An in­de­ci­sive com­man­der in chief can’t win

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Pat Buchanan

Led by a con­flicted pres­i­dent of a di­vided party and na­tion, Amer­ica is deep­en­ing her in­volve­ment in a war in its ninth year with no end in sight.

Only one par­al­lel to Barack Obama’s troop de­ci­sion comes to mind: the 2007 de­ci­sion by Ge­orge W. Bush to ig­nore the Baker Com­mis­sion and put Gen. David Pe­traeus in com­mand of a “surge” of 30,000 troops into Iraq.

That surge suc­ceeded. Bagh­dad was largely paci­fied. The Sunni of An­bar, heart of the re­sis­tance, ac­cepted Pe­traeus’ of­fer of cash and a role in the new Iraq. To­gether, Amer­i­cans and Sunni be­gan to erad­i­cate al-Qaida. In July, the surge ended and U.S. troops with­drew from the cities.

In Au­gust and Oc­to­ber, how­ever, the Fi­nance, Jus­tice and For­eign min­istries were bombed. The Sons of Iraq now say the Shia gov­ern­ment re­neged on its pledge to pay their wages and bring them into the army.

Jock­ey­ing in par­lia­ment for the in­side track to power in Jan­uary’s elec­tions may force a post­pone­ment of the elec­tions, and of the U.S. timetable for with­drawal. Kurds and Arabs are bat­tling over Kirkuk. Iraqis seem to be go­ing back to fight­ing one an­other.

What hope can there be then for a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan, a larger, wilder, less ac­ces­si­ble, more back­ward coun­try, whose regime is less com­pe­tent and more cor­rupt than that in Iraq?

Con­ser­va­tive colum­nist Tony Blank­ley, who sup­ported the Iraq war and surge, has come out against more troops in Afghanistan. His rea­son­ing: Mr. Obama will be send­ing many hun­dreds of young Amer­i­cans to their deaths and thou­sands to be wounded in a war about which he him­self has doubts.

While it may speak well of Mr. Obama as a man that he has re­flected, ag­o­nized, de­bated within him­self and con­ducted nine war coun­sels with scores of ad­vis­ers be­fore ac­ced­ing to Gen. McChrys­tal’s re­quest, what does this say of him as com­man­der in chief?

What­ever one may say against Ge­orge W. Bush, he was decisive. As was James K. Polk when he sent Winfield Scott to take Mex­ico City. As was Abra­ham Lin­coln when he con­grat­u­lated Gen. Sher­man on his bar­barous March to the Sea. As was Harry Tru­man, who or­dered the drop­ping of an atom bomb to jolt Tokyo into ac­cept- ing un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der.

One may con­demn the wars th­ese pres­i­dent fought. One may de­plore their tac­tics. But they and the most suc­cess­ful Amer­i­can gen­er­als — Stonewall Jack­son, Ulysses S. Grant, Dou­glas MacArthur, Ge­orge Pat­ton — were not Ham­lets. They did not ag­o­nize over why they were fight­ing or whether it was worth it.

How does a pres­i­dent lead a na­tion into a war where he is not wholly and heartily com­mit­ted to victory and from which, say his aides, he is even now plan­ning the ear­li­est pos­si­ble exit?

When Dwight Eisen­hower took of­fice, he con­cluded that the price of unit­ing Korea un­der a pro-U.S. gov­ern­ment meant years more of war and scores of thou­sands more U.S. dead. He de­cided on an armistice. In six months, the war was over.

Ike was as decisive as Mr. Obama is dif­fi­dent.

From tapes of his con­ver­sa­tions with Sen. Richard Rus­sell, LBJ ag­o­nized over Viet­nam as early as 1964. He wor­ried about the U.S. ca­su­al­ties and whether we could pre­vail in a coun­try of lit­tle in­ter­est to him and of no vi­tal strate­gic in­ter­est to the United States.

Out of fear that Richard Nixon and Barry Gold­wa­ter would call him the first pres­i­dent to lose a war, Mr. John­son plunged in. And rather than win swiftly and bru­tally as we had with a mighty Ja­panese Em­pire, LBJ fought Viet­nam as the con­flicted war pres­i­dent he was, bab­bling on about build­ing “a Great So­ci­ety on the Mekong.”

One senses Mr. Obama is es­ca­lat­ing for the same rea­son: He is not so much ex­hil­a­rated by the prospect of victory and what it will mean as he is fear­ful of what a Tal­iban tri­umph and U.S. de­feat would mean for Amer­ica — and him.

And he is right to be. A U.S. with­drawal lead­ing to a Tal­iban tri­umph would elec­trify ji­hadists from Mar­rakech to Min­danao and mark a mile­stone in the long re­treat of Amer­i­can power. Pak­istan, hav­ing cast its lot with us, would be in mor­tal peril. NATO, hu­mil­i­ated in its first war, would be­come more of a hol­low shell than it al­ready is.

To pre­vent this, Mr. Obama plans to send tens of thou­sands more U.S. troops to hold off a resur­gent Tal­iban, even as he plans for their even­tual with­drawal.

The United States is to­day led by a com­man­der in chief who does not be­lieve mil­i­tary victory is pos­si­ble, who is not sure this war should be fought and who has a timetable in his own mind as to when to draw down our troops. And we face a Tal­iban that, af­ter eight years of pound­ing, is stronger than ever, and be­lieves God is on its side and its victory is as­sured.

Who do we think is ul­ti­mately go­ing to pre­vail?

Pat Buchanan is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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