Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Am I Seriously Defending Obama? Yep.

As I’ve said before, when Obama does something right, I will point that out. Well, it’s happened. According to a New York Times article this weekend, the US has been fighting a “shadow war against al Qaeda and its allies.” And the Times doesn’t like this one bit. But Obama deserves praise for this decision.

This shadow war began under Bush and has been intensified under Obama. At this point, this shadow war has taken place in a dozen countries, from North Africa to Pakistan to former Soviet republics, and has involved the use of robotic drones, commando teams, missile and air strikes, and the hiring of “local contractors” to find and kill these terrorists. Also, this war is apparently being shifted to the CIA from the military.

This is absolutely the right way to fight terrorism and Obama deserves credit for his decision.

History has proven time and time again (without exception), and is proving once more in Afghanistan, that you just can’t fight terrorism with traditional military action. Terrorists disappear too easily into civilian populations and don’t require the types of infrastructure that ground forces are designed to combat. Indeed, trying to fight terrorists with large scale military operations merely results in getting soldiers killed and driving civilians to the terrorists’ cause; the only way to fight terrorists is exactly what is apparently being done as part of this shadow war.

Good for Obama, good for our country.

But of course, that’s not the end of this issue. Indeed, Obama’s left flank is upset to learn about this shadow war. Here are their arguments and why they are garbage:

1. These efforts are intended to kill the terrorists, not arrest them.
Yes, and that’s the point. When someone declares war against the United States and sets out to kill American civilians, they have lost any right to demand that they be arrested and treated according to criminal law. They have made themselves into military targets, just as if they were a battleship parked off an American port, and we are within our rights under any reading of law or international law to kill them. Indeed, even under the Geneva Convention, terrorists deserve less protection than even enemy soldiers. Thus, this argument is simply wrong on all counts.
2. The potential for botched operations might fuel anti-American rage.
This is a sucker argument because it applies to any action by the US. Even if we sent in unarmed police with warrants and provided trial attorneys on the spot to hand out teddy bears, there is still the potential for botched operations. What you need to look at are the alternatives. Under this policy, the worst that happens is that the US hits the wrong target and kills a few innocent civilians. That’s regrettable and will outrage people in those countries, but the outrage will be nothing compared to the outrage caused by the United States Army occupying the country and going house to house trying to find the proverbial terrorist needle in the stack of needles.
3. Blurring the line between soldiers and spies “could put troops at risk of being denied Geneva Convention protections.”
This is the most disingenuous argument on the list because al Qaeda does not act in accordance with the Geneva Convention and does not extend such protections to US soldiers or civilians.
4. Reliance on authoritarian foreign leaders could lead to murky loyalties.
The world is an ugly place full of bad people. Some can be helpful and others harmful. The idea that we should only deal with good people is a utopian delusion that limits our allies to a handful of useless countries. And if the left really believed this argument, then why do they advocate the US dealing with Hamas, Iran, Venezuela, Russia, China and a dozen more.
5. The use of “private contractors” worries the left that the US “has outsourced some of its most important missions to a sometimes unaccountable private army.”
This is more utopian doublespeak. It’s also bad policy. In many instances, there is simply no way for Americans to get intelligence on what is going on in remote places unless they deal with these “private contractors.” Moreover, why should we risk the lives of American men and women when we can hire local mercenaries to do the job for us? Now, to the extent this complaint is about effectiveness, I would agree that we need to be careful not to waste valuable opportunities on bad bets. But the military is unlikely to use “contractors” who are not effective. Finally, this idea of unaccountability is simply wrong. The “contractors” may not be subject to US law or Congressional oversight, but the American officers who hire them would be.
6. This is leading to weakened Congressional oversight, which is undoing “safeguards introduced after Congressional investigations into clandestine wars of the past.”
As you may recall from way back, I am a firm believer in Congressional oversight of everything the military or intelligence communities do in our name. But I don’t see how the waging of such a war, which will be overseen by Congressional intelligence committees, will weaken that oversight. And if it does, then we should strengthen the oversight, not stop the operation.

