September 29, 2012

Obama and his military strategies

US Soldier in Afghanistan (US Army photo)

As the United States prepares to decide who will be the commander in chief for the next four years, President Obama's performance in that role is under scrutiny. While the President is basing his military leadership prowess primarily on the killing of al-Qa'idah leader 'Usamah bin Ladin, perhaps it is more useful to examine the totality of his military strategy - or more correctly, strategies - over the last three and a half years.

This should be read in conjunction with my earlier analysis, President Obama and the "end" of two wars.


In Iraq, the President pursued a strategy of basically quitting, declaring victory and going home. There was an agreement in effect, negotiated with the Iraqis by the Bush Administration, to withdraw U.S. troops by the end of 2011, with the possibility of extension based on the security situation at the time. Although the security situation was not conducive to a complete American withdrawal, the President opted to pull out the troops anyway.

While that premature withdrawal gives Mr. Obama the opportunity to claim that he kept a campaign promise to end the war in Iraq - I think he even added the word "responsibly" - all he did was pave the way for the resurgence of al-Qa'idah in the Sunni heartland and for increased Iranian influence in the Shi'a areas - not to mention increased Iranian influence in the Shi'a dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. There has been an increase in bloodshed in the country since in the absence of American troops.


Possibly the defining military strategy of his Administration, his so-called "leading from behind" has become more of a joke than a serious serious strategy. The reason? You can't lead from behind. It was an attempt to downplay the U.S. role in the military operation that ultimately gave victory to the Libyan rebels. I am not sure why the President was reluctant to openly acknowledge the American role in the operation. Perhaps the left-wing of the Democratic Party - his power base - would not approve of his use of force, although that has not stopped the President's exponential increase in the use of armed drones to attack targets with increasing numbers of "collateral damage." That is a euphemism for civilian (innocent) casualties.

The problem with the Administration's use of the term "leadership from behind" is that the operation succeeded. It succeeded because of the superb efforts of American airmen to get the job done despite the absence of leadership from Washington.


In addition to the strategies of quitting in Iraq and "leading from behind" in Libya, in Afghanistan we see yet another Obama strategy - warfare by timetable. The President has declared that the mission will be accomplished and we will withdraw our forces by the end of 2014. In the President's own words, "We are bringing our troops home from Afghanistan. And I've set a timetable. We will have them all out of there by 2014."

I have already expounded on the absolute idiocy of this policy (see the earlier article referenced above). Can you imagine President Roosevelt or Prime Minister Churchill announcing that World War II would end on a specific date in 1945? Ludicrous. You should fight wars until you win or achieve your objective. Specifying an end date merely tells the enemy when he wins.


Now we come to Syria. The strategy here seems to be "ignore the problem and maybe it will go away, as long as it does not affect my chances for re-election." Syria is fast turning into a humanitarian disaster. The world looks to the United States and the West for leadership, yet we seem to be paralyzed by the involvement of Iran and the unwillingness of Russia and China to rein in their favorite Middle Eastern tyrant-dictator.

I will call this strategy the "deer in the headlights" campaign. It fits in with the President's overall leadership doctrine of abdication. Why lead if you can be re-elected without it?

September 16, 2012

Benghazi - spontaneous demonstration or planned attack

The Administration's definition of a spontaneous demonstration

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, there are two versions of what happened at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last week. The Obama Administration, which apparently failed to provide adequate security for its diplomatic personnel, would have us believe that the attack that resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three of his staff and wounded many others, was the result of a spontaneous demonstration over a movie trailer posted on the internet.

I have already asked about the obviously flawed decision for the U.S. ambassador to be in an unprotected facility far from the embassy in Tripoli on the 11th anniversary of arguably the most devastating attack on the United States since World War II. See my earlier article for my comments on that mistake, US Ambassador to Libya killed - the response?

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said on Sunday that "preliminary information indicated that the consulate attack was not planned." She invoked past violence in the Middle East associated with cartoons about Muhammad, and Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses, concluding with the rather definitive statement that "this has been the proximate cause of what we've seen."

I understand that the Administration is trying to excuse its bad decisions as regards the safety of American diplomatic personnel in Libya on the anniversary of September 11, 2001, but their explanation - echoed by all the Administration mouthpieces - in the face of what happened is ludicrous. First of all, there are relatively few actual spontaneous demonstrations in the Middle East - most of the governments in the region tightly control these types of gatherings. This isn't a flash mob in Los Angeles.

