II WORST POLITICAL BLUNDER OF ALL TIME?
By Thomas Sowell
I “Strategic Failure”
By Mark Moyar
Review by SOHRAB AHMARI
Wall Street Journal
July 19, 2015
White House staffers have summed up Barack Obama’s foreign-policy doctrine as “Don’t do stupid s—.” Six years and change into his presidency, however, the stupid stuff has piled up so high—in Ukraine, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq and beyond—that some Team Obama alumni are now trying to subtly dissociate themselves from this charming formulation and its legacy.
Chief among these is Hillary Clinton. “Great nations need organizing principles,” she told the Atlantic last August. “ ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.” Translation: Don’t blame me for the stupid stuff or hold it against me as I seek the presidency. Through leaks and interviews, the Clinton camp has tried to portray the former secretary of state as an administration dissident, pushing for tougher measures against Iran and greater support for the moderate Syrian opposition.
Not so fast, says historian Mark Moyar in “Strategic Failure,” an account of the half-baked concepts and politicized decision-making that created the great foreign-policy unraveling of Mr. Obama’s second term. As Mr. Moyar shows, the administration’s failures abroad had many fathers (and mothers), including Mrs. Clinton and, especially, Vice President Joe Biden. The missteps, says Mr. Moyar, began in the president’s first term, the main focus of the book; it was merely the delay between cause and effect that prevented the worst of the outcomes from surfacing before voters had re-elected Mr. Obama.
The bulk of the book is devoted to the Middle East and North Africa, the main theater of the War on Terror. Starting out his public career as an antiwar progressive, Barack Obama gradually modulated his foreign-policy ideas as he entered national politics. Iraq became the “dumb war,” whereas Afghanistan was a worthy fight. The motivation for this shift to the center was political. As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama needed a good war to counterpose George W. Bush’s (and Mrs. Clinton’s) bad war.
Mr. Obama’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan as president was as un-strategic as his opposition to the Iraq War. When it came time to implement his Afghan “surge” in 2009, he set arbitrary deadlines and troop limits that would soon undermine his stated aims. Brushed off were the warnings of his generals and the more serious administration principals, most notably Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who urged more troops and a longer timeline.
Such figures were excluded from the president’s cocoon, to which only campaign loyalists—the likes of David Axelrod, Denis McDonough, Benjamin Rhodes and Valerie Jarrett—were admitted. These were the figures, Mr. Moyar writes, behind the White House’s “subordination of policy to politics.” Filtering every decision through the prism of domestic polls, they pressed for a rapid departure from Iraq. Mr. McDonough said at the October 2011 press conference about the withdrawal of U.S. forces: “One assessment after another about the Iraqi security forces came back saying these guys are ready, these guys are capable.”
The Islamic State would beg to differ: Less than four years later, Mosul and Ramadi are under its control. Meanwhile, the administration sold regional retreat as a triumph and even provided a pseudo-doctrine justifying it. Known as “counterterrorism-plus,” the concept was invented by Mr. Biden as an alternative to the heavy-footprint prescriptions of eminent counterinsurgency practitioners like Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
It emphasized drone warfare and the use of special forces to target jihadists with little to no presence on the ground. Counterterrorism-plus was counterterrorism on the cheap. Missing from counterterrorism-plus was a coherent regional strategy and a willingness to use “overwhelming and permanent force” when necessary, as Mr. Moyar puts it.
Robots raining fire from the sky have failed to check the rise of al Qaeda in Yemen and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet as recently as March, the White House continued to tout the model’s success in Yemen, even as the Yemeni state was collapsing. The lesson of Mr. Obama’s catastrophic foreign policy, Mr. Moyar says, is that there is no cheap-and-easy substitute for a “proactive global strategy and the robust defense spending required to sustain it.”
The market for book-length critiques of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy is saturated, but Mr. Moyar’s effort is distinguished by his measured tone, analytic sobriety and scholarly approach. The author, who has taught at the Marine Corps University and the Joint Special Operations University, is one of our ablest strategic thinkers, and he has a gift for letting the facts speak for themselves—or rather, drop like hammer blows.
As for Mrs. Clinton’s attempt to distance herself from Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, Mr. Moyar doesn’t buy it. In his telling, Mrs. Clinton at the State Department was a happy executor of such signature flops as the Russian reset. And she embraced the Obama-ian vision of small footprints, always acting multilaterally and encouraging second-tier states like France and Britain to supplant U.S. leadership.
That vision culminated in the 2012 terrorist attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and Mrs. Clinton found herself digging out of a hole after it was revealed that she was complicit in White House efforts to play down or even hide the failures underlying the security breach. “At this point, what difference does it make?” she asked in congressional testimony on Benghazi. But the bigger question was why we were in that situation in the first place. It all does make a difference.
“Strategic Failure” won’t make for soothing reading in Washington this election season, and perhaps that is its greatest virtue.
Mr. Ahmari is a Journal editorial-page writer based in London.
II WORST POLITICAL BLUNDER OF ALL TIME?
From an article by Thomas Sowell
Iran deal causes us to ‘think the unthinkable’ about Obama
The United States seems at this moment about to break the record for the worst political blunder of all time, with its Obama administration deal that will make a nuclear Iran virtually inevitable.
… During the years when we confronted a nuclear-armed Soviet Union, we at least realized that we had to “think the unthinkable,” as intellectual giant Herman Kahn put it. Today it seems almost as if we don’t want to think about it at all.
Our politicians have kicked the can down the road – and it is the biggest, most annihilating explosive can of all, that will be left for our children and grandchildren to try to cope with.
Back in the days of our nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union, some of the more weak-kneed intelligentsia posed the choice as whether we wanted to be “red or dead.” Fortunately, there were others, especially President Ronald Reagan, who saw it differently. He persevered in a course that critics said would lead to nuclear war. But instead it led to the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War.
President Barack Obama has been following opposite policies, and they are likely to lead to opposite results. The choices left after Iran gets nuclear bombs – and intercontinental missiles that can deliver them far beyond Israel – may be worse than being red or dead.
… The Obama administration’s leaking of Israel’s secret agreement with Azerbaijan to allow Israeli warplanes to refuel there, during attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities, was a painfully clear sabotage of any Israeli attempt to destroy those Iranian facilities.
But the media’s usual practice to hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil in the Obama administration buried this news and allowed Obama to continue to pose as Israel’s friend, just as he continued to assure Americans that if they liked their doctor they could keep their doctor.
Some commentators have attributed Barack Obama’s many foreign policy disasters to incompetence. But he has been politically savvy enough to repeatedly outmaneuver his opponents in America. For example, the Constitution makes it necessary for the president to get a two-thirds majority in the Senate to make any treaty valid. Yet he has maneuvered the Republican-controlled Congress into a position where they will need a two-thirds majority in both Houses to prevent his unilaterally negotiated agreement from going into effect – just by not calling it a treaty.
If he is that savvy at home, why is he so apparently incompetent abroad? Answering that question may indeed require us to “think the unthinkable,” that we have elected a man for whom America’s best interests are not his top priority.
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