This policy makes a world of sense. It is, in fact, one of the first things we’ve done about terrorism that actually has a chance to stop terrorism. Compared with Afghanistan, where we’re fighting on the losing side of a civil war, or Somalia, where we’re playing catch and release with modern-day pirates, or Europe, where we’re playing legalistic footsie with people who want to kill us, this is finally a policy that should lead to the eventual destruction of these terrorist organizations. And the phony arguments of the left to keep us from undertaking this policy should be treated with the contempt they deserve. Thus, I must say quite firmly, that in this, I do support Obama.


LoneWolfArcher said...

Not sure about this one: the hiring of “local contractors” to find and kill these terrorists.

While I am a big fan of privatization, one thing I don't think you should privatize is the waging of war. I understand that this tactic takes our troops out of harms way, etc. But I am just too distrustful of "locals" in other nations. I think too many times they take your money, and don't deliver results.

Other than that, drones, etc, are fine.

Joel Farnham said...


I guess it takes a certain sort of sneakiness to do the right thing against a sneaky adversary, the modern-day terrorist.

LL said...

It won't work.

Oh we can put ordnance on target. And we can rack up a body count. It worked in Iraq but Iraq and Afghanistan are two very different problems. In order to make it work in Afghanistan, we would also need to ferret out our "allies" in Pakistan, who sit at the root of the problem.

Never forget the genesis of the Taliban came from the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence Agency, who still holds the reigns.

The Indians would be thrilled if we did something to the Paks, but we won't. We'll pump another billion into that cesspool and call it well spent.

I'm not anti-Pakistani. I'm not even anti-Afghan. I simply think that everyone is trying to ignore the 800 lbs gorilla sitting in the corner.

AndrewPrice said...

LoneWolfArcher, The article used the term "local contractors" rather than mercinaries because it was used in a much broader context. What this means is the end of the Clinton-era idea that the CIA should only work with clean, upstanding citizens or use American agents. By "local contractors" they are talking about both people who will provide information and people who will do some of the fighting.

And when it comes to hunting down three guys or ten guys in the hinterlands of Pakistan, where American troops would stick out like a sore thumb, I would think that hiring these guys would be the best method.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I think it does. I think you can't win a fight against someone who plays by no rules by trying to fight them as if they were a traditional enemy.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, I don't think this will work entirely by itself. As I've said before, there needs to be a bigger effort to get us out of the Middle East (to lower the provocation level) and to remake their culture to get them over the view that it's ok to kill non-believers.

Fixing Pakistan is part of that. How exactly that gets done is the question. I don't know if we do it legally through their government or just start making their supporters in the ISI targets as well. I don't know if the problem with the ISI is ideology or if they just saw the Taliban as a tool of convenience. The answer to that would probably dictate our solution.

But all that said, I think this is the right step. This is the only way to stop an organization that does not respect borders, that doesn't wear uniforms, and that seeks only to cause terror. Indeed, I understand this has already had good effects in places like Somalia and Algeria.

This is also a much better solution than sending in the Army to hunt these small packs of guys.

Tennessee Jed said...

The strategy, of course, is not Obama's, but he has shown signs of coming around to listen to his military and security advisers which is at least something.

Since I agree that none of the traditional arguments against it have much in the way of merit, I would be hard pressed to defend any of them. The closest would involve dealing with the so called authoritarian foreign leaders. Yes, dealing with unsavory leaders such as the Shah of Iran or Diem helped in the fight against communism, but did weaken our "moral high ground" arguments. Still, we are not exactly talking about full diplomatic "old friend" status here. Rather, we are talking shadow warriors at most, and that is just being realistic. Let us call it "Dirty Harryism" if you will.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I agree with that. I would love to see a world where we only dealt with good leaders. And I do think it hurts our moral high ground whenever we support tyrants. But I don't see this as supporting anyone. I see this as a quick and necessary deal to get something done. If this involved press conferences and statements of approval, then I would be opposed. But it hasn't so far and I don't think it will.

Let me also add that I do think we should be pushing our allies everywhere to become more Democratic, more capitalistic, and more free. I think that would help our standing in the world a lot -- which opens many doors.

