Tag Archives: Military Strategy

Time to step it up

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I would like to be debating policy issues that are close to my heart, like reforming the tax system, increasing competition in education, and yes, addressing claims of human-induced climate change.  Unfortunately, the recent events in Paris have reshuffled my sense of priorities.  When someone is trying to kill you, it gets your attention.

That is, of course, unless you are President Obama.  Like the hysterical protesters on college campuses from coast to coast, our professor-in-chief senses danger in the principles and practices of our free society, but he remains nonchalant about the clear and present threats of Islamic terror.  Because the president is afraid of offending Muslims who disavow violence, he continues to drone on about Islam-inspired violence being unrelated to Islam.  Democratic officials and candidates likewise go to great politically correct pains to avoid using the words “Islam” and “terror” in the same sentence.

It is awkward enough to hear an American political leader offering opinions about the meaning of a religion to which he claims no personal connection.  But even if President Obama were an authority on Islamic teachings, the alleged distortion of Islam by terrorists is besides the point.  Of course there are millions of Muslims who reject terrorism and despise ISIS and who can justify their opposition with bona fide Islamic principles.  Many are oriented to Western liberties and are counted among our most loyal citizens.

But millions more are absolutely, positively not aligned with the American way of thinking.  They reject our liberal society as a wellspring of corruption.  And they base their attitudes, like it or not, on the religion and culture of Islamic societies.  For this reason, Obama warned us of exercising our constitutional (dare I say, God-given?) rights to freely criticize Islam and its sacred prohibitions.  Why else but for fear that practitioners of Islam would not tolerate our free speech and would be provoked into acts of violence?

Witness Secretary of State Kerry’s recent gaffe acknowledging justification — er, rationale — for the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  The left will bend over backwards to accommodate the illiberal mentality of our Islamist enemies, but it will take Americans to task for defending our fundamental liberties.  All one has to do is look at the rising tide of commentators linking last week’s attack at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs to opponents of abortion.  No, it was not an unrelated “violent extremist” at fault for the senseless murders.  It was the “inflammatory rhetoric” of the pro-life Republicans that set events in motion.

Why does it matter that we define our enemies by the Islamist ideology which motivates them?  It is not to appeal to base prejudices among our citizenry.  It is not to create a clash between Muslims and the West.   To the contrary, as Gov. Chris Christie explained last week to the Council on Foreign Relations, “if you say that you’re going to war with radical Islamic terrorism, then by definition you’re not going to war with the rest of Islam… Confusion is only created by the use of euphemisms.”

We must define the enemy correctly to enable a debate about the strategy most likely to succeed in bringing this global menace to its knees.

Like Churchill who foresaw the perils of appeasing Hitler, we must be willing to take our enemies at their word.  When they say they want to kill us, they mean it.  And like Hollywood’s nefarious Terminator, ISIS can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with.  It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Faced with such an enemy in Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the Allies of World War II waged an unrelenting battle on multiple fronts.  We must do the same, using strategies and technologies which are suited for our generation.

While that does not mean we can defeat the enemy with military might alone, air strikes and infantry are essential for success.  We must unhinge rules of engagement that limit the force and breadth of our firepower.  Likewise, we must crush the spirit of ISIS with propaganda that humiliates them.  For every tweet glorifying terror, we need to respond 100-fold with words and images that expose the emptiness of jihadist rhetoric, shining a light on the daily misery and deprivation experienced by the foot soldiers of ISIS.

There are complexities to the multi-pronged conflict in Syria.  The enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.  But we must not let the complications of future governance prevent us from acting decisively today.  Anything else is better than ISIS.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, International, Terrorism

No strength no peace

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The world is awash with troublemakers testing our resolve.  Is our president up to the challenge?

When it comes to national security policy, the administration seems adrift on so many levels.  Most alarming is President Obama’s outright disregard for real threats, chief among them the menace of Islamist terror.  He has alternately compared the jihadists to “a jayvee team,” “violent extremists,” and most recently, random urban criminals.  His unwillingness to identify — let alone combat — the scourge of radical Islam as a festering global challenge is bewildering, irresponsible, and insulting (not just to our intelligence).   Congressional leaders on the right and the left are simply exasperated.  Were it only a cynical ploy to avoid responsibility for policy failure, his dismissive attitude would be scandalous.  That he really seems to believe what he is saying is simply terrifying.

Where the White House does acknowledge a challenge, it is notoriously late to the game.  The Arab Spring, the civil war in Syria, the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the emergence of ISIS, and the unraveling of the government in Yemen — all seemed to catch the president off guard.  Advisors and spokesmen were then left scrambling to explain the government’s positions and strategy.

One instance where President Obama did try to get ahead of a global security challenge was the escalating brutality of the Assad regime in Syria.  Against the use of chemical weapons, the president famously drew a (red) line in the sand.  As we now know, when Assad called his bluff, Obama was unable or unwilling to follow through.  The rest of the world took notice, allies and foes alike.

