How strat­egy de­fines lead­er­ship

Ef­fec­tive de­fense at home marks the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Ken Al­lard

Pres­i­dent Obama emerged Tues­day from a meet­ing with his Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, flanked by the grim vis­ages of his Trea­sury sec­re­tary, at­tor­ney gen­eral, chairman of the Joint Chiefs and, for good mea­sure, his direc­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence. Clearly an­gered by the tragic events in Or­lando, Mr. Obama fixed the crowd of ador­ing press munchkins with his most icy stare, sig­nal­ing that a defin­ing pres­i­den­tial mo­ment was now at hand. And then, un­ac­count­ably, the chief ex­ec­u­tive be­gan ram­bling on about Don­ald Trump, de­plor­ing how he and “my friends across the aisle” (i.e. Repub­li­cans) were un­fairly crit­i­ciz­ing Mr. Obama for his long-stand­ing fail­ure to use the term “rad­i­cal Is­lam” in defin­ing an en­emy that has a nasty way of slaugh­ter­ing in­no­cents at home and abroad.

Re­ally, Mr. Pres­i­dent? Was it bet­ter to ex­ploit the pol­i­tics of the mo­ment or to pro­ject the im­age of a pop­u­lar pres­i­dent reach­ing out to com­fort and unite a griev­ing na­tion? Your tone in be­rat­ing the loyal op­po­si­tion could hardly have been more over­bear­ing had the ter­ror­ists from our last three tragedies been stand­ing right there. The im­promptu ser­mon­ette and your sneer­ing tones went on for al­most three min­utes as you pon­dered, “What ex­actly would this la­bel ac­com­plish? What ex­actly would it change?” Some­how, you man­aged to stop your­self just short of de­mand­ing petu­lantly, “What dif­fer­ence at this point does it make,” be­cause in­famy never re­peats it­self.

The Greek cho­rus on cen­ter-stage sported poker faces that never be­trayed a scin­tilla of em­bar­rass­ment. Even so, it’s a good thing that the na­tional press corps, Democrats to the core, never dis­rupted Mr. Obama’s mo­ment in the sun with snarky shouts of “Mr. Pres­i­dent, do you still think that ISIS is the ju­nior var­sity?” Be­cause obe­di­ence and po­lit­i­cal con­form­ity are the chief char­ac­ter­is­tics of the mod­ern jour­nal­ist, no dis­rup­tive counter-points marred the pres­i­den­tial rant.

With­out the slight­est hint of irony, Chris Cil­lizza ex­plained in The Wash­ing­ton Post, “Obama hates the idea of do­ing and say­ing things purely for the sake of pol­i­tics with­out any sort of deeper strat­egy be­hind them.” But Sen. Ben Sasse, Ne­braska Repub­li­can, dis­agreed sharply, call­ing the pres­i­dent wrong and ex­plain­ing to Fox News, “Telling the truth about vi­o­lent Is­lam is a pre­req­ui­site to a strat­egy …It is the com­man­der-in-chief’s duty to ac­tu­ally iden­tify our en­e­mies and to help the Amer­i­can peo­ple un­der­stand the chal­lenge of vi­o­lent Is­lam.”

A for­mer col­lege pres­i­dent, Sen. Sasse knows that strat­egy de­fines what real lead­ers do. But the ab­sence of strat­egy — shap­ing, ex­e­cut­ing, ex­plain­ing and de­fend­ing it — has been one of Mr. Obama’s most con­sis­tent fail­ings. His ham-fisted han­dling of ISIS is only the lat­est ex­am­ple. With nei­ther train­ing nor ex­pe­ri­ence in the ba­sics of na­tional se­cu­rity, Mr. Obama’s in­cum­bency has most of­ten re­sem­bled the sor­cerer’s ap­pren­tice. Re­mem­ber his 2009 Cairo Speech and its breath­less out­reach to the Arab world? Its prov­able down­stream ef­fects now in­clude the trash­ing of Hosni Mubarak, the Is­lamist dic­ta­tor­ship of Mo­hammed Morsi, the Egyp­tian revo­lu­tion of 2013 — and re­vers­ing a gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­can Mid­dle East state­craft. Yet this im­pos­ing list omits de­ba­cles from Libya to Syria, from Iraq to Afghanistan, an un­in­ter­rupted chain of blun­ders that even­tu­ally spawned ISIS.

If it seems that the world is now tee­ter­ing on some kind of precipice, it might be be­cause strat­egy and grand strat­egy are also spe­cial­ties of those dis­creet chess-masters in Bei­jing, Moscow and Te­heran. What dis­tin­guishes the grand-master from the novice is an ex­quis­ite recog­ni­tion that a new sea­son of op­por­tu­ni­ties may be ap­proach­ing. While a com­pli­ant press al­ways makes it easy to hood­wink vot­ers, Amer­ica is quickly be­com­ing what the Chi­nese call “a de­clin­ing hege­mon.” Our Army and Navy are shrink­ing to pre-World War II lev­els while we now have the small­est and old­est Air Force in our his­tory.

As global threats worsen, the na­tional se­cu­rity com­mu­nity de­bates: Which one gets us first? Will it be the new gen­er­a­tion of dirty bombs, cy­ber, and electro-mag­netic pulse — or more fa­mil­iar ones like lone-wolf ter­ror­ists or out-of-con­trol pub­lic debt? Even worse: Will some dis­puted reef in the South China Sea or botched air­borne in­ter­cept over the Baltic re­publics pro­voke a sud­den, un­con­trol­lable chain of events — giv­ing the 21st cen­tury its own Sara­jevo?

Thus far, Barack Obama, Hil­lary Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump have nei­ther ad­dressed those wor­ri­some pos­si­bil­i­ties nor sug­gested sen­si­ble strate­gies aimed at cop­ing with them. But the hideous tragedy in Or­lando demon­strates the undi­min­ished power of cer­tain time­less realities: That ef­fec­tive de­fense at home or abroad of­ten marks the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death; and that the first task of 21st cen­tury sur­vival is re-build­ing the po­lit­i­cal con­sen­sus form­ing the bedrock of Amer­i­can na­tional se­cu­rity. Ken Al­lard, a re­tired Army colonel, is a mil­i­tary an­a­lyst and au­thor on na­tional-se­cu­rity is­sues.


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