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December 02, 2009

The Middle Game

Last night, a weary country nervously awaited the end to our long national nightmare. Our patience, we were told, would be rewarded by the release of a comprehensive, new strategy - the result of several months of careful policy review. That last night's speech marked the second "careful policy review" in under a year is an inconvenient fact many thought best de-emphasized. Our job was to be patient while wiser heads mulled over options we - despite this administration's frequent promises of unprecedented openness, inclusiveness, and transparency - never saw except in the form of carefully timed leaks. These options are, apparently, far too complicated for us to understand.

They have changed little in the past few years. The framing of these unseen options has been masterful. The number strategically leaked earlier this week is clearly the one we're intended to keep in mind: 35,000. Forget the 40000 requested by the ISAF Commander. And no one took seriously the only estimate which matches Obama's own characterization of the seriousness of this war: 80000.

That number - 80000 - comprises the best estimate of the number of troops required to ensure the success of a war our own Commander in Chief has repeatedly told us we can't afford to lose. A war he claims is "vital" to the security of not just America, but the entire world. And though no one wants to talk about where we would have come up with 80000 troops, nor contemplate what such a dramatic increase would cost in blood and treasure, therein lies the fundamental contradiction inherent in last night's speech. For if this war is - truly - one we cannot afford to lose, then the conclusion is inescapable. We need to win. Not withdraw, but win.

This is the glaring contradiction we are left with after nearly six months of careful policy review, during which the President has consistently said we can't afford to lose.

How does one reconcile the rhetoric of necessary wars and essential security interests with an application of resources insufficient to guarantee victory with reasonable confidence? More than anything else, last night's speech reminded me of the fundamental dishonesty of the President's promises on health care reform. I can't understand how anyone could expect the public to believe more care will be provided to more people at lower cost with no reduction in the quality or quantity of care for those who already have insurance. For the first time in history, we really can have it all - and at the same time! Milton Freidman was wrong: there is a such a thing as a free lunch. This president never saw a tradeoff he couldn't sweet talk out of existence. Yes, we can offer universal health care without increasing the deficit, causing critical shortages in the supply of health care providers, or increasing out of pocket costs for those who currently have insurance!

We can also, apparently, win a war we can't "afford" to lose - with far fewer resources and in a far shorter time frame than anyone would have guessed. The secret lies in a lawyerly definition of "success".

And that is precisely what we heard last night. We now know that our President will not tire. He will not falter and he will not fail in his firm resolve to begin withdrawing troops in 18 months. That's the end game. That's success.

I know what I hoped for, last night. I hoped that three months of careful deliberation and the second major war review conducted by this President had finally impressed upon him the gravity of our situation and the tremendous import of our actions.

I hoped for something Churchillian: a reminder that the sacrifices and decisions we make today will reverberate through the ages, affecting the lives and the security of future generations. I expected to hear our allies thanked, and their sacrifices acknowledged. I expected to hear that our children and grandchildren will inherit a safer world thanks to the careful stewardship of this generation. I expected a sober reflection on the heartbreaking losses endured by thousands of American and Coalition families who have had to endure that empty place at the holiday table.

Or even worse, now face a permanently empty place in the annual family photograph: a black hole with a seemingly endless appetite for the tears, aspirations, hopes, dreams, regrets, longing of loving parents, wives and husbands.

All swallowed up. Gone forever, in the time it takes two uniformed men to complete that fateful walk to the front door; to deliver news they dread giving nearly as much as the person on the other side of that door dreads hearing it. That is the true cost of this war. It is not measured solely in dollars and cents, but in the tears of American and Coalition families who sent their loved ones off to make the world a safer place for free people.

That is why I have supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan despite my severe misgivings about the cost. That is why I have put my own life on hold - repeatedly - for eight years now. And I expected my President to say that his resolve matches my own and that of countless other military families. I expected him to assure us that a cause important enough to sacrifice untold thousands of lives for is a cause that has the full, unequivocal backing of the men who sent them on that errand. That if my husband does not return (or, as has happened in so many cases, returns a changed man) that sacrifice will have meant something. I expected to hear a President who would lay everything on the line - as our men and women in uniform do every day - to assure victory.

