Time for a War President

January 12th, 2010 at 12:21 am | 5 Comments |

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One of the great things that FrumForum does is allow critics to freely post on its site in response to the ideas and arguments put forth here. Some of the responses, unfortunately, are inane and childish and not designed to help elucidate the debate.

However, some responses are quite serious-minded and thus worthy of consideration and engagement. It is in that spirit that I respond to a few thoughtful critics of my recent FrumForum post, The War Must be Obama’s Top Priority.

Kanzeon, COProgressive, and sdm –

Your comments are the most substantive and serious, but still wrongheaded. You simplify my criticism into caricature. I never suggested that unless Obama speechifies about the War on Terror, people in the intel community will fail to do their jobs. That’s ridiculous; that’s a caricature.

COProgressive articulates this caricature most colorfully when he writes:

You are intimating that healthcare reform is the reason that the ‘Undies Bomber’ was allowed to board the flight — like everyone in the defense infrastructure was busy watching the healthcare debate with their feet up on the desk watching CSPAN and not doing their jobs. By killing the bill and starting over, all those lazy CIA agents and National Security personnel will turn CSPAN off and get back to the job of defending OUR country. That’s just pure BS! Nice try…..

I enjoyed this colorful piece of writing; it makes for great fiction! But it’s a caricature, and it’s false.

Of course, our great public servants within the U.S. national security and intel apparatus will do their jobs, and do them well, irrespective of what our national political leadership does or does not do; that’s not in dispute.

What is in dispute is how bureaucracies work and function — or fail to work and dysfunction. I’ve worked inside the bureaucracy; I know and understand how it works. The bureaucracy is highly responsive to political pressure and political leadership; and that’s what’s at issue: leadership, or the lack thereof. It’s not that our public servants won’t do their jobs. Of course they will and they do.

You’ll note that, according to the president, the policy and intel failures that led to the Christmas Day terrorist attack did not involve a failure to collect intelligence. No, our field agents did extraordinarily well — and that’s why, sdm, I salute our intelligence agents and personnel. They do extraordinarily difficult and unheralded work, under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, extraordinarily well — and for that, they ought to be saluted.

What failed on Dec. 25 — and what’s failed too often in the past — is our political and bureaucratic leadership.  Indeed, our field agents collected the necessary intel; but as even the Obama administration now acknowledges, their/our political and bureaucratic leadership failed to connect the dots.

Has our intelligence too often been lacking, as sdm notes? Absolutely. I’m reminded of Gandhi’s quip about Western Civilization: It’s a great idea, and I wish we had it. Gandhi was wrong about Western Civilization, which is real and glorious; however, his words certainly do apply to American military intelligence, which is absolutely essential to an effective American war effort, but which is too often lacking and not forthcoming.

In short, what Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano has observed is absolutely true:

It is not enough to blame the system and human error. There will always be human failures and system failures… The reality is that the system itself isn’t broken. It is that folks inside the Executive Branch did not use the system appropriately [emphasis added].

As for the charge of unconscionably politicizing national security, please. I addressed this issue recently in the American Spectator:

Politics is how we Americans settle and resolve public-policy matters. Politics is how we think through national and international problems — and how we arrive at answers or solutions. Politics is part and parcel of the American way of life and integral to our republican system of government. Politics is fundamental to American democracy.

In other words, people who oppose what they call the “politicization” of national security are really opposed to American democracy, and the vigorous arguments and exchanges of ideas which are part and parcel of American democracy. In that sense, COProgressive, your opposition to argument and debate, and your attempt to squelch the same, are positively un-American.

Of course, I quite agree that “politics should stop at the water’s edge,” and that Americans should be united in our efforts to defeat the terrorists and to win the War on Terror. In that sense, then, I don’t want to “divide Americans” over fundamental wartime goals and objectives.

But I’m not doing that. I’m committed, quite clearly, to the fundamental goal of winning the war and defeating the terrorists. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for many on the political Left: They seem to want to stop the war, declare a premature cease-fire, and appease our enemies.