Secondly, who brings AK-47 assault rifles and RPG grenade launchers to a "spontaneous demonstration?" Actually, I know the answer. No one. Who brings AK-47 assault rifles and RPG grenade launchers to a planned operation? Al-Qa'idah.

Let's also consider the remarks by Libyan President Muhammad Magareif (al-Maqariyaf) - and remember he is on-scene with the benefit of the interrogations of 50 individuals arrested by the Libyan security and intelligence services. Magarief claims that the attack was planned and executed by foreigners linked to al-Qa'idah. I would point out that the eastern provinces of Libya have been a fertile recruiting ground for al-Qa'idah for years, so some of the perpetrators may have fact been Libyan.

The Libyan president allowed that there may have been local sympathizers and affiliates - Libyan nationals. In any case, those locals were part of a planned attack and not a ""spontaneous" demonstration in reaction to an internet post. How many of those people seen in the videos of the attack routines do you think routinely surf the internet?

President Magareif's version of reality makes more sense to me. Spontaneous demonstrators do not engage in a four-hour firefight to make their point. This was a calculated, planned attack on an unprotected U.S. diplomatic facility that was hosting the U.S. ambassador on the anniversary virtually sacred to al-Qa'idah.

The timing was not a coincidence. The terrorist group meant to mount an attack on September 11. They obviously had good intelligence - they knew the ambassador was visiting the consulate - an unprotected building in a residential compound in Benghazi - rather than remaining at the better-protected embassy in Tripoli. Personnel at the consulate had warned of surveillance of the facility in the weeks prior to the attack. Al-Qa'idah saw an opportunity to exploit an error in judgement and took it. The result: four dead American diplomats.

Ambassador Rice's comments: “What happened initially was that it was a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired in Cairo as a consequence of the video. People gathered outside the embassy and then it grew very violent. And those with extremist ties joined the fray and came with heavy weapons, which unfortunately are quite common in post-revolutionary Libya, and that then spun out of control.”

The Administration needs to stop insulting the intelligence of virtually everyone but those in it. It was a planned attack. Even if you choose to believe Ambassador Rice's non-nonsensical version of what happened, it still indicates an attack by extremists that must be dealt with.

I am afraid "outreach" isn't going to cut it. As I have said before, these are committed Islamist jihadists. You cannot reason with them, you cannot negotiate with them, you cannot talk to them - you have to hunt them down and kill them.

September 12, 2012

US Ambassador to Libya killed - the response?

Following in the footsteps of their Egyptian brethren, a Libyan mob attacked the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city of Banghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others of the consulate staff.

Given the milk-toast response from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo following the attack in Egypt (see my article U.S. Embassy attacked in Cairo - the blame game), one must wonder how the Obama Administration will handle this situation. It is reminiscent of Tehran and Kabul in 1979?*

Given the revelation that Muhammad al-Zawahiri, brother of al-Qa'idah's heir to the late 'Usamah bin Ladin, was present at the demonstration in Cairo, and the well-planned and executed attack in Banghazi bears al-Qa'idah's level of expertise, one could conclude that the two incidents are related. We may never know, but the fact that two U.S. diplomatic facilities were attacked on the 11th anniversary of the September 2001 attacks seems to me to be beyond coincidental.

Although the situation is still developing, what is known is disturbing, and raises many more questions. Here are some that I'd like to see the media ask President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - and I'd like the media to hold them accountable for their answers.

- Were American diplomatic facilities and military installations on a higher state of alert or readiness for the September 11 anniversary?

- If so, why was Ambassador Stevens not in the more-defensible U.S. Embassy in Tripoli (the capital)? Why was he at the undefended consulate in Banghazi, basically a house in a residential compound?

- Why were there no U.S. Marine security guards at the consulate, especially given the presence of the ambassador on September 11?

And the last, probably most important question is: What will be the American response? "Working with the Libyan government" is fine for a start, but they may not have the wherewithal or desire to bring the perpetrators to justice. We need to determine who did this, and bring justice to them - that's Rick-speak for hunt them down and kill them. It is the only thing they understand.

* In 1979, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Tubbs was murdered in Kabul, and in Tehran, Islamic militants loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini seized the American Embassy in Tehran - both with seemingly little consequence from the Carter Administration.