I did not hear that last night. Instead, I heard a tacit admission that "victory" means withdrawal by a date certain. Yes, even that was hedged about with caveats but regardless of our actions that date will loom large over the next 18 months. I heard none of the promised benchmarks for success one might have expected after nearly six months of careful policy review. And I heard none of the resolve to win that I consider an essential condition of putting American and NATO troops in harm's way.

On Monday I was interviewed by a reporter - Ed Pilkington - from The Guardian. In the past I've had many requests for such interviews but have always refused them. Ed was vouched for by someone I trust, however.

We talked for a long time. Obviously he could not use everything I said, but he characterized the part of my comments he did use fairly. I was asked what I thought of the troop increase and the announcement of an exit strategy. I tried to make several points:

1. Generally, military families understand and accept the risks of defending this nation. We understand and support civilian leadership of the military. That is the way our country is supposed to work.

2. We understand that our loved ones may end up prosecuting foreign policy positions we don't personally support. But that's above our pay grade. I mentioned that it has been difficult for families who don't support the war on terror to support their loved ones. Most try, anyway.

3. The risk of a military career is a given. All I ask as a wife is that if my husband's life or the lives of other military personnel are to be placed on the table, it be for a reason deemed sufficiently important by my government. I can accept that my husband might die as a result of his decision to join the military. What I find very difficult to accept is the idea that he might die for the sake of appearances.

4. Our success in Afghanistan depends very much upon our ability to secure the cooperation of not only our allies but of the Afghan people. We are asking them to risk their lives to bring about an end we desire. Any Afghan who helps us risks retribution from a savage and unprincipled enemy. Who in their right mind helps an "ally" who can't protect them? Who has openly announced his intention to leave as soon as possible? Our fortunes in Iraq turned around when it became utterly apparent that we were willing to stay the course. We earned their commitment only when our own was guaranteed.

The great unanswered question here is: why should anyone support us if we are not committed to winning?

5. Do I support the addition of 30000 troops? Here, my reaction was eerily similar to Sarah's (she was also interviewed):

... my answer, which is not conducive to news articles, is that it depends.

What I answered was that it depends on what the 30,000 will be used for. Will they be sent to urban or rural areas? Will they be doing counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism? And as far as an exit goes, I said it depends on whether Pres Obama announces what the end game is. Will he state concrete goals? Will he announce a victory strategy? It makes no sense to denote an arbitrary end to a war based on running out the clock; what does victory look like to the Obama administration?

Ed asked me how I reconciled my desire to keep my husband safe with the escalation of the war in Afghanistan? And I replied that when we Surged in Iraq, casualties went down, not up. We had more people in theater and fewer deaths.

War is not a middle game, especially when we are fighting an enemy still very much operating under a 7th Century outlook on life. Over there, if you commit a crime you may be executed or have your hands cut off in a stadium. Americans, with their pampered and nuanced complacency, cannot even imagine that kind of draconian justice. War is conflict, and in a fight to the death whether you win or lose depends very much upon what you're willing to do.

The rational response to an open announcement that you "can't afford" to do whatever it takes to win a war you said we can't afford to lose is to conclude that you have no intention of winning. As Sarah says (and the same phrase jumped into my mind last night as I listened to the speech), you are simply running out the clock. Imagine yourself in the position of the Taleban or al Qaeda for a moment. These are people who are willing to strap bombs to retarded children and women; to kill noncombatant civilians; to sow terror and chaos in the service of their dark jihad. And yet our President will not even call them terrorists.

No, they are "extremists". Interestingly, that is the same word our President and his staff use to marginalize Republicans. Murdering civilians and peaceful political opposition, both described by the same word: an intentional (and deeply dishonest) blurring of the fundamental differences between America and Afghanistan.

We solve our differences with talk. They solve them by the ruthless application of remorseless violence.

