Why can’t we fight to the finish this time, so we’ll never have to do it again?

A friend sent me a link to an editorial bemoaning the fact that, by abruptly pulling out from Iraq and, soon, Afghanistan, the Obama administration is ensuring that we’re leaving a job undone — something that invariably means one has to do it again.  If history is going to keep repeating itself, why can’t we just repeat the good parts?

World War I ended with a definitive American victory, but a dangerous, un-managed peace, one that pretty much made World War II inevitable.  By 1942, my favorite songwriter, Irving Berlin, pretty much summed up the WWII mindset, which was “do it right this time.”

‘Twas not so long ago we sailed to meet the foe
And thought our fighting days were done
We thought ’twas over then but now we’re in again
To win the war that wasn’t won

This time, we will all make certain
That this time is the last time

This time, we will not say “Curtain”
Till we ring it down in their own home town

For this time, we are out to finish
The job we started then

Clean it up for all time this time
So we won’t have to do it again

Dressed up to win
We’re dressed up to win
Dressed up for victory
We are just beginning
And we won’t stop winning
Till the world is free

We’ll fight to the finish this time
And we’ll never have to do it again

Trust old Irving to hit the nail on the head. And, in fact, that’s what the Allies did.  First, they destroyed entirely the totalitarian states in Germany, Japan and Italy.  Then, in those regions over which they had control (as to those the Soviets held), the Americans carefully rebuilt the nations into democratic allies.  It was a tough, long-haul job, but it prevented post-war massacres and ensured that (so far) we haven’t had to “do it again” with Germany, Italy or Japan.

Clearly, we’re a whole lot dumber now than we were in the mid-20th century. In 1991 we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq (which is one of the reasons I’ve never liked Colin Powell, whom I’ve always blamed, fairly or not, for being the architect of that foolish retreat). Now, with Obama’s help, we’re doing it all over again, only worse. Does any nation get a third chance to remedy its chronic stupidity? I doubt we will, especially because Obama is also choosing to repeat the disarmament mistakes of the 20s and 30s. Ain’t those fancy Ivy League educations grand? They go in smart and come out stupid.

I’m an armchair warrior (aka a chicken hawk) and I’m disgusted and frustrated. I can only imagine how the troops — the ones who sweated and bled — feel as they watch their Commander in Chief dismantling all of their good work.

Forget all the dead bodies. Repeat after me: the Taliban is our friend.

Sadie played connect the dots for me:

Dots begin here . . . .

After 10 months of secret dialogue with Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents, senior U.S. officials say the talks have reached a critical juncture and they will soon know whether a breakthrough is possible, leading to peace talks whose ultimate goal is to end the Afghan war.

As part of the accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy, Reuters has learned, the United States is considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody.

Dots continue with Joe Biden . . . .

“Look, the Taliban per se is not our enemy. That’s critical. There is not a single statement that the president has ever made in any of our policy assertions that the Taliban is our enemy because it threatens U.S. interests. If, in fact, the Taliban is able to collapse the existing government, which is cooperating with us in keeping the bad guys from being able to do damage to us, then that becomes a problem for us.”

When you think about it, it’s impressive how much damage an administration can do in less than three years.

The Left’s goals (hint: they aren’t focused on peoples’ well-being)

I like Pete Wehner’s writing a lot.  I don’t always agree with him, but I often do, and I always enjoy the way in which he develops his ideas.  This column, about the post-Vietnamesque horrors that Obama is cheerily planning for Afghanistan (although I’d say the Taliban will be even more savage than the North Vietnamese) is a perfect example of Wehner at his best.

How did I get it so wrong?

When I read about Obama’s drawing down troops so that he’d send tens of thousands home right before the election, I said that I didn’t think this would make the troops vote for him.  Barry Rubin kindly pointed out that the calculation wasn’t to get troop votes, but to get votes from his antiwar base.  Barry’s right, of course.  That’s obviously Obama’s calculation.

What I’ve been wondering is how I managed to get it so bass-ackwards.  I’m usually at least slightly more astute than that.  I think it’s because my instinct is that, when push comes to shove, the anti-war crowd is going to vote for Obama regardless.  After all, despite his getting us into a third war, and one that was unnecessary for promoting America’s interests (although withdrawing early from that one will be yet another black eye on America), Obama’s base has not taken to the streets.  They may grumble, but they’re not using war as a means to undermine his presidency.