Threats of force from this administration simply do not pass muster unless we can “lead from behind.” Or at least from the safety of a remote base piloting a drone.

Obama is so fearful of replicating the perceived overreach of his predecessor that he simply refuses to project strength.  Confession, conciliation, and concession are the standard features of the Obama doctrine (if you can call it that).  In Iraq and Afghanistan, we pre-announced our scheduled withdrawals and did little to protect the military gains for which we had sacrificed so much.  In the face of Russian intransigence — later to become belligerence — we unilaterally disarmed by unwinding commitments to place antimissile batteries in Eastern Europe.  And regarding ISIS, we take options off the table, such as “boots on the ground,” even though we lack the intelligence needed to sustain an effective campaign against the would-be totalitarian caliphate.

You don’t have to subscribe to the foreign policy principles of Senators McCain and Graham to realize how much we are dropping the ball.  Our adversaries can either ignore our demands and threats outright, or they can simply wait for them to pass and wither.  While President Obama slow-walks offers to bolster the army of Ukraine with lethal weaponry, the rest of Eastern Europe is getting anxious.  It’s only a matter of time before Vladimir Putin identifies Russian speakers elsewhere in the region who require protection from some contrived injustice.

So when it comes to negotiations with Iran, is it any wonder that leaders of Congress doubt the White House?  Why should anyone trust that diplomacy engineered by this president can keep the Iranian nuclear program in check?  Iran is at the table of under the strain of a vigorous sanctions regime.  Obama seeks to curtail further moves in this direction, threatening to veto legislation that would tighten economic pressure.

Sadly, it seems this is the only kind of threat from President Obama one can believe in.

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Strategy without deserts

“Would you send your son to go fight ISIS?”

That was the provocative question posed to me over dinner last week.  Of course, I wouldn’t be keen to send my children to fight in any war, but my dining companion wasn’t really arguing that point.  Instead he was charging that we don’t own the problems of the Middle East.  His was another flavor of the cliche that “America isn’t the world’s policeman.”

Pundits and politicians step over one another to assign blame for the world’s problems.  It does not serve our national interest.  As Peggy Noonan wrote last week, “you have to unhitch yourself from your predispositions and resentments and face what is happening now.”  Normative judgments are fine and good as a way to defend policy prescriptions, but they do not address the problems at hand.  People are rightly exasperated with President Obama’s reluctance to admit how Islamic thought is motivating today’s biggest security threats.  That said, we are not in an existential war against political correctness.  Our clear and present danger arises from a growing set of deranged actors.  The president’s primary fault is his failure to articulate a coherent strategy and lead the fight against our enemies.

Obama set off a firestorm in his homily at the recent National Prayer Breakfast, where he ostensibly likened the crimes of the medieval crusaders to those of modern day jihadists.  Without debating the historical merits or otherwise of his comments, it’s unsettling how much this president moralizes about metaphorical stone throwing instead of orchestrating a global campaign against the sadists who are literally throwing stones as he speaks.  Being action-oriented and practical minded doesn’t make you a practitioner of realpolitik.  We should lead where we can — not because we caused a problem, but because we fear the alternatives to our leadership.

When I travel in pro-Israel circles, it’s not uncommon to hear advocates recite a laundry list of transgressions by the Palestinian people and their leadership.  The Arabs have rejected compromise, fomented hatred, celebrated violence, and glorified murderous suicide.  It’s impossible to defend such behavior with a straight face.  It gives context to Israeli policies which vex the liberal conscience.  What your adversaries deserve, however, is not the foundation of a strategy to deal with them.  The most persuasive proponents of a two-state solution in Palestine are those who enumerate the practical risks of denying civil rights to an occupied population.  Palestinians need an independent state as a way to resolve Israel’s continuing security and diplomatic challenges of the conflict.  It’s not that Palestinians “earned” independence by their conduct.  Israel must stay the course of negotiations because it serves its best interests to do so.

Which brings me back to the thorny question of ISIS and its fellow travelers across the globe.  Do Americans want another military incursion in the Middle East?  Not very likely.  Do Americans want battle-hardened jihadis hitting our shores to blow up subways in New York or scatter bullets across newsrooms in Washington, DC?  Also not very likely.  We own the problem of radical Islam whether or not we share some responsibility for its incarnation.  What we need is a clear-headed strategy for countering the threat.  Let’s back up the comparatively civilized front-line fighting forces (e.g., Jordan’s army and the Kurdish Peshmerga) with arms, resources, and unhindered logistical support.  Let’s use our best diplomatic and intelligence capabilities to rally the like-minded against a metastasizing global menace.  I shudder to think of those I know and love suffering at the hands of jihadi terrorists.  Washing our hands of the problem won’t make it go away.

 

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