Thursday, November 19, 2015

Who Is Leading the War on Terror?

Foreign policy is not a game for amateurs. If you do not know the game, the players, the rules and the history you will be easily outplayed. A notable amateur like Barack Obama, surrounded by other amateurs cannot take the lead. Beyond his sympathies for Islam, he does not know how to lead.

One hopes—against hope, it seems-- that Republicans will nominate a candidate who has some experience in the arena. Conducting foreign policy takes more than tough talk and blank stares. It also takes more than debating prowess.

Today, however, the party seems more enamored of candidates who have no experience with foreign policy and who have never conducted it. Otherwise it seems to prefer great debaters. A Republican party that has no respect for experience in government does not look like it is ready to provide leadership on the world stage.

If the most experience foreign policy hand on the presidential debate stage is Hillary Clinton, Republicans are in trouble. Even though the “often confused” Clinton was an abject failure at foreign policy, she can tout real experience and real knowledge in the field.

One notes that one of the major problems with the Obama administration is the president’s willingness to accept the advice of a real estate developer. At times, it seems that Valerie Jarrett is running the country. Be careful about thinking that real estate developers are naturally qualified to lead the nation.

With America on the sidelines, France has taken the lead in the war against ISIS. Obviously, Vladimir Putin has also seized the opportunity to take charge of the situation in the Middle East.

The Obama administration is calling its policy: “strategic patience.” This means that it does not know what to do and so has chosen to do nothing. When it comes to strength, resolution and clear thinking about ISIS, the socialist president of France is leading the way. I noted the point a few days ago on this blog.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized this morning:

All of this means that Mr. Hollande has been right to declare war on Islamic State and order French bombing raids on its capital in eastern Syria. France is still a militarily capable nation, as it proved when it turned back an al Qaeda offensive in Mali in 2013. It can do significant damage to ISIS if it increases the tempo of its current bombing or deploys its Foreign Legion to liberate the city of Raqqa.

In the old days America put together coalitions to fight in the Middle East. Now France is taking the lead in coalition building.

As a member state of NATO France would normally want to invoke Article 5 which states that an act of war committed against one nation is an attack on all NATO members. Why has it not done so? The Journal editorializes:

Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, was oddly noncommittal on Sunday when he was asked if France should trigger the Article 5 mutual-defense clause of the NATO charter. “That’s a decision for the French to make,” he said. That seeming reluctance and Mr. Hollande’s decision not to invoke Article 5 makes us wonder if the Obama Administration quietly told Paris not to bother. Keep in mind that NATO did invoke Article 5 after 9/11, which led to Europe’s cooperation with the U.S. against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

In a news analysis the New York Times explains the French decision. The nuance is slightly different, but the thrust of the argument is the same:

Mr. Hollande, under enormous pressure at home after the attacks, is trying to take the diplomatic initiative. Sensing a chance for rapprochement, he plans to travel to Washington on Tuesday to meet with Mr. Obama, and then to Moscow to meet with Mr. Putin. Mr. Hollande said on Wednesday that he wants to forge “a large coalition” to act “decisively” against the Islamic State.

In pursuing such a coalition, Mr. Hollande was careful not to ask the NATO alliance to come to France’s defense under Article 5, which obligates members to aid one another in case of attack. That article has been invoked only once, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Given Mr. Obama’s adamant resistance to putting large numbers of American ground forces in Syria or Iraq, a French diplomat said on Wednesday that Paris was unwilling to embarrass Mr. Obama by “asking for the impossible.”

Now, things become more complicated. Unable to turn to NATO, France invoked another treaty obligation, this one with the European Union.  The Times offers this analysis:

Instead, to broaden France’s diplomatic support, Mr. Hollande invoked an unusual article in the Lisbon Treaty governing the European Union. Article 42.7 states that if a member is subject to “armed aggression on its territory” other members have an “obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power” consistent with their obligations to NATO.