These Leftist voters are going to support the Obama “package” no matter what.  While a few may be one issue nutroots, with their issue being the war in Afghanistan, the vast majority are true Progressive believers.  They may decry the war, but they’ll still go with the guy who hits all the other sweet spots:  Big Government, abortion, climate change, bows to dictators, etc..  There is no way in Hell that they will abandon that package in favor of a conservative candidate.  In other words, whether Obama leaves troops in Afghanistan, or withdraws them despite all military advice, his decision will not change what the base does.

As for the non-base, meaning the mushy Democrats and the disengaged Independents, even those who don’t like Afghanistan aren’t going to change their vote based upon a troop draw-down.  These people are looking at the economy.  If it’s good, they might vote for Obama; if it’s bad, they won’t.  The numbers in Afghanistan will be irrelevant to that calculation.

In other words, withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan puts Americans in harm’s way for no good reason.  The nutroots will vote for him regardless, and the rest, although not thrilled about Afghanistan, won’t let it affect their votes one way or another.

The psychology of war and warriors *UPDATED*

Peter Wehner writes about Obama’s decision to draw down troops in Afghanistan, something that (just coincidentally, of course) will take place right before Obama’s reelection bid.  Wehner is appalled, and he explains that this gross political calculation isn’t the way it needs to be:

I have the advantage of having served a president during wartime. And whatever faults one might be tempted to lay at the feet of George W. Bush, he never allowed politics of the Obama kind to infect his decisions. I know of what I speak. In September 2006, with the midterm elections approaching and the war of Iraq floundering, Senator Mitch McConnell, then the Republic whip, asked to see the president alone in the Oval Office. “Mr. President,” McConnell said, “your unpopularity is going to cost us control of Congress.” When President Bush asked McConnell what to do about it, McConnell said, “Bring some troops home from Iraq.”

Four months later, Senator McConnell got his reply. President Bush – who faced far more ferocious political opposition to the war than Obama ever has – not only did not withdraw troops; he increased them while embracing a strategy that came to be known as the “surge.” And he blocked every attempt at a premature withdrawal.

There are many factors that explain why the Iraq war turned around, but the fortitude of President Bush surely ranks high among them. That quality looked impressive then; it looks even more impressive now.

Apropos that not so coincidental timing, the conventional wisdom is that the troops, grateful to return home, will cast their votes for the Democrat who made it so.  I wonder if that’s true.

Obama has consistently proven himself profoundly ignorant of the military mindset, something that’s true for most Leftists.  Leftists are feral fighters, not principled fighters.  While feral fighters will fight quite ferociously if threatened (which is why Leftist leadership works mightily to keep its followers in a blind panic, as with global warming), what Leftists really want is for the threat to stop affecting them personally.

Principled fighters, however, are willing to take ultimate risks for a cause greater than themselves. It’s a much more altruistic approach to war, and one that sees people willing to make great sacrifices for a final goal that may not even benefit them directly.

Because Dems are feral fighters, they assume all wars are Vietnam.  Back then, the draft and the upheaval in America meant that way too many Vietnam troops didn’t believe in their mission, and were desperate to have a political change that would get them home. These are the kind of troops Dems recognize.

I don’t think we have a Vietnam military today.  Instead, our military is made made up of volunteers, who either embrace fighting generally (the adrenalin junkies) or embrace the larger existential battle raging throughout the world, a war that burns especially hot  in Afghanistan.  Rather than thanking Obama for bringing them home, these principled or professional warriors may resent the way Obama is dragging them away from the good fight, destroying their hard won gains, and handing victory to an exceptionally brutal enemy who will reengage us both at home and abroad.

UPDATEBarry Rubin, after reading what I wrote, thinks there’s something different going on:  “Obama is NOT doing this to win votes in the military. He has no illusions about that. He’s doing it to win votes from average Americans to whom he can say: I brought the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. And it will work UNLESS those situations visibly collapse and even then it will gain votes for him.”  As Barry sums it up, “Obama is making a good political calculation at the cost of a strategic miscalculation.”

Barry is so much more astute and well-informed than I am, that I don’t doubt that he’s right about Obama’s calculation.  However, I do wonder how the Average American (or the Progressive voter) will view Obama’s involvement in Libya when making a balancing of interests.  I also wonder if the ultimate pass will always be abortion.  Since the anti-War protests stopped when Bush left, even though the wars continued and even escalated, I suspect that, while war is a real concern to the Democrat base, it’s abortion that will always be the kicker for his core constituency.  And really, when one thinks about it, that’s a pretty strange issue to use as the final determiner when deciding the person for whom to vote.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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Quick question about arming rebels

Does the administration’s decision to arm the Libyan rebels remind you of anything?  It does me.  It reminds me of the Reagan administration’s decision to arm the rebels in Afghanistan.

