Saturday, September 06, 2014

Or He Could Cut And Run, Like Ronald Reagan

Addressing the issue of the Syrian civil war and ISIS on Thursday, President Obama stated "i don't want to put the cart before the horse. We don't have a strategy yet."

John McCain, sensing a way to prove he was born sometime after 1900, responded by tweeting "#ISIS is largest, richest terrorist group in history & 192,000 dead in #Syria."   Slamming President Obama, Karl Rove contended "He was warned about the role that ISIS was playing inside Syria, and he has had all that time to develop a strategy about what to do about ISIS in Syria and he still doesn't."

Indicted Texas Governor Rick Perry argued "Yesterday, the president admitted he had no strategy to deal with ISIS. The deepening chaos in Iraq, Syria, Gaza, and Ukraine is all the clear and compelling evidence the world needs of a president one step behind, lurching from crisis to crisis, always playing catch up." And House Budget Committee chairperson Paul Ryan recommended the USA implement a strategy "not to contain them... but to fundamentally finish them off. And I don't think the president sees this moment for what it is."

Given the complexity of the Syrian War, it's easy to understand why a thoroughgoing policy has not yet been developed, unless one is as clueless about international affairs as the latter three guys.  It becomes even more understandable (and maybe a little disconcerting) upon remembering that the worst President in modern American history didn't see a moment in the Middle East for what it was.

In February, recalling the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which left 241 American military personnel dead, Micah Zenko explained

In October 1983, after five Marines were killed in three separate incidents, National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane convinced the president to authorize the USS New Jersey to launch attacks against the Druze militia and Syrian forces on land. According to Powell, once the naval attack commenced, the Shiites "assumed the American 'referee' had taken sides against them. And since they could not reach the battleship, they found a more vulnerable target: the exposed Marines at the airport." Within one week, Hezbollah-linked militants drove two truck bombs containing a half a kiloton of explosives into the Marine barracks at the Beirut International Airport, killing 220 Marines and 21 other U.S. service members.

In the months that followed, the Reagan administration discussed a range of options including striking back and fully withdrawing the Marines.

Reagan never retaliated against Hezbollah or their Iranian and Syrian sponsors responsible for the bombings, a position widely endorsed by senior military officials. As then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. John Vessey declared: "It is beneath our dignity to retaliate against the terrorists who blew up the Marine barracks."

The Reagan administration also considered the pluses and minuses of withdrawing from the MNF. On the day after the barracks bombing, however, the president reaffirmed his commitment: "The reason they must stay there until the situation is under control is quite clear. We have vital interests in Lebanon. And our actions in Lebanon are in the cause of world peace." Over a month later, on Dec. 1, Reagan stated that the Marines were in Beirut to "demonstrate the strength of our commitment to peace in the Middle East.... Their presence is making it possible for reason to triumph over the forces of violence, hatred, and intimidation." Nine days later, he told the nation: "Once internal stability is established and withdrawal of all foreign forces is assured, the Marines will leave." Finally, on Feb. 4, 1984, Reagan stated something frequently heard in debates over Afghanistan and other theaters of conflict today -- if the United States withdraws, "we'll be sending one signal to terrorists everywhere: They can gain by waging war against innocent people.... If we're to be secure in our homes and in the world, we must stand together against those who threaten us."

Yet, just three days later, on Feb. 7, Reagan ordered the Marines to "redeploy" to their ships offshore -- which was actually a full withdrawal achieved in three weeks. Although the Marine's mission in Lebanon was not clearly defined and, subsequently, not achieved, Reagan's tacit admission of failure and withdrawal of the Marines from Lebanon limited America's further involvement in foreign-policy disaster -- saving money, lives, and time. Many pundits later claimed wrongly that Reagan was erroneous, because Osama bin Laden contended that the withdrawal was a sign of U.S. weakness; as if America's strategic choices should be held hostage to how terrorists choose to describe them.

For three-and-a-half months, Saint Ronnie dithered, as Republicans would characterize a Democrat proceeding in such a fashion.  Unsure what to do, he finally took a rhetorically tough stand, the equivalent of declaring "if we hesitate, the terrorists win."  Days later he backed down and began to withdraw U.S. forces.

President Obama probably will act more decisively than did President Reagan, who didn't have to fear that the Republican Party would accuse him of appeasement, nor a Democratic Party which doesn't roll that way.

One of Reagan's most enthusiastic acolytes of recent years has been Sean Hannity, who a few years ago promoted the "What Would Reagan Do?" campaign with other conservatives unable to distinguish between Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6) and Jesus Christ.  Elias Isquith of Salon reports on a recent episode of  "Hannity"

“I’ve always had the greatest respect for people, like yourself, that have served our country,” Hannity began, speaking to guest Ralph Peters, a retired Army Colonel. “And if I’m looking at us giving up all of our gains in Iraq, I don’t know if I can in good conscience recommend that any American sign up for the military under this leadership,” he continued, referring to the success the Islamic extremist group ISIS has had in claiming territory in Iraq since most U.S. troops left the country in 2011.

“If they risk their blood and treasure and give up their lives only to give it back a year later?” Hannity continued, referring to portions of Iraq, a sovereign country that is not and never was annexed to the United States. “I really could not in good conscience recommend people serve under those circumstances.”

Here Sean is pimping the myth of the success of the surge in Iraq as he casually refers to "all of our gains in Iraq."  One of those "gains" was the  election of Nouri-al Maliki, who recently agreed to resign as Prime Minister of Iraq  after several years of encouraging continued bloodshed between Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims and helping create the conditions giving rise to ISIL.  Had, however, United States soldiers remained in Iraq (presumably as peacekeepers) as Senator McCain had recommended and Hannity appears to believe would have been wise, they would have been susceptible to the kind of brutality displayed by ISIL- and to a major attack reminiscent of the Marine barracks bombing.

If that had occurred, the United States would be in an even worse situation than it was in October, 1983 and the President would have been urged not to give in to the terrorists.  The caveat always heard today- "but no boots on the ground"- would have been employed far less often. With the surge of testosterone throughout the media and official Washington, the President would not have the luxury to deliberate carefully before setting out a strategy which would have regional, possibly worldwide, implications and whose repercussions could have affected the globe for decades to come.

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