Asked on Twitter why France invoked the European Union treaty and not the NATO charter, GĂ©rard Araud, the French ambassador to Washington, wrote that one reason was “the dialogue with Russia.” The implication was that Russia is hostile toward NATO and therefore invoking the alliance’s aid might be provocative toward Moscow.

The European Union countries voted unanimously to support France, but the treaty does not commit them to military action and intelligence sharing is already well developed. No other European country has been willing to confront Islamic radicalism as the French have, at home and in Mali, Iraq and Syria.

Given the leadership vacuum in NATO, France has asked Russia for support. The Journal explains:

No wonder Paris is making overtures for a joint military option with Moscow, which must be delighted at this opening to renew an old European friendship while weakening NATO in the bargain. President Obama is missing an opportunity to help an ally in its hour of need and fortify the larger Atlantic alliance.

Americans were disappointed in 2003 when French President Jacques Chirac opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. What a sad turnabout it would be if a U.S. President now fails to do all he can to assist a French President as he tries to defeat another enemy in the Middle East. Until America gets a new Commander in Chief, Mr. Hollande is the best antiterror leader the West has.

As it happens, David Goldman, aka Spengler, has nominated Vladimir Putin as the West’s best anti-terror leader:

Russian President Vladimir Putin is now the leader of the Free World against Islamist terrorism, directing the efforts of France and Germany and setting terms for American involvement. Reeling from last week’s massacre in Paris, France lacks both the backbone and the brute force to avenge itself against ISIS, but in alliance with Russia it will  make a more than symbolic contribution.

In truth, France has shown a great deal of “backbone.” It does not have the military might that the United States or Russia has, but it has not acted from weakness. The Wall Street Journal has the story:

French security forces Wednesday conducted hundreds of antiterror raids and placed more than 100 suspects under house arrest. Police fought a gun battle in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, which ended when a terrorist detonated her suicide vest. Belgian-born Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the alleged mastermind of Friday’s massacre, was thought to be in the targeted apartment and it wasn’t clear as we went to press if he was among those killed.

[Since the Journal went to press, the French government has confirmed that Abaaoud was killed in the assault.]

The Journal believes that France has acted with more resolve than Goldman was willing to grant:

All of this means that Mr. Hollande has been right to declare war on Islamic State and order French bombing raids on its capital in eastern Syria. France is still a militarily capable nation, as it proved when it turned back an al Qaeda offensive in Mali in 2013. It can do significant damage to ISIS if it increases the tempo of its current bombing or deploys its Foreign Legion to liberate the city of Raqqa.

And yet, France cannot do it alone. And the Obama-led American government has been AWOL. This provides an entry for Mr. Putin.

Goldman explains:

Russia is in the position of a a vulture fund, buying the distressed assets of the Western alliance for pennies on the dollar. Faced with an American president who will not fight, and his European allies whose military capacity has shrunk to near insignificance, the Russian Federation seized the helm with the deployment of a mere three dozen war planes and an expeditionary force of 5,000 men. One searches in vain through diplomatic history to find another case where so much was done with so little.

True enough, America has dropped its fair share of bombs on Syria, but its rules of engagement have made them mostly ineffective. Goldman adds:

Obama’s reluctance to put American forces on the ground took America out of contention, along with aerial rules of engagement so risk-averse that only one in four American sorties against ISIS released it bombs. The Russians are not squeamish about collateral damage and likely to be far more effective.

Col. Ralph Peters explains what is happening within the Obamfied American military:

Our military has the resources to shatter ISIS, but political correctness has penetrated so deep into the Pentagon that, even should a president issue the one-word order, “Win!,” our initial actions would be cautious and halting. We’ve bred a generation of military leaders afraid of being prosecuted by their own government for the kind of errors inevitable in wartime. Instead of “leaning forward in the foxhole,” our leaders lean on lawyers.

If lawyers had had to approve our World War II target lists, we couldn’t have won. War is never clean or easy, and the strictures imposed on our military today just protect our enemies. Collateral damage and civilian casualties are part of combat and always will be. The most humane approach is to pile on fast and win decisively — which results in far less suffering than the sort of protracted agony we see in Syria.