Back then, the rebels were not our enemy, and they were fighting a sworn enemy against whom we’d been engaged in myriad proxy wars for decades.  This time, the rebels are our enemy, killing our civilians and soldiers all over the world, and they’re fighting a government that hasn’t does us any active harm in recent years.

Somehow, despite our pure and fairly reasonable thinking back in 1980s, I seem to recall that our decision to arm and train radical Islamists proved to have bad and lasting consequences for us.  (Hint:  the Taliban.)  This time around, we don’t even have the excuse of ignorance.  The Libyan rebels we’re arming, comprised of useful idiots, Al Qaeda operatives, and Muslim brotherhood members, were our active enemy yesterday; they’re our active enemy today; and tomorrow, pumped up with our weapons and supplies, they’ll still be our active enemy, only more dangerous.

Michael Yon takes on Rolling Stone

Years ago, in another life, I dated a man who had worked for Rolling Stone and personally knew Jann Wenner.  (My ex-boyfriend claimed that a well-known Rolling Stone photographer was the one who introduced him to and got him hooked on cocaine.  I have no idea if he was telling the truth or not, but it made for a good story.)

My old boyfriend had cleaned up his act by the time I met him, and was decently reticent about his past, but it was pretty clear from the few stories he told that (a) Rolling Stone personnel, at least at one time, had embraced the drug culture with gusto and (b) that it was a sleazy, counter-culture magazine.  Today, all you need to do to know that it is still a sleazy, counter-culture (read:  anti-American) magazine is to buy a copy at the store — or, better yet, leaf through one and then abandon it without bothering to buy it.  As for the drug issues that were once a part of the magazine’s culture, perhaps the drugs’ legacy lives on and helps explain the shoddy, vicious journalism that routinely emanates from that saggy, flabby, 1960s era hangover.

Don’t believe me about shoddy, vicious journalism?  I understand that.  My old boyfriend’s stories about the magazine’s past are pure hearsay.  But right now, today, Michael Yon has actual percipient witness journalism on his side when it comes to challenging Rolling Stone’s most recent smear piece about our troops in Afghanistan.  Read Yon and your blood will boil.

Huge kudos to Yon, not only for his own journalism, but for his willingness to take on one of the old media’s sacred cows.

Jaws of victory

Will Democrats once again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?

Here’s a very encouraging report about the latest NATO (mostly American forces) offensive in Helmand province, one of the last redoubts of the Taliban. I don’t know how much play this will get in the Mass Media, as they generally don’t like to talk about American victories.


I am still seething about the Vietnam War, which helped to define my generation. It was a war we won militarily at great sacrifice and lost politically, when we betrayed our treaty obligations to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.  I believe that the point at which the Vietnam war was lost was when CBS’s Walter Cronkite pronounced the Tet Offensive as an American defeat (it was quite the opposite).

So, here is my question: will the Democrats and MainStream Media repeat history and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, or will they play this to a conclusive victory?

Just askin’

Obama’s conduct: “contemptible”

Peter Wehner describes the conduct, but I think, when you behave as Obama as, the word “contemptible” can apply, with equal aptness, to the man himself (emphasis mine):

I have praised President Obama in the past for his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. New facts have come to light since then. And, arguably, I should have better understood the true nature of the man in the Oval Office. Either way, the president, rather than distancing himself from the July 2011 draw-down date, has doubled down on it. He has said things in meetings and on the record that underscore his equivocation, his doubt, and his lack of fortitude when it comes to this war. And so it is fair, I think, to render a judgment I much rather would not: What President Obama is now doing – both escalating and undermining a war at the very same time — is not only unwise; it is contemptible. He has a constitutional duty and a moral obligation to choose one path or the other – to prosecute the war with commitment and resolve or to leave.

The president still has time, but not much.

And there’s another problem with that time table in Afghanistan

Phibian, who is one one of my oldest blog friends, explains at Big Peace how the President’s entirely artificial time line for withdrawing from Afghanistan not only emboldens the Taliban (and makes a negotiated peace impossible), but also destroys all good efforts at future planning in that theater.

If you like Phibian’s writing (and who wouldn’t?) you can check him out at CDR Salamander, his own cite.