That said, we Americans certainly can and should argue vigorously over how to defeat the terrorists and win the war. We can and should argue vigorously over whether the president’s policies are the right policies to effect a winning strategy and a winning approach. We can and should argue vigorously over whether the Congress is providing proper oversight and guidance to the executive branch.

As for healthcare supposedly being a legislative responsibility, whereas national security is an executive branch responsibility, please. That is simply not true. The executive and legislative branches share responsibility for both healthcare and national security.

In any case, there is only so much political oxygen in the room to support the nation’s, and the bureaucracy’s, focus and attention. If the president and Congress are focusing most of their attention on healthcare, then they’re shortchanging the imperatives of national security.

Even Franklin Roosevelt, remember, largely abandoned any new New Deal initiatives, once America had entered World War II. Would that Obama did the same with his new “New Deal.” Problem is he’s such a committed left-wing ideologue, he won’t even consider doing any such thing.

The bottom line: America needs a wartime commander-in-chief. I very much want Obama to be that commander-in-chief, because he’s all we got right now. He is the duly elected President of the United States. We can only hope that Obama will grow while in office, and come to realize the imperatives of his command.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • mlindroo

    John Guardiano — assuming your arguments about Obama and the GWoT are made in good faith, do you at least agree with me that George W. Bush was an abysmally poor president in this respect?!

    The strategy of Karl Rove & co. was 100% about achieving a narrow 51-49 majority in Congress while pushing for as many tax cuts, anti-union etc. initiatives as possible regardless of how the (then-) Democratic minority felt about it. Occasional window dressing such as the education initiative with Ted Kennedy cannot obscure the fact that the Bush/DeLay/Lott leadership was ruthlessly partisan. If there was a time in recent history when declaring a truce in the culture wars at home would have made sense, it’s 2002-05 yet the Bush Administration cynically exploited its strength and popularity to push a partisan agenda at home.

    Don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical to suddenly demand that **Barack Obama and the Democrats** start to play nice and bend over backwards in the name of “national unity”? Not that Obama and Senate Democrats haven’t tried, mind you: the Republicans could have played a meaningful role in the health care reform process if they at least had agreed to negotiate in good faith. Centrists such as Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln and Evan Bayh would have LOVED the cover of bipartisan support, in fact this is the main reason why it’s taken a year for health care reform to get this far. Yet only Olympia Snowe has been genuinely interested. The rest of the GOP Senate caucus is just being cynical, they have concluded that they will benefit politically for now by trying to sabotage the effort at all costs.

    If terrorism is so vital to the very existence of the U.S. as Republicans claim, then CONSERVATIVES are the ones who should be bending over backwards by making compromises. After all, why try to poison the well by blocking health care reform if it only forces Obama & co. to divert attention from foreign policy?? Surely a deal where the Republican minority agrees to support health care reform in return for key concessions regarding military spending and policy would have been a better option? At least such a “grand bargain” ought to be feasible in 2010-11 when deciding what to do about global warming…regardless of whether you think Islamic fundamentalism or climate change is more dangerous, a good long term solution to both problems would be reduced reliance on fossil fuels from the Middle East which means energy independence based on solar/wind etc. power. Charles Krauthammer once wrote that he suspected man made global warming is mostly bogus yet higher taxes on fossil fuels and energy independence still made great sense to him on national security grounds.


  • rectonoverso

    “I’m committed, quite clearly, to the fundamental goal of winning the war and defeating the terrorists”

    There is no such thing as winning the war against terrorism. Terrorism always existed and will always exist.

    This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t do anything, on the contrary. But given the lasting nature of terrorism we cannot adopt a “war-time” framework where everything should be put aside until “victory”.

    As a matter of fact, terrorists ARE winning. Not in terms of number of people killed, but by the fear they instilled in us. Fear that made us renounce some fundamental liberties and admit torture. In many respects we have become the great Satan.

