October 16, 2009
War without a War President?By J. Robert Smith
Is Barack Obama up to being a war president?
The smartest strategies and the ablest generals can't succeed unless the commander-in-chief is resolved for victory. That resolve is really a passion. Grit and willpower are critical and flow from passion. These qualities are necessary to carry a leader through the inevitable trials, hardships and setbacks of war. Without these essential qualities, wars are likely abandoned or lost.
And as Sun Tzu counseled: "[A General] will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign."
In other words, a leader needs to be wise enough to give his generals the means to win and then, for the most part, get out of the way. Does the incumbent President, by nature, seem more inclined to interfere, like Lyndon Johnson did in Vietnam, or give his general, McChrystal, the running room to win in Afghanistan?
The adjectives increasingly used in conjunction by the mainstream media to describe Mr. Obama are "young and untested," as if describing John Kennedy in the first days of his presidency.
But there's a world of difference between the two men. Kennedy was a navy veteran and battle-tested. He was a hero for his actions after the PT-109 was sunk by the Japanese. He was a Cold Warrior. He didn't begin his tenure as president apologizing to tin-pot dictators and condescending allies. Being a Kennedy, he never wondered if winning was worthwhile. He learned from his dustup with Khrushchev and the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Both strengthened his resolve. He successfully confronted the Russians over Berlin and Cuba.
President Obama is a different breed of cat. He's come along in different times. Too young to have experienced the Vietnam War or the nation's struggles over it, Mr. Obama, however, grew up in a left-liberal milieu, where the adults vociferously opposed the war. That same cohort was largely counterculture and despised traditional America.
In the 1980s, as Mr. Obama started his college years, the left was pressing the idea that the Soviet Union and the United States were morally equivalent. Toward the end of the Cold War, the left sought greater accommodation with the Soviets.
President Reagan's anti-communism and determination to defeat the Soviet Union was met on the left with undisguised hostility. Is there much doubt that Mr. Obama shared the left's sentiments?
In Mr. Obama's brief political career, he's made it plain that he opposed President George W. Bush's taking the war on terror to Iraq. He opposed General Petraeus' surge in Iraq, and has yet to acknowledge its success, at least without qualification.
Where's the evidence -- the convincing evidence -- that Mr. Obama has overcome the influences that shaped him in his formative and early professional years?
In his brief tenure as president, he snuggles up to dictators like Castro and Chavez, and spurns allies like the Israelis, Hondurans, Poles and Czechs. He's given short shrift to a steadfast ally, Great Britain. And he went on the infamous apology tour.
His worldview is grossly flawed because his understanding of the nation is deeply flawed. We are, to his way of thinking, a nation of transgressors. Our actions -- moreover, who we are as a people -- have invited disapproval and hostility around the world. Ultimately, we're at fault. It's we who must change at very basic levels to accommodate and appease the world.
And now the President vacillates about Afghanistan, giving the lie to his and the left's arguments that Afghanistan should be the real focus of the war on terror.
It's increasingly apparent that the President's predisposition would take the nation out of Afghanistan, or appreciably minimize our involvement there. Just a couple of months after declaring that the Afghanistan War was "necessary," the President is muddling through various options for the war's conduct.
The President would have been better advised to keep his own counsel rather than publicly claiming, again and again, the Afghanistan War as necessary before defining what necessary is. He should have weighed strategies prior to the breakout of a very public tug-of-war between his Vice President, Mr. Biden, who favors a scaled-down counterterrorism effort, and his field commander, General McChrystal, who is foursquare for a counterinsurgency strategy.
The recent statement issued from the White House that the nation will not leave Afghanistan appears more a response to the public pressures brought by General McChrystal's leaked situation analysis and the avalanche of criticism from conservatives. Not by the President's resolve.
But declaring that the United States will not leave Afghanistan is a far cry from declaring for victory.
Another essential from Sun Tzu is: "[A General] will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight." The same holds for leaders. Mr. Obama seems not to know his own mind.
As to Iran, Mr. Obama opened direct talks with the mullahs' representatives knowing full well that Iran is developing nuclear materials for weapons use. He knows that previous talks, via the U.N. and with European allies, have availed little.
With Ahmadinejad and the mullahs, he chides them and then retreats. The mullahs aren't going to have a change of heart, nor soften their resolve. But they'll gladly talk; talk buys the time needed to finish their nuclear materials programs.