On Monday, I told Ed Pilkington that although I oppose this President politically I wanted very badly to support his policy on Iraq and Afghanistan because, after all, I have skin in the game. I didn't hear the commitment I needed to hear last night. And I have no more confidence that our civilian leadership is willing to do what it takes to win this war.

I wasn't hard over on sending more troops to Afghanistan. A case could be made, though it would be a hard case to make convincingly, for immediate withdrawal. The real choice here was: do we pull out? Or do we, as Ulysses S. Grant once said, put our heads down and fight until we win?

iraq-military-funneral-marine.jpg Last night, I heard a refusal to recognize the real options - both equally unpalatable and both with costs we would find difficult to face (much less pay). But refusing to acknowledge costs doesn't make them go away. As much as I want to see this war end, I want it to end on our terms. Nothing else makes 8 long years of war "worth it".

Unlike Sarah, I didn't want details last night. I don't care about the tactics we use to win and I certainly don't want us to announce them publicly. What I wanted to hear was a concise justification - not of the decision to go to war, which is long over and no longer relevant - but for why we need to commit more troops to this war, in this country. I wanted to hear what we will gain in return for the the blood we have shed and will continue to shed if we stay.

Of all the reactions I read this morning, it was Jake Tapper who came closest to my own thoughts:

"It was, in many ways, a classic Obama speech: An attempt to forge consensus and find a middle ground where perhaps one doesn't exist."

In war, triangulation is rarely a successful strategy. There is no "Third Way", no middle ground when by your own admission, the enemy are murderous extremists willing to do whatever it takes to defeat you. And lastly, but most importantly, I am not sure that ensuring a viable exit strategy (as opposed to ensuring our security and that of future generations) constitutes sufficient justification for risking the lives of this nation's defenders.

Posted by Cassandra at December 2, 2009 07:55 AM

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I'm suspicious of the whole thing. As someone who still thinks Rumsfeld had a point when he stated that in today's warfare, numbers don't necessarily correlate to probability of success, the 30,000 additional looks like a half-assed measure to me. As Cass said, to really take control of the whole country, we'd need a lot more than that.

The biggest problem is that Obama has never been able to decide, or at least state, what our goals are. McChrystal's strategy of pulling back to the urban areas and trying to make them "democracy seeds" is the same thing, on a smaller scale, as what Bush hoped to do with Iraq. Unfortunately, it's going to be a while yet before we know if Bush was successful with that; the signs are moderately encouraging, but the endgame has not been reached, and it won't be for some time. Obama doesn't seem to care one way or the other; the only concrete goal he seems to have is bin Laden's head on a plate, and that's more a desire for a personal trophy. bin Laden's been pretty much out of the loop for the past four years, and his capture won't slow alQ down that much.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at December 2, 2009 10:43 AM


What bothers me most is that all along there has been this odd mismatch between his rhetoric and his actions.

He seems to think that simply saying, "My resolve is firm" is a magic phrase that reconciles the fundamental disconnect between what he's telling us the problem is and what he's doing to address the problem. It's like political Viagra - a quick shot in the arm to make the old political spine stand up and salute and 4 hours later we're back to lashing our enemies with a wet noodle :p

Posted by: Cassandra at December 2, 2009 11:05 AM

The other thing about the Iraq Surge that no one seems to be mentioning is that the Surge troops were concentrated in Baghdad and that something like 80% of the violence was ALSO concentrated in Baghdad.

Not sure how that relates to the situation in Afghanistan.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 2, 2009 11:09 AM

The only thing that impressed me about last night's was the cadets' respectful restraint to the their commander's determination that "it is in our vital national interest" to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. (I swore I heard crickets chirping over the din of wild applause.) Of course, Afghanistan only became "vital" to our national interest over the weekend, and will stop being vital to our national interest in 18 months.

Way to stir up those troops(and our allies) to "finish the job," Mr. President! Yes sir! Whatever sir!

This administration's frequently naive and inept turns at realpolitick are no longer just irresponsible, but negligent to the point of reckless.

Posted by: spd rdr at December 2, 2009 12:15 PM

I don't think that the President actually belives what he's saying. How can a rational person state that our national security is at stake but we can't afford to defend it? He is rational, so the only conclusion I can come to is that he doesn't actually believe our national security is at stake.

