Defense & National Security

Obama at West Point

Tomorrow night, President Obama will tell the world how he will — in his own words — “finish the job” in Afghanistan.  And he will propose to do this, by whatever means, in less than eight or nine years which is the period his spokesman, Robert Gibbs, declared the limit of our commitment.

Obama will get it entirely wrong.  We know this now, a day before the speech, because the president has resolutely committed himself to the wrong theory, asking the wrong questions in search of his new strategy.  Three points suffice.

It’s not possible to “finish the job” in Afghanistan any more than it was possible to do in Iraq.  There, we were fighting the enemy’s proxies — al Queda, Hizballah and the rest — not the principal enemy, the nations that sponsor Islamic terrorism against civilization. In Afghanistan, this is less so because there the Taliban are both an enemy unto themselves, capable of sponsoring the terrorism that has already taken American lives on 9-11, and a proxy for those, such as Iran, which enable them to threaten national governments.  

Unless the president revises his thinking and defines the enemy correctly, all we can do in Afghanistan is to engage in another fruitless adventure in nation-building.  Moreover, the Taliban itself isn’t just in Afghanistan. The so-called Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban operate under the loose control of one commander: Mullah Omar.

Pakistan is a nation on the brink.  The government of Asif Zardari is enormously unpopular, and its military, under General Ashfaq Kayani, is infused with sympathy to the Taliban and only moderately effective against it.  The population is distrustful of its government and opposed to any American intervention.  Pakistan’s population is also steadily more radicalized, Saudi-funded madrassas operating all over the country.

If the Pakistani government falls — and no troop surge for an Afghanistan counter-insurgency can prevent that — its nuclear arsenal will be the Taliban’s.  Only a regional solution which removes the outside sponsorship of terrorism by Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia can succeed in Southwest Asia or the Middle East.

Both Pakistan and Obama are looking for a “solution” that brings the Taliban into the Afghan government. But to do so is to surrender to the eventual — and not long in coming — Taliban domination of Afghanistan and Pakistan as well.

We have embraced Pakistan to our great disadvantage.  Any regional solution in Southwest Asia — and globally against Islamic terrorism — must include the protection of India’s interests.  But India is drifting closer to Russia.  In October, the two nations signed an agreement to develop jointly a fifth-generation fighter.  

We could have — and should have — signed such an agreement with India and embraced the world’s largest democracy.  It is by such cooperation — and military alliances that lead to joint training and operations — that our nations can grow to be close allies.  But by killing the F-22, President Obama made a joint development agreement impossible.  Nothing must stand in the way of a closer alliance, on military terms, with India.

The second reason President Obama’s new strategy will be wrong is that it will be time and commitment-limited. Though Obama presumably won’t be foolish enough to announce a timetable for withdrawal, war is by definition the open-ended commitment liberals shun.  

Like every liberal, Obama thinks of war in terms that do not define it.  Liberals believe every war is a “war of choice” that does not require total commitment. He thinks of war in terms of its financial cost, delaying and reducing his domestic spending spree.  War is not a question of “should we,” but “must we.”

The issue isn’t whether a war is popular: either it has to be fought or it doesn’t. It is a president’s duty to define the war and lead the nation to victory. And if a war is worth one American life, it is — by definition — worth however many dollars it takes to win.  Domestic spending must be curtailed to fund a war, not the other way around.

In this war, we have to defeat not only the terrorists but their sponsors. And as important as the kinetic war is, the ideological war is more so.  Both al Queda and the Taliban are creatures of ideology.  They cannot be defeated just by killing their leaders. We must prove to the world that their ideology is a failure, just as communism and Nazism were. We have abandoned the ideological war to the enemy.  As long as that remains true, we cannot win the kinetic war, only battles and skirmishes that defined it for the Bush administration and now for the Obama administration as well.

“Clear, build and hold” is a counterinsurgency strategy that might have worked in Malaya in the 1950s, but there it didn’t face the religiously-based relentless and implacable enemy that is radical Islam. In this war, the battle of ideas and communication is global.  And we aren’t fighting it.

The third reason Obama’s strategy will fail is the way our forces are limited in this fight.  We have an Army chief of staff who believes that if diversity were “damaged” it would be worse than the Fort Hood massacre.  And we demand of our best warriors behavior that is irrational in war.

In 2004, security operators from Blackwater were ambushed and murdered in Fallujah, their bodies mutilated and hung from a bridge. The terrorist who organized and conducted that attack — Ahmed Hashim Abed — was one of the most-wanted terrorists in Iraq.  

Abed is typical of the enemy: ruthless, implacable and above all barbaric.

As HUMAN EVENTS’ Rowan Scarborough reported last week, Navy SEALs captured Abed in a nighttime raid on September 3.  And sometime after he was captured, one of the SEALs apparently punched the guy in the mouth and he suffered a split lip.  He complained he’d been abused, and now instead of the medals they undoubtedly earned by bravery and skill in the raid, three SEALs — Matthew McCabe, Jonathan Keefe and Julio Huertas — are facing a January court-martial for prisoner abuse.

Discipline is essential to any fighting force. The SEALs are known for it. And they operate under stresses we cannot understand. One ex-SEAL friend of mine was part of the platoon that was parachute-dropped in a poorly-planned 1989 operation to destroy Gen. Manuel Noriega’s Learjet to prevent his escape from invading American forces.  My pal — normally a voluble guy — could barely speak as he told me how he had to crawl from dead friend to dead friend grabbing magazines off their bodies to keep firing at the huge Panamanian force they faced across the airfield.  

Maybe McCabe, Keefe and Huertas deserve a tough scolding.  But punishing them with more than confining them to quarters for a day is too much. They deserve better from the Navy and the president.  

We must let loose the dogs of war, not muzzle their teeth. Mr. Obama wants to fight a penny-pinching politically-correct war in accordance with liberal theory.  Which can only bring defeat.   

Republicans must be very wary of whatever the president proposes.  They must demand victory, not another self-imposed nation-building quagmire.

Free the SEAL Three and restore them to duty forthwith with the honors they deserve.  And get on to a strategy for winning the war.

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