All the great struggles of history have been won by superior will-power wresting victory in the teeth of odds or upon the narrowest of margins. Winston Churchill
By Con George-Kotzabasis--Originally written and published in Nemesis on October 12, 2009
President Obama’s “knife-throwing” Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as depicted by New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, has put the ‘Vietnam knife’ on the throat of an already scared president. It has been reported that he has been telling Obama that if he goes for victory in Afghanistan, he will become LBJ, the domestic visionary destroyed by a foreign war. While his Vice-President Biden to save him from President Johnson’s fate, recommends to him a cowardly decrease in effort, “the chimera of painless counterterrorism success,” to quote The Washington Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer. What is President Obama going to do standing between a knife and a chicken?
It’s quite clear that due to President Obama’s ambivalence toward the Afghan war he is delaying his response to Gen. McChrystal’s urgent call for a substantial increase in U.S. troops as the only way to defeat the Taliban. And this delay does not only expose Obama’s indecisiveness but also opens a window to the contours of his thinking of how to handle the war and the rationale he will provide to Americans about the reversal from his previous original position. On August 17, the president standing before an assembly of veterans declared that Afghanistan was “a war of necessity,” that is, to prevent the Taliban from taking over the country and turning it into a safe haven for terrorists that could attack the American homeland. What has fundamentally changed on the military ground within the short span of two months that is making the conflict no longer “a war of necessity?” Is it possible for the president to cogently argue that al-Qaeda has been weakened to such an extent since August 17, when by his own declaration on that date had conceded that it was not, or that the Taliban has no strong connections with al-Qaeda, as some of his principle advisers are arguing, and if the Taliban were allowed to take over certain areas of Afghanistan it would not provide a safe haven to terrorists? And once they took over these areas Obama’s strategy would ‘contain’ them and would prevent them from taking over Kabul, which the president would not accede to under any circumstances? By what magic formula would Obama stop the fanatically imbued Taliban who would perceive such a back down by the Americans as a defeat of the latter as well as a lack of resolve to stay the course and defend Kabul from its future incursions? Has he forgotten what happened to the Swat Valley in Pakistan when the PakTaliban made an agreement with the perceived enfeebled government of President Zardari to impose Sharia jurisdiction in the area and once it were ensconced in the Valley it begun making incursions in adjacent areas forcing the Pakistan government to rescind the agreement and to attack the PakTaliban militarily? So what guarantees will Obama have that compacts made by the Taliban will be kept and not be broken when all the evidence shows that all its agreements are temporary until the moment it feels strong enough to attack its enemy and subdue him? And how wise will the president’s new strategy be, as foreshadowed by a series of meetings of his close advisers, that by providing the Taliban with bases in the country and hence strengthening its hold upon these areas either by the willing or forced support of their residents, when the end result will be the absolute strengthening of the Taliban?
In the history of warfare there is no example of a political leader of implementing a strategy that deliberately and fatuously has empowered his resolute and determined enemy with new strength that in a future confrontation with him would make it more difficult to defeat. The iron law of war is to fight an irreconcilable and ruthless enemy whilst he is still weak and deprive him of all opportunities to become stronger. The Ivy Leave lawyer of Harvard, the superlative novice in the intricate affairs of war, is about to ignorantly disregard this iron law and its instructions written “in blood, iron, and sweat,” to quote Winston Churchill. At the great expense of many more American casualties and materiel in the future--if he would be willing to fight his foe and not withdraw with his tail between his legs--than if he continued to fight his enemy as now and defeat him.
It’s by such reigning sentimentalism that President Obama will be attempting to decouple the American hegemon from its historic responsibility to defeat the Taliban and save both Afghanistan and Pakistan from the reign of barbarians that would threaten the U.S. homeland and, indeed, the West.
General McChrystal’s Recommendations to President Obama
General McChrystal, with the unflinching support of the victor of the Iraq war, veni, vidi, vici, General Petraeus, is recommending to his Commander-in-Chief an increase of American troops of the order of 40,000 to 60,000 that in his estimate would have a great chance of defeating the Taliban. He stated,
“we must show resolve” and warned that “uncertainty disheartens our allies and emboldens our foes...failure to gain initiative and reverse insurgent momentum” within a year “risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.” Asked whether a limited counterterrorism effort would succeed—Vice-President Biden’s proposal-- he said, “the short answer is: no.” To go any other way than counterinsurgency would lose the war, according to McChrystal.
This assessment coming from a general who as commander of Special Forces in Iraq played a pivotal role in defeating the insurgency by spreading terror among the jihadists themselves by killing them and capturing them, and who according to his troops “is a one all general.” For these remarks of General McChrystal in the public domain The National Security Adviser of Obama, General James Jones, upbraided and chided him—what a difference makes “a one all general” from a one for all general--saying that he should convey his thoughts to the President through private channels while the latter is in the process of creating a new strategy for the Afghan war.
A ‘new strategy? ’ President Obama on March 27, flanked by his secretaries of defense and state, announced: “Today I’m announcing a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The new strategy “marks the conclusion of a careful policy review.” What is the reason for Obama to be elaborating an even newer strategy when his own picked commander on the ground McChrystal is implementing the president’s “comprehensive new strategy” as set up back on March 27? What has radically changed on the ground since this date other than a relative increase of U.S. casualties and difficulties arising from a resolute enemy forcing an irresolute and strategically weak president wriggling out of his original position and commitment that the war was a war of necessity that the U.S. must win?It’s beyond any doubt that the president is reviewing his strategy not because the military conditions on the ground have changed within such a short span of time but because his mind has been changed by his close advisers not to persist in a war that the latter consider to be unwinnable. But such advise issuing from his political consigliore is contrary to the foremost expert advise on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism of General Petraeus and General McChrystal respectively. The politically minded Obama, however, is more in tangent with his political advisers than with his military commanders and more concerned to protect himself politically in the short term than to defeat an irreconcilable permanent enemy.
Hence, by placing his own interests as primal to the vital interests of the country, he will be contriving disingenuous designs and arguments to convince the American people that his new strategy in Afghanistan is wiser than that of his generals.
This is why he needs the time to concoct his deceitful strategy and not because there is a paucity of strategic options that prevent him from deciding.But Obama is fully conscious that to go against his generals in times of war is far from easy. That is why he is delaying his decision as he weighs the pros and cons of rejecting the advise of his generals. But since his decision will be a decision of character, it’s more likely than not that the timorous president will be convinced by the knife-throwing Emanuel than by the judicious advise of McChrystal.