    Although not without flaws, the current administration’s approach to counter-terrorism is far superior to that of it’s testosterone driven predecessor.

  • balconesfault

    If we need a War President now … we will need a War Presidnet always. Because we’re not getting rid of terrorism. Ever. Deal with it. We will always have the threat, given the world we live in.

    Whenever a couple malcontent nihilists somewhere in the world decide to kill, we’ll have a terrorist conspiracy. When they’re Muslim, and decide to call themselves a branch of Al Qaeda, we’ll be right back in the GWOT.

    So I suggest we get used to Presidents multi-tasking … just like Ronald Reagan could stare down the Russians while at the same time pushing through a radical change in American politics, I expect that Obama can do the same with the cave dwellers.

  • irisheyes

    My dear American cousins.

    I have seen you use this word “war” in the most curious ways for a long time now.

    As someone elsewhere in this excellent forum has pointed out, the concept of war has been historically associated with responses to existential threats. I’ll spare you the list…

    In order to justify your war rhetoric you have to make a reasonable case that what you think you are responding to, literally, is a threat to your very existence, not something that upsets you very much, or that you dislike enormously, or that is less likely to kill you than downhill skiing, whitewater rafting, or driving your car.

    Perhaps the Israelis could be forgiven for considering their challenges a “war”. But for citizens of the US to seriously contend that recreational drug use (from prohibition on…) or islamist terrorists are serious enough threats to your life on this planet to justify a perpetual state of WAR, simply leaves me to wonder at the general intellectual capacity of your culture.

    The way your pundits have distorted the concept of war renders it far less effective in galvanizing public attention. You really have cried “wolf” too many times and yelled “fire” in so many theatres that nobody is really paying you that much attention anymore…


  • Scrivener5

    If Obama had a pair

    …then he would sign an Executive Order banning discrimination against gays in the military.

    This singular act, which he has the power to do RIGHT NOW—if he so chose to do, certainly would shake up things. Some veterans groups might bristle at the executive order. Conservative groups would howl.

    But this is a fact: The ordinary soldier, marine, airman, or sailor would not blink an eye. As long as a military brother or sister can carry their own weight…as long as that military brother and sister can FIGHT, the ordinary military person doesn’t give a damn who sleeps with whom.
    Obama never served in the military. Harry S. Truman did serve. Harry Truman desegregated the military in 1948, nearly 20 years before the larger society followed suit. Harry Truman (though no social saint) served in the military and he knew that Black soldiers were integral to America’s success. Obama, having never served in the military, seems clueless how integral gay military personnel are to America’s success in fighting two wars simultaneously. Perhaps, one of Obama’s “crack” Cabinet aides didn’t supply the necessary memo or focus group poll.
    Harry S. Truman didn’t govern by focus group. Harry S. Truman didn’t need photo ops and beer summits. Harry S. Truman didn’t need a staff of spin doctors and pollsters in order to govern effectively. Harry S. Truman originated the phrase “The buck stops here” and he certainly meant it.
    Being a military veteran is not necessary for being a good President…but it helps:
    “Truman was chosen to be an officer, and then battery commander in an artillery regiment in France. His unit was Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 60th Brigade, 35th Infantry Division, known for its discipline problems.[23] During a sudden attack by the Germans in the Vosges Mountains, the battery started to disperse; Truman ordered them back into position using profanities that he had “learned while working on the Santa Fe railroad.”[23] Shocked by the outburst, his men reassembled and followed him to safety. Under Captain Truman’s command in France, the battery did not lose a single man.[23] On November 11, 1918 his artillery unit fired some of the last shots of World War I into German positions. The war was a transformative experience that brought out Truman’s leadership qualities; he later rose to the rank of Colonel in the Army Reserves,[24] and his war record made possible his later political career in Missouri.[23]”
    Yes, it is very obvious that Harry S. Truman had a pair.