September 11, 2012

U.S. Embassy attacked in Cairo - the blame game

Islamist protesters at U.S. Embassy in Cairo - note jihadi flag

On September 11, 2012, the 11th anniversary of the al-Qa'idah attacks on the United States, hundreds of Islamist protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, tore down the American flag and replaced it with the black flag bearing the shahada' - "There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God." The flag is normally associated with al-Qa'idah and other jihadist groups.

The protesters scrawled profane graffiti in Arabic and English on the wall surrounding the embassy compound and demanded that the U.S. ambassador to Egypt be expelled from the country. Egyptian police surrounded the area, but did not stop the protesters from their actions.

The demonstrations and attack were purportedly in response to a movie being made by an American that criticizes Muhammad as a fraud. As we have seen with other unfavorable depictions of Muhammad, such as the Danish cartoon issue a few years ago, ultra-conservative Muslims react with death threats and violence. I have never understood how a religion whose adherents describe as one of peace, love and tolerance can be so violent, hateful and intolerant.

Having been assigned to several of our embassies in the Middle East, I am sensitive to these attacks. I am not only sensitive to this particular attack, I am outraged. Egypt is one of the largest recipients of American foreign aid, having received approximately $17 billion dollars just since 2001. Egypt is second only to Israel in the amount of American aid; the two countries account for fully one-third of all U.S. foreign assistance.

In response to what could have been a deadly situation in Cairo, the embassy issued a statement that is so off target that it rises to the level of insulting the freedoms that define us as a country.

Here it is in its entirety:

QUOTE: "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others." UNQUOTE

That's it? If I understand this, the U.S. embassy condemns an American citizen for exercising his right of free speech in his own country while saying nothing about an attack on sovereign American territory (the embassy), desecration of the flag, disgusting graffiti on the walls and demands that the ambassador leave Egypt. This is reminiscent of the non-response to the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Iran in 1979.

I am surprised, embarrassed and disappointed. The U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Woods is a career Foreign Service officer with a reasonable amount of experience in the Middle East. It is inexcusable to not address and condemn the attack on the embassy.

I am sure the response was coordinated with the State Department in Washington. I ask Secretary Clinton - what say you? Who is to blame? An American citizen exercising his rights as guaranteed by the Constitution, or a group of marauding intolerant hateful Islamists? Still plan to send that $1.5 billion dollars to Egypt?

September 8, 2012

Syrian civil war - and the children

This is an internet video that someone sent me for my interpretation of what is going on - a child in some sort of cape standing in front of the flag used by the Syrian opposition, wearing a headband of that same flag, obviously being coached by a man (I assume it is her father, uncle or another relative).

When I saw the opening, I thought, cute little girl, sweet voice (my translations):

"I am 'Amurah from Syria."

She continued (with coaching for each phrase):

"I am sending a special greeting to the revolutionaries in Dayr Az-Zawr, the revolutionaries in Homs, the revolutionaries in Idlib as they face death, and Dayr Az-Zawr as they face death."

Okay, maybe a bit much to have a child send greetings to revolutionaries.


"By God, leave, Bashar! Leave, Bashar!"

No real problem with that, but I think she's a bit young to be indoctrinated with this political rhetoric.

Then I think it crosses a line:

"The people want the execution of al-Asad."

It ends with the chant:

"Syria - freedom! Syria - freedom! Syria - freedom!"

The sign around her neck is a bit blurry in the video, but I think it reads, "Youth of the Syrian Revolution - to Victory of the Syrian Revolution."

The flag is not the official flag of Syria. This flag was the official flag of the Syrian Republic (as opposed to today's Syrian Arab Republic) from 1930 to 1958, when it was changed to the current flag to reflect the brief union with Egypt. The opposition refers to this flag as 'alm al-istiqlal, the Independence Flag.

I was struck by this video. I support the Syrian opposition. That said, my youngest granddaughter Alexa is about 'Amurah's age - Alexa is not touched by civil war. Too often, we forget the psychological stresses and impacts on the children in these crisis areas. Much the same, I guess, as on the children in the Israeli town of Sderot who live with rocket attacks virtually every day. (See my article, Sderot, Israel - "Rocket City" opens new school.)

Something to think about.

September 6, 2012

President Obama and the "end" of two wars

The Biden-Kerry brain trust

Vice President Joe Biden and Senator John Kerry - the former has never worn a uniform and the latter is ashamed of his - have both spoken at the Democratic National Convention in glowing terms about President Obama's handling of two wars. They claim that the President's performance merits his re-election. Some comments for you consideration on the wars.