This is ominous, and I'm normally an optimistic person, but I fear this will go badly. If the CinC has no great motivation to do this how will it impact his decision making? More importantly, how will it impact the leadership and morale on the ground?

Posted by: Allen at December 2, 2009 12:20 PM

I don't think Obama can give Churchillian speeches, or even something as effective as Bryan's "Cross of Gold," because he doesn't believe in what he says. He has some good moments, but his heart is not in the game, especially when dealing with foreign policy. He doesn't know how to inspire because he has no core of beliefs and ideals, or no ideals that are being defended here. For all of the previous president's flaws, Bush truly believed in what he said about Iraq and Afghanistan, unlike the incumbent.

For some reason I keep thinking of the Kipling line about "If England was as England seems/ And not the England of our dreams,/ But only putty, wood and paint/ How quick we'd drop her." Obama and his advisors for get the last part of the line - ". . . but she ain't!"

Posted by: LittleRed1 at December 2, 2009 12:59 PM

Apparently, the Lord of the Lies didn't pay attention to other relevant lessons during the *informational* screening of "The Karate Kid" on his last trans-Pacific flight, either:

"Miyagi: Now, ready?
Daniel: Yeah, I guess so.
Miyagi: [sighs] Daniel-san, must talk. [they both kneel] Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later...[makes squish gesture]...get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do "yes" or karate do "no." You karate do "guess so"...[makes squish gesture]...just like grape. Understand?"

Posted by: DL Sly at December 2, 2009 01:13 PM

Yes, last night I found myself thinking of another famous movie quote:

Or do not.
There is no 'try'.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 2, 2009 01:17 PM

I am confused. Why doesn't The Obama simply exert His will to end the war in Afghanistan? My understanding of Scripture is that when The Son of God returns and establishes His Kingdom, "the lion shall lie down with the lamb" and we will have universal peace.

According to my liberal friends, the 2008 Presidential Election was the coming of The Obamessiah, and his victory over Satan Incarnate, George W. Bush. With this in mind, haven't we reached Paradise, or at least The Worker's Utopia, yet?

I find this talk of Afghanistan vaguely blasphemous, that is, if good liberals believed in God.

Posted by: a former european at December 2, 2009 03:18 PM

Success will be what The Won determines success to be, sorta like the meaning of is.

"He seems to think that simply saying, "My resolve is firm" is a magic phrase that reconciles the fundamental disconnect between what he's telling us the problem is and what he's doing to address the problem."
Maybe that explains why I've been seeing our unprecedented President in this light for these past several months. It is striking that as time marches on, fewer and fewer disciples remain entranced by the magic that is Thulsa Bama.

Reckless? Mr. Rdr, I think your assessment is too kind.

Posted by: bthun at December 2, 2009 03:21 PM

The most charitable thing I can say about this plan is that Obama fell for the old saw that says that if no one likes a plan, it must be a good one. Obviously, he tried to split the difference between the conservative/libertarian position and the leftist one. But conservatives are left wondering what the goal is (not to mention noticing the convenient timing of the withdrawal date, re the 2012 Presidential campaign), and the Left clearly wasn't going to be placated by anything short of cut-n-run.

As it stands, the soldiers will perceive that their assignment is simply to survive for 18 months until they get pulled out. That's not exactly the right set of motivations. And as we saw throughout the 20th century, half measures in war nearly always end disastrously.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at December 2, 2009 04:21 PM

Met him in a swamp down in Dagobah...


Posted by: Darius at December 2, 2009 04:51 PM

I dunno Cassie, I might have given Ol' Ed the benefit of the doubt if he would've capitalized Marines and Marine Corps. As it stands the whole article got me scratching my head wondering just what the hell the point was. I may not be real fast but I am slow! ;-)

The Speech was nothing more than good old fashioned bullshit. Obama can't dazzle us with his brilliance so he tried to be everyman and baffle us with his bullshit. Sorry, but that is simply how I saw it. The guy is now officially the world's best known snake oil salesman.

