Belmont Club

The Face of Defeat

“Bergdahl deal could be first step to emptying Gitmo,” writes Josh Rogin in the Daily Beast. “Now that President Obama has proven Congress can’t stop him from releasing terrorists, the administration could be primed to empty out the prison at Guantanamo Bay.”

Roger Kimball notes:

“The law requires the defense secretary to notify relevant congressional committees at least 30 days before making any transfers of prisoners to explain the reason and to provide assurances that those released would not be in a position to reengage in activities that could threaten the United States or its interests.” “The law requires.” Ha, ha, ha. This is King Obama we’re talking about, not you or me.

But there’s a deeper reason why the law may not matter. The prisoners in Guantanamo must inevitably be released because Obama has lost to the Taliban. That fact drives the prisoner release, and informs the so-called negotiations with the victors.

The way defeat works is the winner gets to impose the terms. It’s as simple as that. They even get to write the script at the surrender ceremony. The Daily Caller noted that after Obama’s announcement that Bowe Bergdahl had been freed, “the soldier’s father, Bob Bergdahl, recited the most frequent phrase in the Koran — ‘Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim’ — which means “In the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Compassionate”:

After Bergdahl finished his statement and his praise for Allah, Obama hugged him.

The Taliban echoed Bergdahl, saying the trade happened “due to the benevolence of Allah Almighty and the sacrifices of the heroic and courageous Mujahidin of the Islamic Emirate.”

Did the Taliban require the utterance of the Koranic phrase as a condition for release? If so, what choice did Bergdahl have? Obama wants to “negotiate” with the Taliban, wants it with an intensity born of desperation. Therefore he must do what they want. The duress under which Obama operated was described by the administration itself.

White House officials acknowledged that the sudden trade violated a federal law requiring a 30-day notice to Congress before prisoners are transferred.

“The administration determined that given these unique and exigent circumstances, such a transfer should go forward notwithstanding the notice requirement,” officials told media outlets.

It’s been a year since Obama essentially decided to stop fighting the War on Terror:

 … in a speech at the National Defense University within Washington, D.C.’s Fort McNair. Al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan is on a “path to defeat” … “We must define our effort not as a boundless ‘Global War on Terror,’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,” Obama said … “Deranged or alienated individuals — often U.S. citizens or legal residents … ” So that’s the current threat.

In the words of Roberto Duran, “no mas.” The Justice Department would handle the loose ends. The inmates of Guantanamo would be released as soon as practicable, Obama said. “To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.” And so it will be. The Taliban five swapped for Bergdahl are going to Qatar, to be feted like conquering heroes. 

These are no ordinary prisoners. They are the “kitchen cabinet” of Mullah Omar, their first team.

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Chris Edelson noted in January of 2014 that Obama had for some time been trying to assert the presidential authority to unilaterally “declare peace”; to surrender on his own authority. Edelson addressed the question of whether he had the power:

Policy considerations aside, does President Obama have the constitutional authority to effectively “declare peace” against Russia? It may very well make sense, in this case, to reject the use of military force — but does that mean the president can always take such action, recognizing a state of peace that prevents Congress from declaring war?

Hamilton reasoned that, because the power to interpret treaties (outside of litigation) and declare neutrality is not expressly assigned to any other branch, it must belong to the president as part of the executive power. He observed, however, that the president and Congress have “overlapping or concurrent powers” in this area. When the president acts first (as Washington had) by “declaring peace,” Congress is not bound to defer to the president’s decision, although Hamilton argued that Congress should consider the president’s initial action as having “establish[ed] an antecedent state of things which ought to weigh in [any subsequent] legislative decisions.” In other words, Congress should take into account what the president had done before changing course.

The same concerns apply today (in fact, there is a similar question regarding the meaning of an international agreement that could compel the U.S. to come to Ukraine’s aid). If President Obama — and, of course, his successors — have the authority to unilaterally rule out military action in a certain context, could they make it more difficult for Congress to act?

But as Roger Kimball noted, the “law requires” doesn’t apply to Obama. The PR problem was another matter. Obama wished to portray himself as victorious instead of the guy who threw in the towel, just as if Hirohito wanted to somehow depict MacArthur surrendering to him in Tokyo Bay.