I have tried to stay out of the political debate between the two parties - especially during the two campaign love-fest conventions - and try to focus on the actions of those in power. I was highly critical of President Bush for his conduct of the wars - they should both have been over and won years ago. I supported to decision to take military action and have been impressed with the performance of our troops, but I have real issues with the national-level decision in the prosecution of the wars.

That said, President Obama came to office and had the opportunity to honor his campaign promises to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan responsibly. By my analysis, he has failed on both fronts.

I must credit a friend and colleague, Dr. Walid Phares,* for some rationale analysis: "Kerry says Obama knows how to 'end wars,' but he never explains why Obama never 'wins' these wars... Getting out of Iraq while allowing Iran to seize it is no victory. Quitting Afghanistan to the Taliban is defeat." Dr. Phares is absolutely correct.

Let's look at Iraq first. When the Bush Administration negotiated the December 31, 2011 withdrawal date of U.S. forces from Iraq with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, there was a provision for the presence of American troops past that date if warranted by the security situation, and with the agreement of both governments. During the negotiations, a sticking point arose of the immunity of American troops from arrest and prosection by Iraqi authorities.

There was a series of meetings to discuss the issue. I agree that we needed a provision in the agreement for immunity similar to status-of-forces agreements we have with many countries that host American troops. The Iraqis were surprised when the Americans abruptly halted the talks and walked out of the talks and announced the end of U.S. force presence as of December 31, 2011.

Afterwards, I came to realize the talks and subsequent walkout were merely a kabuki dance to make it look like the Obama Administration had actually the considered the security situation; the decision to depart had already been made. There was to be no agreement; continuing the talks risked an Iraqi compromise.

Bottom line in Iraq: President Obama did not end the war. He simply departed the war - he quit. The fighting in Iraq continues, al-Qa'idah in Iraq - virtually wiped out by American forces in the last years of our involvement - has re-emerged as a threat, and the country has grown much closer to the Shi'a-dominated Islamic Republic of Iran. That, Mr. Obama, is not a victory.

The mullahs in Tehran watched this happen at the hands of Barack Obama and judged him to be totally inept at foreign policy in this part of the world. That is part of the reason they do not take his threats seriously over the Iranian nuclear program. Again, President Obama did not end the war in Iraq - he ran from it, dishonoring those who sacrificed life and limb. That perfidy was not lost on the Iranians.

Afghanistan? Another foreign policy blunder, by both administrations. I have already addressed what I believe where the Bush Administration's failings in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let's focus on what the current Administration has done. If you listened to the convention speeches lauding Joe Biden's foreign policy prowess, you would have to wonder, what was his advice to the President about the war in Afghanistan? Biden, who does have 40 years of foreign policy experience - virtually all of it being proved wrong - has no clue about military operations.

Case in point - these two professional politicians with no understanding of military strategy - decided that it would be politically expedient to announce a deadline for the withdrawal of American troops from the country. Anyone who has attended any military staff college or heard a shot fired in anger will tell you that absolute last thing that you do when you have young men and women in harm's way is to telegraph your strategic, tactical or operational intentions to the enemy.

When the Administration announced the withdrawal deadline as the end of 2014, it in reality told the Taliban that all they had to do was survive until that date and they would win. Obama handed them victory. As soon as I heard the announcement, I knew we had lost.

The Taliban then began a classic guerrilla campaign aimed at killing individual American soldiers one by one, in places they felt safe. In this case, the Taliban recruited members - or inserted them into - the Afghan military and security forces to turn on their American allies in their workplaces. It is a morale killer, and only steels American public opinion against a continued military presence in the country.

To make matters worse, the President re-iterated:

"We are bringing our troops home from Afghanistan. And I've set a timetable. We will have them all out of there by 2014."

Let me translate that into how that is viewed by military professionals, not politicians (although it seems some of our senior officers have drunk the kool-aid and now merely spout the party line). The President said, "We are quitting Afghanistan, we're leaving by the end of 2014 no matter the situation. To all parties, we have no interest in who emerges as the victors."

In the end, President Obama will have ended two wars. To be kind, I could say that he will have won neither. To be honest, I will say that he will have lost both.

* Disclosure - Dr. Phares is an advisor to the Romney-Ryan campaign. He and I were analysts at MSNBC, often appearing together. In this article, I have taken numerous paragraphs to say what Walid said in four sentences....