A War Without Resolve

Right From the Start

Right From the Start

In his recent book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War” former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates provided distinctive observations about President Barack Obama’s conduct of the war in Afghanistan:

“[Obama] didn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his.

*          *          *

“I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand (Hamid) Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.

*          *          *

“[He] was skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail.”

These observations were made about events surrounding the decision of Mr. Obama to send an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan in support of a “surge” – a tactic that had worked remarkably well in Iraq.  It is hard to fathom how that person could have such callous disregard for human life as to send the young men and women of America into harm’s way on what he apparently believed to be a losing proposition.  So transparent was his disdain for the very “surge” he approved that, almost simultaneously, he announced that we would withdraw from Afghanistan in an abbreviated time line.

One is tempted, given Mr. Obama’s demonstrable failures in other fields (economy, foreign relations, leadership, administration (Obamacare), truth, etc.) to assume that this was a further proof of the breadth and depth of ignorance and incompetence of the most ill prepared person to ever assume the presidency.  But that would be wrong.

Mr. Obama joins Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon in similar shameful chapters of American history – men who sacrificed the lives of our young men and women in the conduct of wars that they had no intention of winning but for which they were afraid to accept responsibility for defeat.  In a March 2013 column – well before Mr. Gates new book – I wrote:

Mr. Obama never had any intention of winning the war in Afghanistan – nor in Iraq.  He continued the military presence in both countries not to win but simply to not lose – the same strategy employed by Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in Viet Nam.  Like his predecessors dealing with Viet Nam, Mr. Obama has wasted the lives of thousands of young men and women for personal political appearance.  During the Viet Nam war, those young men and women were my friends, colleagues and generation – all gone for nothing other than their bravery and the trust they placed in men and women who betrayed them at every turn.  Now these young men and women are the peers of my children.  And while the original purpose may have been noble and necessary, the continuation has devolved into foolishness and now just callous treachery.

The anti-war movement during the Vietnam era was fond of blaming “old, white men secure in their country clubs” for sending a draft era army that was disproportionately Black into battle in Southeast Asia.  Marchers would routinely chant, “Hey, hey LBJ.  How many boys did you kill today.” Country Joe and the Fish ingrained a verse in the recording of “Cheer/I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” into America’s psyche:

Come on mothers throughout the land,
Pack your boys off to Vietnam.
Come on fathers, and don’t hesitate
To send your sons off before it’s too late.
And you can be the first ones in your block
To have your boy come home in a box.”

Mr. Johnson inherited the Vietnam War from Mr. Kennedy, and Mr. Nixon in turn inherited from Mr. Johnson.  All three sternly warned the nation that the war was necessary to stem the tide of Communism sweeping across Southeast Asia, but each was irresolute in the conduct of the war.  Mr. Kennedy’s revisionist historians would have us believe that he intended to withdraw from Vietnam.  Mr. Johnson initially played tactical commander moving troops, ships and aircraft carriers around “war tables” with the Pentagon generals but lost interest and hope when his plans went for naught.  As opposition rose internally Mr. Johnson, in hopes of assuaging the protests agreed to one limitation after another in the conduct of the war – each one exposing our troops to greater danger and giving the enemy safe havens from which to conduct the battles with impunity.  There never was a plan for victory.  Mr. Johnson did not want to be the first president to concede defeat and, therefore, continued to pour troops into Vietnam although he had concluded that we could not win.  Mr. Nixon continued Mr. Johnson’s legacy. He too concluded that we could not win but continued to send troops into battle in a futile effort so as to ensure that he would not face criticism in his campaign for re-election.  (Does that sound familiar?)  America’s participation in the Vietnam War ended in March of 1973 shortly after Mr. Nixon was re-elected for his second term – what a coincidence.  During that period of time, 57,000 young men and women died and for what?  So that three vain men would not have to concede misadventure and defeat.

President George W. Bush commenced the war in Afghanistan in retaliation for the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center.  He was correct in that decision to remove that collaborating Taliban regime and deny al Qaeda a terrorist sanctuary.  He was incorrect in attempting to engage in “nation building” by installing a Western style democracy in a country that was basically a feudal area cobbled together by a withering British Empire in the 1800’s. He was likewise correct in invading Iraq based on the information that it was producing weapons of mass destruction and providing aid to terrorist organization throughout Southwest Asia.  He was similarly wrong in attempting “nation building” in Iraq.  In both instances Mr. Bush could have accomplished the same result by destroying the current regime and any war making capability with the resolve to return periodically with additional destruction should they attempt to reconstitute their ability to threaten the United States, its interests or allies.

In stark contrast, Mr. Obama never supported either war.  He was highly critical and voted at every instance to deny resources with which to conduct the war.  Only as a candidate did he declare Afghanistan as the “right war” and then solely to demonstrate that he was not a “pacifist liberal.”  So the question hangs out there:

What kind of man would send young men and women into battle solely to preserve his image and assure his re-election?  What kind of man would hide from those who he placed in harm’s way, the truth that he did not support their very reason for being deployed?

There comes a day of reckoning for all of us – how will Mr. Obama respond?