Problem is he's playing politics with our men and women's lives. The Corps is getting hit and hard. Has been for months. While this president sits on his butt for three months to come up with this? Shame we don't have a man with a real set of balls in office. Hell, any sign of courage and determination would be appreciated.

Pulling into population centers? Aw hell, what we need is to simply come home now and scrape up the body parts of our citizenry when we get hit again in a couple of years. From Afghanistan. Won't be long after we surrender and pull out that Al Qaeda will have their hands on tactical nukes. The ones in Pakistan. From Afghanistan.

I never thought I'd live to see the day again when a president is so inept and naive he tries to apologize for me. I thought we were done with the Jimmy Carters after this country witnessed the end game of a president with no courage and no patriotism. Ralph Peters said it today better than I ever could.

Oh well, I guess as long as the guvmint doesn't take over the beer industry I'll survive! ;-)

Posted by: JHD at December 2, 2009 06:35 PM

Well, I for one feel better now that JHD has arrived on the scene. Glad to hear from you again, old man!

After reading Michael Moore's open letter to Obama a few days ago, it strikes me that there are some that seem to know the Mind of Obama better than others. Maxine Waters was anguished that Obama "our brilliant young President" was compelled to live up to a campaign promise. The pain, the pain.

There is a contrite ugliness to this all. There are, unfortunately, two Americas. Just not the two that John Edward's was talking about.

There is the America that cares about the Constitution, even though among us there are those that interpret it differently. There is the America that talks about it's veterans with quiet pride in their courage and dedication. There is the America where people still get a lump in their throat when the Flag is run up the pole on the Fourth of July.

The other America was in enemy territory last night at West Point. At least that's what Chris Matthews said.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at December 2, 2009 08:00 PM

Good to see you again Don. Just doin' a drive by trying to perk up our girl. She'll get tired of my lack of intelligent conversation and I'll go back in hiding! Heh!

So you caught what Matthews said too huh? That was even a bit much for me to handle. Did you catch what Ward Carroll wrote in his OpEd at military.com? Ouch! He didn't even supply Matthews with lubrication! :-o

Posted by: JHD at December 2, 2009 08:48 PM

the whole article got me scratching my head wondering just what the hell the point was

If I had to guess, the angle was supposed to be the impact on military families thing. I imagine he got more "how we think" than he was looking for.

He asked me how I felt about it more than once. I didn't feel comfortable talking about how I feel. That's private.

I have wanted to do more deployment posts, but they keep veering off into how I feel and that's not really something anyone needs to know, or anything I want to discuss.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 2, 2009 09:08 PM

What bothers me most is that all along there has been this odd mismatch between his rhetoric and his actions.

He is merely convinced that because he talked the talk means that he has also walked the walk -- and he consistently fails to realize that it isn't so. He not only fails to learn from the mistakes of others, he fails to learn from his *own* mistakes.

Judging by his actions, he doesn't even believe he's *capable* of making a mistake...

Posted by: BillT at December 3, 2009 03:05 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/02/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by: David M at December 3, 2009 10:50 AM

There is the America that talks about it's veterans with quiet pride in their courage and dedication. There is the America where people still get a lump in their throat when the Flag is run up the pole on the Fourth of July. The other America was in enemy territory last night at West Point.

I wish I could say you were wrong, Don.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 3, 2009 08:41 PM

Look on the bright side -- those 30,000 additional troops *may* be 10,000 sniper teams. Then, again, they may only be 30,000 Puzzle-Palace denizens needing a combat tour for promotion purposes...

Posted by: BillT at December 4, 2009 08:33 AM

You know Bill, I am going to assume you didn't mean anything offensive by that.

I cut out the rest of this comment because it would have blistered paint. Benefit of the doubt.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 4, 2009 09:03 AM

G'morning M'lady, Bill, and the balance of the Usual Villainous Suspects!

Through a medicated haze darkly I strongly suspect that no offense was meant. Taking a WAG, I'd bet that Bill might simply be recollecting aloud based on his observations and experiences these ≈4 decades past.