Is it ever moral to target civilians in warfare? *UPDATED*

My (conservative) book club read Victor Davis Hanson’s A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War. One of the points Hanson makes in the book is that Pericles embarked upon a new type of warfare:

Periclean strategy . . . defined the new war as battle not between hoplites or even sailors but rather soldiers against the property of everyday folks. . . .  Sherman, Lord Kitchener, and Curtis LeMay . . . all argued that battle is ultimately powered by civilians and thus only extinguished when they cannot or will not pledge their labor and capital to those on the battlefield.

Hanson goes on to comment that many Athenians thought this new civilian focused warfare was immoral.  Our group discussed whether including civilians as part of the battlefield was, or was not, immoral.

Our conclusion was that it is absolutely true that civilians finance war through their labor, direct (munitions factories) or indirect (economic infrastructure).  If you are fighting a war to win — and you’d better be sure you believe in your cause — one of the most effective ways to win assuming equality on the battlefield is to destroy the labor/economic infrastructure.  If this means pulling a Sherman by destroying the depot that not only supplies arms to the troops but also food to the civilians, you’re going to do it.  The same thing goes for bombing a munitions factory, even if you know civilian employees work there.

What we all had a problem with is targeting civilians simply to slaughter them, which is a Nazi and a Muslim tactic.  This tactic is not meant to destroy the war’s infrastructure and end the war but is, simply, meant to kill the enemy because you hate them, want to terrorize them, and don’t think they are worthy of life.  Unsurprisingly, when an army resorts to these tactics, the slaughter is usually distinguished by the utmost cruelty.  At the end of the day, a dead child is a dead child, but I still think there’s something morally different between a child killed when a bomb explodes at the IED factory next door versus a child killed when the soldiers personally toss it in the air and use it for target practice.

What do you think?

Please keep in mind as you grapple with the question that right now, today, this is not a hypothetical question.  Our troops in Afghanistan have already died in unnecessary numbers because of Rules of Engagement that value the civilian population over the lives of our own troops.

If you want to see how this can result in a massive f*ck-up for Americans, just read Marcus Luttrell’s tragic Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. There, the fear of running afoul of political rules that elevate Afghani lives over American lives (and that have the power to destroy a SEAL’s career) led the SEALS to release an “innocent” shepherd, who promptly reported the SEALS’ position to the Taliban. As a result, more SEALS died on that day than on any other day in SEAL history.

Right now, General Petraeus is trying to change these ludicrous rules that emanated from the halls of academia, rather than the real world of battle.  Even as he goes forward with that effort, though, the administration is pushing an award (posthumous, obviously) for “Courageous Restraint.”

It seems to me that either we raised our boys right, or we didn’t.  Either they have a moral compass or they don’t.  And either we have a decent military infrastructure that, after the fact, can distinguish between legitimate battle necessity and brutal sadism — and, after the fact, can punish the behavior accordingly, thereby setting the correct example for other, future troops.

Certainly it makes sense to have baseline rules to protect prisoners of war, such as the Geneva convention.  However, to send our troops out with the instruction “Thou shalt not kill unless you’re absolutely sure you’re killing some who is from a properly identified military unit and who manifestly intents to shoot you . . . right . . . about . . . NOW” is insane and, in itself, immoral.

UPDATE:  I just want to throw into the mix the peculiar war between Israel and the Palestinians.  It is asymmetrical, because Israel has the big guns.  Israel, however, allows her morality to restrain her from using those big guns.  She is blamed continuously for anything she does, despite her herculean efforts to strike at only true military targets.

The Palestinians do not have big guns.  Both tactically and for obvious pleasure, they deliberately target civilians.  They aim their rockets and their suicide bombers at schools, hospitals and buses.  When they get their hands on individuals, they subject them to horrific torture before murdering them (and this includes people they class as “traitors” in their own midst.)  They are applauded continuously for their committed heroism.

This is asymmetrical warfare with a sick international audience that prefers the snuff film to the movie that has a moral to the story.

UPDATE II:  And apropos Israel, an essay suggesting that she get tougher, or more serious, in her pursuit of this existential war — since it is her existence that is at stake.

UPDATE III:  Caroline Glick on another facet of civilians in war, and on the will to win.  (H/t:  Sadie)

The official Bookworm statement on the whole McChrystal/Obama/Petraeus affair *UPDATED*

I feel I should say something, so I will.  Being me, of course, what I say will be discursive.