I also agree that Obama didn't come up with this, but I do think he deserves praise for following through with this when so many on his left flank would rather do the old "if we only disarmed, they wouldn't hate us anymore" routine. Also, this should not be considered an endorsement of his entire policy. I think his Afghan policy is a disaster -- worst of all worlds, and the rest of his foreign policy is pure garbage.

Ed said...

You do a good job of breaking down the arguments against this. It seems the left either doesn't want us fighting to defend ourselves, or they want us fighting from a total disadvantage.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I think it goes back to an argument the left makes about "proportional response." They don't like the idea of one side being stronger. That's why they disdain the power of the US military -- they would rather that we fought using the same weapons and numbers as the enemy. They see this as "fair" rather than as what it really is -- a recipe for massive bloodshed and never-ending war.

Unknown said...

Andrew: Well, don't feel bad, I had to agree with Obama when he fired an American general for whom I have tremendous respect.

War is a dirty business whether traditional or asymmetrical. Though they can't get too exercised about 3,000 innocent civilians being murdered in New York City, the left becomes squeamish about any civilian accidentally killed in a theater of war. For that reason, they will never support any defense of America which requires the use of deadly force, overseas or domestically.

Iraq at least had some of the trappings of a traditional war, where Afghanistan is almost entirely non-traditional. You are absolutely correct--though like all war plans, your strategy would have to be tweaked as we go along, but Obama does indeed, intentionally or by dumb blind luck, have the right idea.

The reason we were able to break the iron fist of the Nazis and convert a Japanese population with no tradition of popular rule into modern democracies was twofold. A commitment to unconditional surrender and the will to wage total war to gain the victory. Neither mindset exists today, and probably wouldn't work in Afghanistan anyway.

Until the left is willing to admit that war of any sort is a bloody mess ("all hell" as Gen'l Sherman said) there is little chance of success in Afghanistan, even with the much more sensible conduct of the war that you and Obama (and I) think could work.

Even though I was an opponent of the Vietnam War, I still recognized then as I do now this simple concept in relation to your Point 4: Better our dictator than their dictator.

As for your Point 6, I am far less enamored of Congressional oversight than the average American. Until Congress is ready, willing and able to identify an enemy and declare war, I think Congressional oversight should be severely limited in overseas operations. Congress needs to know we are playing by the rules of war, respecting civilized human rights protections, and adhering to the Geneva Conventions when those conventions actually apply. As always, they have the right to know where the money is being spent. Beyond that, they need to butt out and let the Commander-in-Chief do his job (yes, even Obama).

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I think you're absolutely right that the left simply will not accept a war that involves killing people, meaning that they will never accept that America needs to defend itself in any manner other than the issuance of warrants for arrest.

I'm honestly a lot surprised that Obama hasn't given in to his left flank on this.

You're right about the Germans and the Japanese, though I would add one thing: they were both terrified that the Russians were going to exterminate them -- not an unreal expectation. So they were pretty desperate to do what we said to keep us happy. That fear is missing entirely today in this current fight. We go so far out of our way to say that we won't do anything negative to them, that the only possible negative consequence left is that they might die. That's a hard way to fight a war, when the other side has no real reason to fear the consequences.

On Iraq: the reason I thought Iraq was a good idea was that it drew out al Qaeda into a war where we could use our superior fire power to good effect. And from he sounds of it, it was effective -- much more so than hunting individual killers in mountain villages and caves.

On the dictators: I don't like the idea of the US supporting dictators, and I think we should push the ones who are our friends (like Egypt), but I don't see this as supporting dictatorships so much as simply cutting quick deals with them for small purposes. Sadly, the world is not an ideal place.

You and I disagree on Congressional oversight, but it's an honest disagreement.

Unknown said...

Andrew: I agree on the dictators. I unfortunately let it appear that I believe we should install and support dictators. I do not. Your concept is correct--the world is not a pretty place when it comes to most governments, and sometimes we have to deal with people we just plain don't like.

rlaWTX said...

