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....