Re McChrystal:  An excellent general who didn’t hit it off with Obama from the git-go (blame lies, I believe, with Obama), and who failed utterly in the diplomatic discretion category — something that’s true whether you regard the revelations in Rolling Stone as big deals or little ones.  Was the latter a firing offense?  I don’t know.  It depends on how the Commander in Chief chooses to handle it.  Which leads me to Obama….

Re ObamaAs I noted earlier, Obama is either apathetic or agitated.  One of the things about which he’s never been sufficiently agitated is the war in Afghanistan.  Sure, he didn’t pull out immediately, but his initial decisions to announce a withdrawal time table and to refuse to meet with McChrystal until McChrystal was forced to use the media against Obama (something that probably created a bad precedent in terms of McChrystal’s ideas about using the military to achieve his goals) show that he never gave a flying whatsit about American troops trying to win against Muslim jihadists.

On the other side of the scale, the things that do agitate Obama include the Joos; attempts to stop potential new Democratic party voters from sneaky in over the border and sparking crime waves; and offenses to his dignity.  McChrystal committed the latter crime.  Obama could have glossed the whole thing over, downplaying McChrystal’s errors (as he’s done with every one of his other appointees) or he could have done what he did, which is to fire McChrystal for having hurt his feelings.  The only way to come out smelling like a rose from letting his ego lead was for Obama to have appointed someone better than McChrystal.  Which leads me to Petraeus….

Re Petraeus:  When Obama was a Senator, he denigrated Petraeus’ task and, by his behavior, Petraeus himself.  Petraeus, however, is the real deal when it comes to counterinsurgency, and I can’t think of a better person to try his hand at Afghanistan.  Peter Wehner spells out Petraeus’ virtues:

General Petraeus is the man who, more than any other single individual, turned around the war in Iraq. It was a nation on the brink of civil war when he was named commanding general there — and today it is a nation on the mend. That is the result of many hands and many hearts — but no single individual is more responsible for what happened in Iraq than Petraeus. In addition, General Petraeus literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency, having authored the Army’s manual on the subject. Petraeus, then, is both the intellectual architect of our COIN strategy and its best practitioner.

Beyond that, Petraeus — like McChrystal before him — has the confidence of President Karzai, which U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and National Security Adviser Jim Jones (among others) do not. He understands, unlike others in the Obama White House, that the way to deal with someone like Karzai is to support him in public and make demands of him in private. Nouri al-Maliki was no walk on the beach, either; but Petraeus, along with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, dealt with him extremely skillfully, holding him close while moving him along the right path.

What is also significant is that Petraeus has the confidence of our troops because of what he has achieved. He is not only a respected figure; he is very nearly legendary among them. The troops in Afghanistan will treat him as college basketball players would treat Mike Krzyzewski, if he took over another basketball program. There is instant trust, instant credibility, and instant confidence. And that matters.

I wish Petraeus every bit of luck available to him.  Combine that luck with his skills and intellect, apply all those to the best military in the world, and there might be a good outcome here (including Obama being able to back down from his withdrawal timetable while still saving face).

Conclusion:  Obama first seeded the lemons, starting with his long-ago refusal to take either General McChrystal or the Afghanistan war serious.  He harvested the lemons when he elected to let his ego lead in what could have been a down-played, and therefore negligible, situation.  And he managed to create lemonade by replace McChrystal with only the best general out there.  Let’s hope the best general chews up Afghanistan, rather than vice versa.

(Just FYI, The Anchoress has a stellar round-up of responses to the whole saga.)

UPDATE:  Bruce Kesler, who understands more about what’s going on than I ever could, is pleased okay with Petraeus’ appointment, but would have preferred General Mattis.  Blackfive thinks the timing of this whole thing is more than a little suspicious.  (The first story will make you happy sanguine; the second, angry.)

UPDATE II:  Was Obama just trying to keep Petraeus out of the 2012 race?  I doubt it.  For one thing, that’s two years ahead, and a lot can change between now and then.  For another thing, I have it on good authority that Petraeus is saying right now, with a straight face, that he’s not running.  If this is preemptive action, it’s really preemptive.  Sometimes a cigar is just a smoke.

My sense is that Petraeus genuinely doesn’t want to run.  It’s a lousy job, and Petraeus isn’t an egotist.  He is, however, a patriot.  If he feels that America truly needs his unique skills, Afghanistan will be the smallest part of the U.S.’s problems, and he’ll run regardless.