We must be set to face a long war. . . . [T]he United States can accept no result save victory, final and complete. . . . [T]he sources of international brutality, wherever they exist, must be absolutely and finally broken.
Barack Obama, Speech at West Point, 2009
- FDR, Speech to the Nation, 1941
Obama stood his first real test tonight as a wartime commander in chief. He fell far short of the challenge.
As a threshold matter, I fully support President Obama's decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan. That said, the most important thing to learn from tonight's speech was whether Obama was committed to achieving victory in Afghanistan. Victory in war historically has meant to engage and defeat one's foes, driving them to the point that they no longer have the will and or the ability to continue the fight. Obama charted another course tonight - one that, while not insuring defeat, seems anything but committed to "victory" in Afghanistan.
In one breath, Obama announced that he would send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. In his next breath, he announced a strategy of withdrawal beginning in 18 months. General McChrystal said in his August Commander's Assessment that one of the fundamental challenges we face is to convince the populace of Afghanistan to support us as opposed to the insurgents. As McChrystal stated, we have not been successful because of the Afghans' "perception that our resolve is uncertain." After tonight's speech, the Afghans can be certain - the resolve of our President seems limited indeed.
McChrystal asked for 60,000 soldiers to fully resource his plans. He also provided Obama with a medium risk option of only supplying 40,000 additional soldiers and a high risk option of 20,000 soldiers. Obama, for a reason not addressed in his speech. chose to give McChrystal only 30,000 soldiers. Further, Obama limited the time of their operational use, promising to begin a drawdown of our combat soldiers in Afghanistan 18 months from today. Therefore, McChrystal will need to be very aggressive to accomplish his mission, and he will need to do so underresourced. Soldiers will be stretched thin. This inevitably means that much more American blood will be spilled than is necessary and that the chances of our achieving victory in Afghanistan are lessened, perhaps significantly so. For what? What possible reason can Obama have for not fully resourcing our operations?
The total cost of the increase in operations in Afghanistan next year is estimated at $30 billion. What would be an additional $30 billion in order to protect our vital national interests while at the same time giving every soldier deployed in country a better chance of coming home in one piece. In respect to just the stimulus bill alone of $750 billion for every liberal special interest imaginable, that is a drop in the bucket.
Given McChrystal's operational assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, his proposed strategy, and the nuances of the operation, I do not see how it will be possible to achieve victory in Afghanistan in eighteen months before the draw down of troops commences. This does not bode well at all.
Also from Obama's speech:
- "Open Ended commitment"
Having more than a passing familiarity with history, I think it is accurate to say that, never in all of recorded history has there been an instance of a leader committing soldiers to war under the constraint of an arbitrary time limitation. Obama claims that the opposite of such a time limited constraint is an "open-ended" commitment. That is ridiculous. The opposite is staying in a fight until the conditions of victory are achieved. That is an event triggered limitation, not an open ended commitment. The only reason it is not time certain is becasuse the enemy gets a say. You can compare Obama's speech on Afghanistan with FDR's speech on Dec. 9, 1941, here to see the difference. It is striking.
What Obama is doing is an attempt to both honor his campaign rhetoric - that Afghanistan is the "good war" that we "must not lose," while attempting to placate a far left base that lives in permanent Vietnam protest mode. The two cannot be reconciled, but he is willing to bet the lives of our soldiers that they can. Many months ago, I wrote a post, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh & McCain Derangement Syndrome, explaining with historical examples that the greatest danger I saw in electing Obama or Clinton would be that they would make wartime military decisions based on political expediency rather than on internalized values. The travesty of announcing that we are going to go on the offensive for 18 months and then begin withdrawing forces is a textbook case of political expediency. Such decisions are inevitably bad in the long run, both for our soldiers and for our national interests. For a much more in-depth discussion of the negative ramifications of Obama's decision to announce a time limit, see this article from Raplh Peters.
- "Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end."
Obama is not bringing the Iraq war to a "responsible end." Our soldiers won that war and it is an utter obscenity for him to stand at West Point and to imply anything else. It was the ultimate show of disrespect and dishonesty towards our soldiers. The only thing Obama is doing in Iraq is drawing down our occupation forces - though by forcing an early withdrawal of occupation forces, he may well be setting the stage for a return to violence and the return of Iran's mad mullahs. The mullahs would clearly like to renew their efforts to Lebanize Iraq.
- "America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars . . ."
In a speech filled with non-sequiturs, this was probably the worst. Obama is trying to justify the political expediency of his decision with post-modern gibberish. Wars end in one of three ways. Victory, stalemate or defeat. If we pick up our marbles and leave before victory (or stalemate if that is the limited goal, such as in Korea) can be achieved, then we accept defeat. There is no other way to spin it. The left's decision to cut and run in Vietnam has had ramifations lasting down to the present day, with the most important being that it emboldened scores of our enemies. Had we "responsibly ended" the war in Iraq when Obama and the far left wanted, the results for our nation, the entire Western World, and Iraq would have been catastrophic. In that light, Obama's statement that we will "show our strength" by how "we end wars" is utterly - and very dangerously - nonsensical.
- "We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction. And that's why I've made it a central pillar of my foreign policy . . . to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and to pursue the goal of a world without them, because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever more destructive weapons. True security will come for those who reject them."