Do we need "moral highground"? I'm not trying to be difficult or obtuse. But in the modern world moral highground seems to be us holding hands and singing camp songs while we get shot at and attacked. Isn't our moral highground just self-defense, both domestically and internationally - getting rid of those who want to damage us.
I share that knee-jerk "christian" reaction that we should "turn the other cheek", but then remember that this is not the church, this is national sovereignty.
So, is worrying about maintaining that highground worth the restraints it creates? We could do the camp song thing and our enemies would still hate us because we sang them in the wrong key - it doesn't matter to them. And the "publicity war" is going to be against the killing war regardless in the same way. When we win the killing war, the MSM's spin won't matter anymore.
So, in all seriousness, what is the point in keeping the moral highground?
Just a thought I had as I read through this...

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, True. Maybe some day the world will be a nicer place (and I think it is headed in that direction), but we're not there yet.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, That's a very fair observation and one that I think a lot of people would agree with.

I think we should keep the moral highground where it does not interfere with our ability to defend ourselves.

In other words, where we can maintain the moral highground and yet effectively defend ourselves without putting American lives at additional risk, then I think we should do it. Not only because it's the right thing to do, but also because it sends a signal to the rest of the world -- a signal we want to send, not to the people who hate us but to the people who are on the fence.

So, for example, I think we should not use biological weapons. There is no reason for us to use those kinds of weapons and we are better off being able to lecture the world about not using such weapons. Similarly, we should also not use nuclear weapons as a matter of course, and we shouldn't shoot prisoners or round up and execute civilians. Those are all things that are counter-productive and we would be better off holding the moral highground on that.

But then it starts to get hazy. Take landmines for example. The left hates them, but they are necessary in places like Korea. So while it might be nice to have the moral highground on opposing landmines, we should not accept that because that would needlessly put American lives at risk.

Also, I suspect that most of us would define what is the moral highground much differently than the left. The left looks at war and says "anything that seems unfair or that could kill someone 'innocent' should be banned. And we need to forswear the use of such weapons to hold the moral highground." I don't buy that for a minute.

The left also talks about proportional response, which is something else that is total bunk. Their position is that if the enemy sends 100 guys, then we shouldn't send more than 100 guys. If they're using rifles, then we shouldn't using anything bigger than rifles. That's garbage. That only leads to perpetual bloodshed.

So while I do think that maintaining the moral highground can be important, I don't accept the left's very broad definition of what constitutes that highground, and I don't believe we should allow such arguments to be used to put ourselves or our soldiers at risk.

rlaWTX said...

That's a definition that I can live with. When you started deliniating, I agreed with your train of thought.
And maybe it's just the left's version of highground that I have a problem with. It just seems to me that knocking off the other guys' leadership as effectively as possible is the goal - regardless of how it plays in the MSM or the Arab street...

StanH said...

You can’t kill enough Islamo-goons in my opinion, and I agree with Barry on this as well. However let us not forget once when he was off teleprompter during the campaign, he recommended a clandestine invasion of Pakistan, the ruling class on the left and right went cuckoo, and he modified his statement as politicians do. And here we are two years hence, and Barry’s bombing Pakistan, and we get inklings of clandestine activity. I too agree that Afghanistan is a failed state in memorial, and we’re not going to bring them into the twelfth century no matter how hard we try. But, it does put us at arms reach to the seething hot beds of Islamo-fascism, that is Pakistan and Iran, and for that one reason, I cautiously agree with our Afghanistan policy, a presence in the region. I know there are a dozen ways to skin a cat, but here we are.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, You're welcome! :-)

I think that's the real issue here, is not that we don't agree that some things should not generally be done, but the definition the left is using of highground is ridiculous.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, I am somewhat encouraged that Obama is actually doing this. I really thought he would put a stop to all of this -- just as Clinton was afraid to use the military to do anything other than toss a few missiles.

I've said before why I think Afghanistan is a bad idea, and I really disagree with the half-in, half-out policy that he's running there. But I do agree with the clandestine policy.

rlaWTX said...


AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Interesting article. And you heard it here first! :-)

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