and become nothing more than historical footnote. Neither we nor our leaders seem to know how to think things through or to follow through as we used to. Now we are involved in two major land actions in the Mideast and yet the concept of absolute victory seems as distant as the stars above.
Last evening, we had the opportunity to listen to the President of the United States give a speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point. As Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces, this venue is somewhat apropos considering that the young people who attend will most likely find themselves facing combat situations themselves in very short order. It is a situation I have found myself in when I was lucky enough to see both the President and the Secretary of Defense address us back in the 1980’s when the Cold War was still very real and the Soviet Union was still very much a threat to western security. I even had the privilege to spend some quality one-on-one time with the Secretary of the Navy, who during my period of service was a reserve Naval Aviator who did his requisite drill time with my squadron, flying the venerable A-6E Intruder with my old unit, VA-42 at NAS Oceana, Virginia. Seeing and talking with someone at that level, seeing them as people and not just positions is something rather special. I was just a junior enlisted man but Mr. (Commander) John Lehman never made me feel like an inferior underling. He respected my knowledge and experience with the weapons system that I worked on day after day, year after year. He was really a leader of men, and it showed when he was in and among those who were in his nominal if not actual charge. His leadership was real, and actual. Q.E.D...something that was demonstrated to us all.
President Obama is a gifted speaker. None can doubt that, but in the last few months it has become evident that his gift of speaking is no longer ringing well with the majority of Americans and is also loosing its effectiveness. Even in Europe, where they still were seeing him as the “Anointed One”, his words and behaviors are falling very flat. Last June, he insulted the French at the D-Day commemorations and has also gone on a host of world wide “Apology Tours” to Europe, Asia and to the Mideast. He told the world that America was going to step back off the world stage, and that we had made many mistakes, that we had been wrong about much. Then adding insult to that injury, the President made several major gaffs in protocol and custom by bowing before foreign potentates. That simple act was the last straw for most of us. It showed not humble respect as the folks in the White House thought it would. It was perceived as weakness, subservience and deference that a President of the most powerful nation on the planet does NOT do...ever. America fought a revolution against a despotic monarch over 230 years ago to have the right NOT to bow before such people. We in naval parlances saw that bow as something akin to “dipping the colors” to another nation’s vessel. That is something that is never initiated... ever. Others dip their colors to us first, and we may return that salute.
But as a matter of national dignity and sovereignty, Presidents don’t bow down...ever. Subjects bow. Vassals bow. Inferiors bow.... Not the American President.
He, unlike the leaders of the past, lacks the mantle of a true leader, and is shows....a lot.
When the President went to West Point, he was a man on trial. He and his staffers may not have realized it but he was. His remark made over a month ago that being in the presence of the military was a “great photo op”. That remark still weighed heavily in my mind. What an incredibly crass and disrespectful thing for a Commander and Chief to say to those whom he must lead to say. Essentially, he had characterized out troops as nothing more than window dressing...little more than props to be used in his pursuit of policy approval. The cadets at West Point have seen all that has happened over the last year and now have the measure of the man who is their Commander and Chief. By the expressions on their faces and the very overly polite and measured responses to his remarks, it is clear that they aren’t impressed. They clearly seemed to want to be anywhere but there. They felt undoubtedly like they were just another photo op.
Commentators like Chris Matthews at MSNBC said that Obama had been in an “enemy camp”..... It is utterly extraordinary that Mr. Matthews, a member of the so-called mainstream media would make that characterization. Labeling West Point an “enemy camp” and by extension, the cadets “the enemy” is unconscionable. What further amazes me is that he obviously didn’t pay attention to the substance or nature of the speech when viewed in context with the surroundings that it was given. Mr. Obama was in the very bastion of military orthodoxy. He was surrounded by those who have placed themselves into positions where they will possibly be called upon to fight and die for this country. The have made commitments that will last decades for some. He gave a speech that was one part Neville Chamberlain, one part George Custer, and no parts Franklin D. Roosevelt, for whom he tries to channel.
Why refer to the former British Prime Minister and the late U.S. Cavalry General? Mr. Chamberlain was the quintessential appeaser and apologist; the poster boy for denial in the face of potential conflict. General Custer was arrogant, felt he was infallible, and failed to recognize the danger the enemy presented and failed to utilize the superior capabilities available to him. He went off half-cocked as it were, to face a force he believed he could beat with a too small a force, in unfamiliar terrain. He engaged a motivated, determined, capable and well equipped enemy and came up short.
Objectively, the same can be said of our forces in Afghanistan.