Prior to our building a nuclear arsenal, wars in Europe during the first half of the 20th century cost the lives of upwards of 80,000,000 people and completely destroyed whole economies. Since we created a nuclear arsenal, the total number or war deaths in Europe has been not even a fraction of a fraction of that. Perhaps there is a lesson here to be gleaned for our Commander in Chief.
Nuclear weapons in the hands of rational countries subject to deterrence by MADD (Mutually Assured Destruction) has meant 'true security.' Would we have already experienced WWIII against the Soviet Union and China if no country possessed nuclear weapons? Probably. And if so, what would have been the cost? Obama seems to be living in an incredibly dangerous fantasy world. He has little to no grasp of history. Obama would do well to read up on the Pax Romana. Virtually all of written history teaches that security is maintained by the perceived willingness and ability to project superior force. Nuclear weapons clearly enhance one's perception of that ability. Further, is there anyone other than a grade schooler in an ultra-liberal school in San Fran that believes the nuclear genie can be put back in the bottle?
Lastly, as to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, Iran is now about to build ten new nuclear reactors, and every day that Obama dithers, the entire Middle East comes closer to joining in the game of nuclear proliferation. That is the ultimate nightmare scenario. It presents an existential threat to America and the entire West. Yet Obama waffles on about a world without nuclear weapons. The problem is not that some people in the world have nuclear weapons, the problem is that people not deterred by MADD may soon have them. My suggestion, rather than worrying about the world's nukes, how about dealing posthaste with the mad mullahs' march to a nuclear arsenal.
- "And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights . . ."
Nice words, Mr. President, but your deeds directly contradict them. How about directing your words on human rights towards the Green Movement in Iran. Perhaps you haven't kept up on the news out of Iran since you took office, but the Green Movement protesters have been suffering the worst of human rights abuses while waiting to hear from you. Your silence has been both craven and deafening.
- The word count of Obama's speech, courtesy of Instapundit:
"I" - 45; "Afghanistan" - 39; "Victory" - 0
- The things Obama did very well in his speech
The highpoints of Obama's speech were his definition of the threat we face, tying together both al Qaeda and the Taliban, and his articulation of the strategic necessity to defeat those threats. I think his analysis of both was spot in.
Despite the fact that Obama is a far left ideologue, he is governing now. He has to consider the long term implications of his decisions. In that context, Obama has a pragmatic streak that kicks in when he senses the massive dangers of embracing the Michael Moore-Kos plank in toto. Thus did we see Obama keep many of the Bush tools for the war on terror, and thus do we see him now committing more troops to Afghanistan. Given his accurate analysis of the threat, he could not possibly justify ending the war effort now or simply failing to prosecute it any further - at least not after Gen McChrystal's Commander's Summary was leaked. You will recall that McChrystal said in that document that we are losing the war and that we have a 12 month window in which to set the conditions for victory in Afghanistan. What decision Obama would have made today without that leak is anyone's guess.
- Last Thought
The post modern far left is never going to support any war undertaken that is directly in our national interests. Obama has no chance of placating them short of withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thus his target audience should have been that good portion of the rest of America that is war weary but that will rise in support of their country if the President exercises his leadership. Obama needed to make this target audience understand what is at stake on an emotional level and then give a FDR/Churchillesque speech exhorting them to victory as the only option. It was certainly within his oratorical capacity to do so. Yet Obama utterly failed. Indeed, probably the most pointed criticism of his speech in that regard comes from, of all people, a German author, Gabor Steingart, writing in Der Spiegel:
One didn’t have to be a cadet on Tuesday to feel a bit of nausea upon hearing Obama’s speech. It was the least truthful address that he has ever held. He spoke of responsibility, but almost every sentence smelled of party tactics. He demanded sacrifice, but he was unable to say what it was for exactly.
An additional 30,000 US soldiers are to march into Afghanistan — and then they will march right back out again. America is going to war — and from there it will continue ahead to peace. It was the speech of a Nobel War Prize laureate.
This was Obama's first test as a wartime President. He will very likely have another test in the future. When things are going bad in the war, when his political enemies (in this case, his base) are calling for his head, will he have the commitment to victory to continue the fight? Washington passed this test, as did Lincoln, FDR, Truman and Bush. We won the wars they fought because of their will to persevere. Will Obama do the same, or will he, on the day of his next test, weigh his actions on the scales of political expediency. I think that is still very much an open question and one that America's enemies, foreign (and dare I say domestic) will seek to exploit.
I realize General McChrystal has come out with a statement saying that the resources Obama proposes will be adequate. That does not detract in any way from my above analysis that underresourcing is going to cost us in blood and effect the chances of success. Two, I also know that Obama nuanced his 18 month time frame with the magic words, "conditions on the ground." The issues of concern are not whether Obama's promise of an 18 month drawdown allows for wiggle room in 18 months (Barack "expiration date" Obama would find wiggle room in 18 months regardless of what he says today), but rather its immediate impact on the Afghani populace and, for that matter, on the strategy of our enemy. As to the latter, I can well imagine that al Qaeda and the Taliban will respond by making the most of this in terms of propaganda and by seeking to create another Harry Reid "this war is lost" moment. Regardless of the degree to which our average cave dwelling foe are formally schooled, I have no doubt that they intrinsicly understand the calculus of political expediency in the far left politics of America today.
Upade: If you haven't seen it, go to Hot Air and watch Jon Stewart's take on the speech. It's long but worth every minute of watching.