For most of the past five years, President Obama’s “fundamental transformation” of American national security policy, practice and capabilities has largely gotten a pass from the public, the press and even his political opponents. Indeed, his re-election in 2012 was made possible in no small measure by Team Obama’s substantially uncontested claims that his leadership had put al Qaeda “on the path to defeat,” “ended the war in Iraq” and successfully set the course for doing the same in Afghanistan.
Two developments last week may mark the beginning of a far more realistic view of the Obama record — and the opportunity, at last, for the sort of corrective actions that are long overdue. Afghanistan features prominently in both.
First, selected pre-publication leaks of a new memoir by Mr. Obama’s first secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, offered authoritative insights into the politicized nature of the administration’s decision making on Afghanistan and other security issues. The commander in chief is shown to profoundly distrust the military. He and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledge playing politics with U.S. policy on Iraq. Vice President Joe Biden and recently departed National Security Adviser Tom Donilon are shown to be seriously lacking in judgment at best, and utterly incompetent at worst. Of Mr. Biden, Mr. Gates correctly points out that he has been “wrong about every major foreign-policy issue for 30 years.”
Mr. Gates’ book, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” rocketed to the best-seller lists as pundits and politicians parsed its criticisms of his former boss and colleagues. Particularly noteworthy are his accounts of the fury he claims to have felt at White House officials’ “aggressive, suspicious and sometimes condescending and insulting questioning of our military leaders.” Team Obama’s micromanagement led to “breaches of faith” with the armed forces that have, in turn, contributed to the unraveling of our position in Afghanistan at the hands of a president who lost confidence in the mission and undermined those responsible for carrying it out.
Such behavior at the highest levels of the U.S. government is even more appalling in light of the second major Afghan-related event of the week — the release of “Lone Survivor,” a powerful cinematic account of the courage, skill and valor of American warriors in the crucible of a 2005 special-operations mission gone bad. What gives this film so much impact is not merely its vivid portrayal of the ruthless and relentless Islamist foes we face in that theater (and elsewhere), but its recounting of the decency and morality of the forces we ask to defend us against them. Those qualities cost all but one of the SEAL reconnaissance team, and many others who tried to rescue them, to be killed in action.
As it happens, the Gates book and new movie appear just as the consequences of Mr. Obama’s preposterous claim to have unilaterally ended the war in Iraq become palpable. Cities and regions of that country that were secured from jihadists at enormous cost in the lives of American servicemen and national treasure have, in our absence, once again fallen to the enemy.
Worse yet, the same outcome is now in prospect with respect to Afghanistan. With strong support from Mr. Biden, Mr. Obama is planning to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from that country by year’s end. It remains to be seen whether the Afghans agree to allow some vestigial presence thereafter. But the die is cast: A lack of presidential confidence in and support for the mission of preventing the Taliban, al Qaeda and other jihadists from once again enjoying safe haven in that country will ensure that those like the fallen in the ill-fated Operation Red Wings portrayed in “Lone Survivor” will have died in vain.
It didn’t have to be this way. Had Mr. Obama not serially communicated weakness and irresolution, hollowed out the U.S. military, undermined it further with social engineering on matters ranging from homosexuals in the military to women in combat and embraced some of the most dangerous of our Islamist enemies — including the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran and even representatives of the Taliban — America’s security interests might not be in free fall around the world today.
There is, therefore, no small irony in the current rap on Mr. Gates’ book — from some Republican savants as well as the predictable Democratic partisans — that he shouldn’t have published it until after the end of the Obama presidency in 2017.
To the contrary, it would have been far better if Mr. Gates had exposed his insights into what was happening to the common defense far earlier.
Indeed, one wonders: If Bob Gates had resigned over the practices and conduct we are now told infuriated him, instead of staying in office and accommodating them, might his warnings have prevented, or at least substantially reduced, the wrecking operation that is currently devastating our all-volunteer force and putting our country and the rest of what’s left of the Free World in ever greater jeopardy?
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. was an assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan. He is president of the Center for Security Policy (SecureFreedom.org), a columnist for The Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program Secure Freedom Radio.