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Obama's surgical war in Afghanistan comes back to bite him

Thinking it Through

For good reason, most of the domestic criticism of the Obama Administration for its apologetic reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in Libya, resulting in four Americans’ deaths, not to mention the multiple riots and protests throughout the Muslim world, has focused on the image of weakness the President has projected in that region for his entire administration.  Indeed, refusing to admit the true nature of the attack and blaming it on an obscure video critical of Mohammed, only inflamed mobs chanting “death to America” and burning our flag.

But equally critical, in my estimation, to understanding both the Middle East situation and Obama’s moves (I cannot call them “policies”) is his grave miscalculation of the full implications of our efforts to subdue al Qaida in Afghanistan. The preference for drones over combat operations may have spared us some casualties and taken out some terrorist leaders, but it hardly convinced our enemies to give up their fight.

Obama preened following the successful Navy Seal assassination of Osama Bin Laden, but the latter’s surviving followers have repeatedly declared that there are “thousands more Bin Ladens” to take the fallen leader’s place. To be sure, repeated drone attacks have taken down replacements and subordinates with considerable success, but the recent takedown of the number two warlord was the prelude to al Qaida’s counterattack that occurred on the anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

We must remember that Obama’s preference for killing terrorists with drones rather than capturing them and then interrogating them, arose from his publicly expressed outrage over the Bush Administration’s rare resort to waterboarding, which critics incorrectly called torture, and the alleged misery of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility that more resembles Club Med.

The down side of these Obama preferences is that dead terrorists provide no information, and no state or city wants the responsibility of confining terrorists or, worse, providing court trials.

It didn’t help when someone high in the Obama Administration leaked information about Obama personally selecting drone targets, identified the Pakistani physician who knew where Bin Laden was hiding, and spilled the beans about the Stuxnet worm that penetrated Iran’s computers and delayed its nuclear program.

Contributing mightily to our perilous situation in the Middle East was the failure to maintain an American military presence in Iraq following our victory over terrorist forces there. In plain words, we lack military assets to back up our diplomacy. It may be better, as Winston Churchill once said, to “jaw jaw” than to “war war,” but wars are avoided more by superior arms than by clever diplomacy.

Charles Krauthammer has clearly delineated the full ramifications of the Obama approach to the dangers of a world in which Russia and China thwart our efforts to stabilize the Middle East, whether it is trying to prevent Iran from going nuclear, ending Syrian atrocities, or supplying our forces in Afghanistan. Obama seeks American disengagement to show our good intentions.

Obama has tried to buy the good will of Russia with the infamous “reset” of relations, which led egregiously to our withdrawing antiballistic missiles from Poland and the Czech Republic that protected Europe against possible nuclear attack from Iran.

Our military chiefs have apparently persuaded Obama to take seriously Communist China’s military buildup and incursions on its neighbors, but there is no evidence that the U.S. navy will develop the greater presence necessary for deterrence. Russian pressure on Japan over its northern islands and Chinese pressure on Japan over its southern islands are proof of that.

The modern world of long-distance weapons and massive military forces abhors a vacuum. Since the Second World War, the United States has been so powerful that no third world war has cursed us. But Obama, who regards his own country as the chief culprit in the regional wars that did occur in the last 65 years, has repeatedly said that he wants to cut back our nuclear arsenal, both warheads and the means of delivery, that has been the primary means for keeping world peace.

World leadership cannot be exercised on the cheap or without our presidents articulating to Americans what is at stake and what efforts are required. Isolationism is a perennial temptation but a deadly policy. Just because we are tired of doing this demanding duty doesn’t mean our enemies will be sympathetic.
Quite the contrary. We must stay strong, engaged and realistic about the dangerous world we live in. Running away from reality is not an option.

Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of “ Taking Journalism Seriously: ‘Objectivity’ as a Partisan Cause”  (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at

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