Belmont Club

The First Glimmer

The New York Times writes “Al Qaeda in Iraq Scores Big”. The piece is signed by the editorial board too. It describes the negative consequences of the President’s hasty abandonment of Iraq. But more properly considered, it is an indictment of a whole strategy. For the consequences of that failed plan are rippling not just through Iraq, but North Africa, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Before the end the consequences may spread to Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Jailbreaks are common in Iraq, but the brazen assaults on the prisons at Abu Ghraib and Taji last week are in a class by themselves. The attacks freed perhaps as many as 800 militants, who are now sought by Interpol as a “major threat” to global security. The attacks showed the fearsome and growing strength of Al Qaeda in Iraq, seemingly on the decline only a few years ago. They also raised new questions about the effectiveness of Iraq’s authoritarian prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, as well as the stability of Iraq itself. …

Al Qaeda in Iraq, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, waged a virulent insurgency that brought the country to the brink of civil war in 2006 and 2007, then suffered major defeats at the hands of Iraqi tribal groups and American troops. It has since rebounded and is believed largely responsible for a surge in daily bombings that have killed an estimated 700 people this month alone….

Iraq is a sovereign country, responsible for its own security. But Iraq might have been better able to repel Al Qaeda if Mr. Maliki and the Americans had worked harder on a deal to keep a token number of troops in the country to continue helping with training and intelligence-gathering. Not surprising, Mr. Maliki’s interest in such an arrangement has grown; Army Special Operations and the C.I.A. reportedly have small units in the country to assist in counterterrorism activities. .

Well let’s not forget the breakouts in Libya or Pakistan either. That last paragraph– “but Iraq might have been better able to repel Al Qaeda if Mr. Maliki and the Americans had worked harder on a deal to keep a token number of troops in the country to continue helping with training and intelligence-gathering ” —  is probably as close to eating crow as anything recently published by the Gray Lady. Time to re-excerpt my old post, the Ten Ships, published in May, 2010, which if read, might have made the NYT’s surprise and astonishment at the burgeoning disaster less. I began with a quote.

President Barack Obama told military service members Monday that the war in Afghanistan was a “war of necessity” and that the U.S. would adhere to its timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. … “But we must never forget. This is not a war of choice,” he told the VFW crowd. “This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again.”

To jump from the correct idea that defeating the forces which ‘attacked American on 9/11″ were an existential threat to the idea that ergo Afghanistan was a war of necessity was a huge non sequitur. Afghanistan happened to be the place from which Osama Bin launched his attack on September 11. Admiral Nagumo launched his infamous attack on Pearl Harbor from a nameless patch of ocean 200 miles North of Oahu. But Admiral King had the sense to understand that the location itself had little significance. It was the Kido Butai, the ten carriers which made up the Japanese Fast Carrier force which momentarily occupied that ocean waste that he had to destroy. While the Kido Butai existed it could move across the vast spaces and attack at a point of its choosing. While it survived every patch of ocean was dangerous. Once it had been neutralized all the oceans of the world were potentially safe. As John Adams in his book If Mahan Ran the Great Pacific War wrote: “sink ten ships and win the naval war”. Both the Nihon Kaigun and the CINCPAC understood this. The entire purpose of subsequent American naval operations was to find and sink these ten ships; and the Nihon Kaigun’s subsequent efforts revolved around their attempt to preserve them. …

For all of its defects the campaign in Iraq was at least in the right place: at the locus of oil, ideology and brutal regimes that are the Middle East. Ideally the campaign in Iraq would have a sent a wave of democratization through the area, undermined the attraction of radical Islam, provided a base from which to physically control oil if necessary. That the campaign failed to attain many of objectives should not obscure the fact that its objectives were valid. It made far more strategic sense than fighting tribesmen in Afghanistan. Ideology, rogue regimes, energy are the three entities which have replaced the “ten ships” of 70 years ago. The means through which these three entities should be engaged ought to be the subject of reasoned debate, whether by military, economic or technological means. But the vital nature of these objectives ought not to be. Neutralize the intellectual appeal of radical Islam, topple the rogue regimes, and ease Western dependence on oil and you win the war. Yet their centrality, and even their existence is what the politicians constantly deny.

The “ten ships” of the War on Terror — the enemy’s center of gravity — were never in Afghanistan. It was always in the source of ideology, money and recruits that fueled it. In a word it was in the Middle East and in the Islamic ideology that motivated the terror. That is now painfully clear, even if the administration won’t admit it. But they have as much as done by their actions.

The CIA has announced it is moving from Afghanistan to the Middle East and North Africa. The DOD is talking about military options in Syria. And why heck, even the NYT is worried about the fires in that region raging out of control.

Nobody says “Detroit is alive and al-Qaeda is dead” any more. It’s not funny these days. Not even to the NYT.

Well that’s what you get for redeploying your firefighting assets in an irrational way. What did they expect? What did they expect for not naming the enemy, or even denying its existence? That might have given them a clue to who it was. That’s is what comes of trying to fight the War on Terror as a law enforcement, for substituting cafe talking points for strategy.

It is tempting to ask “what did you expect by choosing Barack Obama?” but that would be untrue and unfair. President Obama is the result, not the cause of the strategic disaster. He’s not the reason for this catastrophe, he’s the consequence.

The malaise was caused by the huge and growing defects within the Narrative. It became unmoored from reality. Print the money, make deployments a symbolic gesture. It became all about naming the first gay envoy to a South American country or the first woman ambassador to  an Asian nation. It became about novelty acts and it forgot about the bread and butter. It lost sight of the fact that beyond the Narrative, there is Reality. There is always Reality.

And now it is paying for its contempt for “unproven missile defense systems” and “advanced combat” plans.  These despised things are all that are saving its hide. Like Nagumo at Midway it is living off the sheer tactical virtuosity of its military professionals. But of strategy there is none. And sooner or later the moment must come when the dive bombers show up and even the US military won’t be able to save their bacon.

For now it is paying for idiotic policies, for the ideology that produced Barack Obama and which stuck the ground forces in landlocked Central Asia where every bean and bullet has to be imported by paying off the Pakistanis or the Russians. It is not too late. Not yet.  But the craziness has to stop now.

If there’s any hope within this editorial it is that the first glimmer of fear is now openly appearing within the liberal establishment. They’re beginning to suspect it’s not going to work;  that survival is not guaranteed;  Detroit can go broke, the pensions can be forfeit, their writ may no longer run in Cairo and American dominance — indeed their own jobs and lives — are not a given. It has finally occurred to them that the US can lose in the Middle East and beyond; that America can be defeated after all, if they behave stupidly enough.

But one must let them come to this realization themselves, just as if they were the first persons to think of it.  Their vanity must be given its due. Because it is all they have. It impelled them to make history’s most stupid luxury purchase: the elevation of Barack Obama to President of the United States. That memory is embarassment enough for anyone. Let them eat crow in peace.

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