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Memo to Oclintonama: Reworking talking points on security issues is not a strategy

Wednesday, February 27, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

The new Oxford Dictionary defines “strategy” as “the art of a commander-in-chief”. I am reminded of an old and wonderful German refugee physician friend who treated me many years ago in Tokyo. He once told me after a particularly perplexing encounter with a patient just in front of me, “De troble mit mine pachunz ist dat dey tink medicine is a science. It ist ein art!”.

Listening to the abortive debate on Iraq between Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – even given its brevity and an audience thirsty after red meat in a conflict between the two very like-minded political combatants – one has to wonder whether either has any sense of just how difficult an “art” form strategy is. Both, although Clinton had to doublespeak her way through her original endorsement of the war against Sadam Hussein, outlined programmed withdrawals from Iraq and proposals to boost forces in Afghanistan. Obama, on Iraq, apparently, just wants to go, starting two months after he would take office.

It isn’t quite clear how this “strategic” concept would benefit those among their cheering activists who have labeled not only the invasion of Iraq, but the war on terror, generally, as some kind of product of President George W. Bush’s imagination.

If one googles for a living, as some of us do, the web is awash in testimony that the networks of Islamofascist plotters against American and our friends’ security is spread throughout the whole world. Almost daily arrests are made – whether they be Pakistanis in Barcelona, replacing what had been thought to be a predominantly Moroccan network who effected the deadly train bombing in Madrid in 2004, the conviction of a native born jihadist in Britain for enlisting and training suicide bombers probably including those who struck London’s Underground in 2005, or the conviction of fundraisers for terrorist organizations in the U.S. – which show the intimate ties which link these groups. That they are not just ideological but functional alliances is clear. Also clear is that they are increasingly complex with some of the old clichéd analyses now totally outdated. The Shia state terrorist organization of Iran is supporting the Sunni onetime wing of the of the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood, Hamas, giving the lie to the longtime wishful thinking that the terrorist network did not cross religious sectarian lines, for example.

Even were the Oclintonama argument accepted that the Iraq invasion was a totally miscalculated catastrophe, the counterargument that the U.S. has any choice but to remain until there is a chance for stability is simply not logical. Even were it true that The Surge has failed – as Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi insists despite considerable weight of evidence on the other side – is the U.S. to abandon one of the most potentially richest countries in the region to become a sanctuary for the jihadists? That is not, if we remember 9/11 at all, not simply a question for the Iraqis but one for American homeland security. If the motheaten Taliban regime in pre-invasion primitive Afghanistan could host and help launch Osama Bin Laden, what could an Iraq fallen into the hands of the fanatics with its oil and other natural resources become?

It would have been well – but then one hardly expects that of a U.S. mainstream media smitten with Obamania now that its love affair with the Clintons has become yesterday’s crush – had the two candidates in the late February debate been asked exactly what was their intent in Afghanistan. Simply saying they would send more troops, surely, is even less than a strategy for victory than they accuse the Bush Administration of not having had in Iraq.

Clinton says she would use her well known powers of persuasion [yes, that is sarcasm!] to convince America’s NATO partners to increase their commitment to the war and pacification in Afghanistan. That’s an interesting concept. It ignores the fact that if anything NATO European budgets are going down, that NATO boots on the ground are almost exhausted with European defense forces so overloaded with administrative cadre and costs, they no longer are able to deploy more than a few tens of thousands of troops – or get them where they are going. [The German troops went to Afghanistan in old rumbling Soviet Tupolev transports rented from the Ukrainians!]

Of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force of 42,000 total troops in Afghanistan, 14,000 are American. But another 13,000 American grunts are the heavy lifters, separately hunting down terrorists and training Afghan forces. Most of the European soldiers – but not the Canadian force of 2600 and the Australian force of 1500 – soon probably to be withdrawn by the new Australian Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – are restricted by their formal commitment to certain areas and “kinds” of fighting which make them less than “maneuverable battalions”.

U.S. Army Gen. John Craddock, the NATO supreme commander, has said that the troops in Afghanistan would be making more progress if they had the resources they were promised more than a year and a half ago. He said they are short at least three maneuver battalions, as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tools to track movements on the ground.

But it is not just a case of boots on the ground with the NATO partners. The Afghan war – not that it wasn’t an obvious lesson which, for example, the Chinese took away from the First Gulf War in 1991 – requires, with its incredibly difficult terrain, an even greater accent on state of the art communication technologies. Europe’s aggregate spending on military space programs, combining reconnaissance and communications, is about €500 million to €1 billion [$700 million to $1.4 billion] a year for the next 10 years. That compares with the U.S. Air Force’s 2008 budget request for $11 billion for unclassified space programs, an increase of $1.5 billion over the previous budget. The increase itself is larger than Europe’s entire military space budgets put together.

Only a few weeks ago, Obama who beats his chest in victory as a senator unlike Clinton who voted against authorizing Bush to take action in Iraq if diplomacy failed, has talked of American forces striking directly into Pakistan – with or without Islamabad’s agreement – to chase the jihadists. It boggles the mind to even contemplate the thought! In a country of some 150 million people in a land area twice the size of Texas! He has since modified his “strategy”, as he has on so many other issues, but…

Art also applies to the problem because it is clear that other and probably unexpected crises will develop for U.S. and NATO. As this is written the problem of Kosovo, which declared its independence without UN sanction and in the face of Serbian – backed by Russian – opposition could flare up at almost any moment requiring additional peacekeeping forces in the area. It was after all Clinton's hubby who plunged into the Balkan quagmire on their very doorstep while the Europeans dithered with the breakup of the former Yuglosavia. It took some time for them to be seized of the strategic [if not the moral] issue.

But there is something more fundamentally wrong with the Oclintonama concept of the world and American policy and strategy as with not only their political activist supporters but equally among some of the noted academic thinkers that back them. Not only is the world a dangerous place – far closer to us than yesteryear with ICBMS and satellite communications – and will always be so which they seem unwilling to concede. But it is a place of unanticipated events. The celebrated and respected geopoliticatician Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, and now said to be an adviser to Obama, no more anticipated the difficulties he would encounter with the post-Soviet Ukraine which he was hired to help than the rest of us.

No, it doesn’t require ballet lessons nor instructions on the palette, but geopolitics is not for the timid nor for the wordsmith. The nature of the world is such that weighty decisions, often resulting in huge outlays of lives and treasure, are required for national security. It may not be an art form. But it is certainly not a case of pick and choose in issues of national security.

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