Ah well, that's the way I read it, Evlyn Wudhead Sped Redin' Graduate that I are... But then, to my Syncopated Synaptic Circuitry, the current situation, complete with The Adults What's in Charge® leadership, seems all too hauntingly familiar.

Maybe it is just me, but once again our nation is led by the Best-n-Brightest™, who are engaged in a Ditherama-A-Go-Go exemplified by the weighing of political fortunes against U.S. blood and treasure. All the while their thumbs rest on the political side of the balance beam as they seek to impose further restrictions on areas, methods, and timetables.

Yet the people who face the enemy, no, I'm not speaking of the political leadership, at least not at this moment, I'm referring to the warriors, must live with the prospect of being written up for giving an enemy combatant a fat lip.

Yup, LBJ's and Carter's standing in history has nowhere to go, other than up.

322 days and a wake up.


Posted by: bthun at December 4, 2009 11:25 AM

Allow me to adjust that historical standing projection to be

has nowhere to go, other than up unless the Best-n-Brightest™ have their way with the proverbial pooch such that history is written elsewhere.

Posted by: bthun at December 4, 2009 11:38 AM

Taking a WAG, I'd bet that Bill might simply be recollecting aloud based on his observations and experiences these ≈4 decades past.


If it had been anyone other than Bill I would have published my comment, bthun.

It just saddens me, that's all. We all have a job to do in this life and many times it ain't the one we would have chosen for ourselves. I spent years when I was home with my kids wishing I was doing something more exciting. But I understood that someone needed to do that job even if it wasn't exciting or glamorous or even well paid, and I loved my kids and thought raising them was important enough to do it myself even though I could have gone to college and law school and had a fancy career.

I guess I just wish people would not think the worst of others on no evidence. No one I've ever known likes Pentagon duty, but if someone doesn't do those jobs then the folks outside the wire don't get paid, don't get equipment or ammunition, don't get reinforcements, don't get good leaders. And you know, some of those jobs require real skill and dedication. All this stuff doesn't just materialize out of thin air.

And it won't get done if everyone in the services decides those jobs are too useless or tedious to assign to anyone with half a brain.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 4, 2009 02:25 PM

"We all have a job to do in this life and many times it ain't the one we would have chosen for ourselves."
Amen. One of my favorite lines from a movie puts a slightly different spin on the same thought.
"We are all put to the test, but it never comes in the form or at the point we would prefer, does it?

- Sir Anthony Hopkins character in the movie The Edge
M'lady, you, your unit, and all our folks who serve, both abroad and at home, have my gratitude and respect. And I'd dare say the same can be said for millions of others, both in the U.S. and abroad.

So, I'm just sayin' =8^}

Posted by: bthun at December 4, 2009 03:05 PM

That is very kind of you, bthun. Please don't think I'm not grateful, but that wasn't my point.

I'm very lucky that my husband isn't out there every day dodging bullets. Doesn't mean he couldn't get blown up when he's traveling or go down in a helicopter but a lot of guys outside the wire face those dangers in addition to dodging bullets every day. So I'm not equating the dangers or worry involved by any means.

But there's no reason to disparage the character, integrity, or dedication of others just because they didn't get "lucky" enough to get the job they wanted to do the job you're doing. Because in an awful lot of cases, they would consider themselves privileged and lucky. And in a lot of cases they're not particularly happy NOT to be able to do it.

And I suppose it seems like adding insult to injury to rub salt in that wound and on top of it, call them opportunists.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 4, 2009 03:27 PM

I understand... I'm just doin' the deflecting and obfuscating, for the sake of whirrled peas, that others won't.

For the Children™ doncha know. =;^}

Posted by: bthun at December 4, 2009 04:00 PM

I'm not mad at anyone. I assume that's not what Bill meant to say because I don't think he'd do something like that.

It's just that this has been bothering me for years.

I've just heard it once too often, that's all. It's a real sore spot with me.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 4, 2009 04:06 PM

Heh. She said, "go down in a helicopter"...

Man, I have really got to get out more.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 4, 2009 04:08 PM