Obama’s consistent solution has been to declare victory, and let the press cover for him. Speaking with NPR about the Ukraine, Obama said: “The fact that Crimea … was annexed illegally does not in any way negate the fact … those values that we hold dear, are ascendant.” In Syria, Iran, China and Afghanistan, his line is always the same: it might look like I’m losing but I’m really winning.

The phrase for Afghanistan is “responsibly” ending the war, which is not quite the same as claiming he won, though he implies he didn’t lose. But the more serious practical problem is that while Obama wants to stop fighting, none of his enemies feel obliged to restrain themselves.

It’s a truism in liberal circles that “war never solves anything.” Yet Putin, Assad, the ayatollahs, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda seem incapable of accepting this basic liberal belief, and continue to act as if warfare were a perfectly useful instrument of policy. Putin will keep expanding west, al-Qaeda will keep attacking everyone, the ayatollahs will keep building the bomb, and Assad will gas whomever he wants whenever he wants.

Why won’t they stop? Because they’re politically incorrect: people who’ve never heard of the race card, don’t care about global warming, have not the slightest interest in LGBT rights, regard religious bigotry as a beau ideal, and react to a “gun free zone” the way a wolf responds to someone ringing the dinner bell. Upon their likes Obama cuts no ice.

During the Vietnam war, Washington became convinced of the PC doctrine that victory was impossible. Hanoi, alas, was raised on the Stalinist dictum that there was no problem murder would not solve. The North Vietnamese believed that victory was not only possible but attainable, and proceeded to overrun South Vietnam. So much for the futility of war. Le Duan’s daughter caught the difference perfectly when she recalled her father saying that while America had nuclear weapons, it would not dare to use them.  If the Communists had the nukes and Americans only had sharpened bamboo stakes, they would not hesitate to nuke Washington and therefore Hanoi would win.

Obama seems puzzled by this strange asymmetry, by the unwillingness of the enemy to play by his exquisite rules. He’s finding that defeat has a dynamic of its own. The enemy simply won’t go home and do basketball brackets. They are actually telling him what to do!

But the befuddled Obama comes from a generation of American elites that never knew the reality of actual defeat. One would have to go back to the Civil War for that; who knew what it is to feel the humiliation, to take orders from occupiers; to bow your head in abject obedience; to preface statements in the White House Rose garden in strange creeds and languages like “in the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Compassionate.” They can’t understand what’s happening. In Obama’s world, defeat is just a scary story old white people made up to justify things like “privilege.”

If Obama had but a little more regard for Winston Churchill, whose bust he discarded upon assuming office, he might have recalled a speech the Englishman delivered in 1938 when he warned of the unthinkable: the possible end of Britain. Churchill’s text, substituting only “Ukraine” or “Afghanistan” or “Iraq” for Czechkoslovakia, could be used almost verbatim today:

I think you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi regime.

We have been reduced in those five years from a position of security so overwhelming and so unchallengeable that we never cared to think about it. We have been reduced from a position where the very word “war” was considered one which could be used only by persons qualifying for a lunatic asylum. We have been reduced from a position of safety and power — power to do good, power to be generous to a beaten foe, power to make terms with Germany, power to give her proper redress for her grievances, power to stop her arming if we chose, power to take any step in strength or mercy or justice which we thought right — reduced in five years from a position safe and unchallenged to where we stand now.

We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude which has befallen … Do not let us blind ourselves to that.

What I find unendurable is the sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure.

And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

Churchill was similarly speaking to a British elite that had known absolute security for generations, who could not imagine defeat. And there was Winston in the House of Commons, telling them that all they knew and loved and cherished and thought permanent could be gone in a couple of years. The American postwar elites, like their British counterparts, have been in ascendance so long they too have ceased to believe defeat can exist; that all that was necessary was to control Washington and the universe was theirs to command.

And that is probably what Obama still believes. He arose in an environment where the “stash” always existed. Where all that was necessary to find more money was to shake the tree. He’s learned how to push every button, run every trope, invoke every grievance — everything except how to win against thugs more ruthless than any he encountered in Chicago. He’s a sheltered creature, bred in a special, coddled time in American history, who suddenly finds himself at sea at a moment when the tides of the world have begun to flow again.


Recent items of interest by Belmont readers based on Amazon click-throughs.

Asia’s Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific
A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State
Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East
The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Energy Revolution
Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality
The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014


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Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
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Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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