What does Russia want? Goldman suggests that Putin is not playing Iran’s game:

The Iranian-backed irregulars have been singularly ineffective in taking territory back from ISIS, however, compared for example to the Kurds, by far the most effective fighting force on the ground. Russia and its allies probably will solve the problem by sending in ground forces. ISIS cannot stand up to the combination of a modern ground army with close air support. That will devalue Iran’s contribution to the military effort and its ability to influence a future political outcome. Russia wants to win the war on the ground and control the terms of the peace without interference from the apocalyptic adventurers in Iran.

Goldman closes by noting that China has its own problem with radicalized Muslims. Its interests are slightly different from Russia’s and America’s but it will surely want to become a player in the Middle East. And note the importance of humiliating ISIS, point recently made by Marco Rubio and argued on this blog for years:

For all these reasons, China has a deep interest in the defeat of ISIS. It has as much reason to fear the metastasis of Sunni jihad as does Russia, as well as the quiet support for the jihadists coming from Istanbul and some elements in Saudi Arabia. A humiliation of the self-styled Islamist Caliphate would crush the morale of its emulators in China as well as Russia, and Beijing will find ways of supporting Putin’s efforts without any direct or visible commitment of military resources.

As for France: several days ago I wrote that France will do nothing in response to the Paris massacre. I may have been wrong. Russia will do a great deal, and in consequence, France will do more than round up the usual suspects.

One appreciates that Goldman has corrected himself on this point. Many others, when they find out that they have erred, just double down on the error.


priss rules said...

'War on Terror' is a problematic term.

When terror is used on France or US, of course the West fights it.

But when terrorists attack Assad(hated by the US and Israel), there is a tendency to watch 'barbarians fight barbarians'.

When NATO took out Gaddafi, US even sided with terrorist elements and called them 'freedom fighters' and 'democracy activists'.
And when they moved to Syria to blow things up, the West idly watched as Assad's regime was threatened.

So, War on Terror can easily become War with Terror.

US policy is messed up because it wants to fight terror against the West but blithely tolerates terror against its perceived enemies. But ISIS that is attacking Assad today could attack Europe or US tomorrow.

Ares Olympus said...

It looks like Hillary has decided to take sides against Obama's "strategic patience"
During a Q&A in Turkey Monday, Obama said he wasn’t going to take action against ISIS simply because it would “make America look tough, or make me look tough,” and compared critics to people who “want to pop off” on the issue.

By contrast, Clinton struck a more assertive tone in her speech.

“Our goal is not to deter or contain ISIS, but to defeat and destroy ISIS,” she said. “And we should be honest about the fact that, to be successful, air strikes will have to be combined with ground forces actually taking back more territory from ISIS.”

So if the Republicans want to differentiate themselves from the Democrats, they'll have hope Sanders somehow wins the nomination. It's still not impossible.

How many republicans have been calling for ground forces so far?

At least calling Obama an amateur is more polite way to provoke him than calling him chicken, although I'd go more with the second than the first.

Who wants to end his presidency by starting World War III against a billion Muslims?

Hillary however, is ready to step up to the plate and then she'll have 8 years to clean up the world, if we're patient enough for the lame duck to leave.

On local sad news I just heard that my friend's cousin committed suicide this week. He was 27, a Marine. I might have met him, but didn't know him. Still that might be the closest I've come to a military death, unless you count cancer from smoking. Not even my parent or grandparent sibling generations had any combat deaths in WW2, Korea or Vietnam.

I helped out at a Veteran's day 5k race last week, and one of the volunteers helps soldiers adjust back to civilian life. I've never talked politics with him.

We're just there to keep people physically active, not decide which presidential candidates are amateurs and which are the real deal.

Dennis said...

No One!

Anonymous said...

Im sure John Kasich has the best ideas on this and every other subject. Just ask him. -$$$

Stuart Schneiderman said...

What about experience??? Doesn't that count for anything any more?