The substantive points of the Presidents speech were that he would dispatch 30,000 additional troops, when his field commander asked for 40,000. He also outlined his exit strategy and gave a specific timetable on the withdrawal of our forces, 18 months hence.
The historian in me harkened back to World War II, and I imagined F.D.R and Prime Minister Winston Churchill sitting at a great conference table planning Operation Overloard, the liberation of Western Europe, with their theater commanders, Generals Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Bradley. I can just see Roosevelt saying something along the lines of “Sorry Ike. That invasion of France thing...that liberation of the Continental Europe thing you, Monty and Omar are planning.... well, it is just too much, too big, too costly and politically dangerous. Too many troops, too much equipment and by the way, you only have 18 month to finish the job against Germany. I’ll give you 25% fewer troops than you asked for and incidentally, I have already given the press a statement that will be in world wide distribution by lunch on our new war plans and policies....”
Obama has in effect if not in fact done just such a thing.
He has given General Stanley McCrystal, his theater commander in Afghanistan, less than he asked for, and is relying on others (Europeans) to make up any shortfall in troop numbers. He has also given specific information on when we will leave and under what circumstances. The enemy; Al-Qaida and the Taliban, now can sit back and formulate a counter-strategy to this new situation.
If one sits back and really thinks this trough, the multitudes of scenarios that come from Mr. Generalissimo & President Obama are truly scary. Let’s examine two possible and very real possibilities...
1. “The sit and wait them out” scenario.
The “Bad Guys” simply hunker down in the mountains and valleys in both Afghanistan and Pakistan and simply husband their resources: train up, acquire supplies, and build coalitions among the tribes in places like the Swat Valley and in Waziristan, recruiting and scheming away. Then when things have cooled off, and American and European troops have been drawn down according to the Obama war plan, they can slowly and quietly infiltrate back in and then when ready, strike in great numbers across the frontier and overwhelm the Afghan National Army and Government, which can no longer rely on massive back-up they enjoy now.
2. “The keep up the pressure and go after the Europeans” scenario.
The weak link in the present coalition is the NATO contingent. The threshold for casualties is much lower for those European governments who are operating forces so far from home. Other than the British and to a lesser extent the Canadians, the other forces present are token numbers at best. These smaller NATO contingents are operating in more humanitarian modes; training police, conducting civil affairs and some small scale security operations. If I was the operations planner for the opposition, I would target the smaller contingents of troops, inflicting and wounding as many of their forces as possible, and try to poison the European “street” against the Afghan operation. By inflicting body count on these smaller national contingents, the citizens in the affected countries may well demand their troops be withdrawn. This then would drive a further wedge between Europe and the U.S. and force the U.S. military to pick up the slack.
I , as operational commander of the opposition, might also at the very end of the 18 month period outlined by President Obama, mount a “surge” of my own, infiltrating fighters into the cities like Kabul and Kandahar and just before the major forces have departed, initiate a massive numbers of small attacks against Afghan National Army, police and government installations. I would especially target personnel; run up a body count as high as possible in order to demoralize and sew confusion. It would be politically difficult if not impossible for Obama and his European allies to reverse themselves and their militaries and redeploy back in country. It would take on a Vietnamese War-like tone and feel. The liberal, mainstream press, being useful stooges for the opposition, would make the logical comparisons to the Tet Offensive of that war, the liberal base of the Obama governmental coalition would turn up the heat on him politically and excoriate him if he attempted to retrench especially after beginning a long publicized withdrawal. The whole rotten, stinking policy mess would collapse around his head. He would then be forever “the President who lost Afghanistan”....
Both of these nightmare-like scenarios are very possible consequences of the Obama policy as articulated last evening. The question begs: Do Obama or his staff and sycophants realize what they have done? There are only three possible answers:
1. Yes, they know and don’t care if we loose, or
2. Yes, they know and they want to loose, or
3. No, they don’t know because he, as commander in chief and they as his group of advisers are totally incompetent and can’t understand military necessity, operational art, or the ramifications of incongruent and disjointed planning, obtuse Rules of Engagement, nor do they understand the enemy we fight.
I hope number 3 is the correct answer because number’s 1 and 2 would be too cynical or even treasonous to believe as possible.
If it is in fact choice 3, we can hope that our forces can hold the line and make some headway in spite of the lack of Administration support. We can also take some comfort in the knowledge that the mistakes and miscues to date can be corrected in 2010 and 2012 when sober and serious men and women of conscience and resolve can be put back a the helm of the Ship of State.