- - Thursday, October 16, 2014

Call it a sign of the times. Like when Ben Affleck was so conflicted recently about the Islamist threat that he raised doubts about whether he had actually watched “Argo,” the blockbuster he produced and starred in about how the CIA used trickery to rescue Americans from Tehran. Just like another Hollywood starlet, so embarrassingly tongue-tied in the presence of President Obama, the Great Enunciator, that she promptly inspired legions of blondes telling Gwyneth Paltrow jokes.

In more sensible climes elsewhere, new developments are trending, harbingers of disaster as unmistakable as Blood Moons or haunted houses. In ever-increasing numbers, prominent Democrats, from eminent statesmen to inside experts, are abandoning the Good Ship Obama, some more quietly than others. Former President Jimmy Carter was the best-known example, criticizing Mr. Obama last week in an extensive Fort Worth Star-Telegram interview for his inconstant foreign policy and especially for vacillating on the Islamic State. “We waited too long. We let the Islamic State build up its money, capability and strength and weapons while it was still in Syria.” Apparently, Mr. Carter didn’t watch “Argo,” either, relying instead on his own recollections to highlight the pitfalls of delay and vacillation.

Watching the donkeys scramble is reminiscent of that moment on the Titanic when the first-class passengers suddenly abandoned all pretext of savoir faire, fleeing pell-mell from their well-appointed lounges and salons to the lifeboat decks, pausing just long enough to snatch lifebelts from ever-obliging stewards.

Other members of the Democratic establishment voting with their feet include both Mr. Obama’s former secretaries of defense. Robert Gates actually led the parade back in January, getting in first licks with a memoir that scathingly dissed Mr. Obama’s leadership and a White House staff where the only fixed belief was in pre-emptive American surrender. The always-affable Leon Panetta last week published a memoir of his own, “Worthy Fights.” Its main criticisms: failure to leave a residual force in Iraq and poor presidential leadership — the result of “the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.”

It was a critique strong enough that the hard-bitten New York Times bleated, “Why is Leon Panetta throwing the President under the bus?” Well maybe because, as former Clinton adviser Dick Morris told a New York radio station, “What Panetta is doing is a hit — a contract killing — for Hillary. Panetta at core is a Clinton person, not an Obama person. By accurately and truthfully describing the deliberations in the [Obama] Cabinet, he makes Hillary look better, and he makes Obama look worse.” In making his allegations, Mr. Morris only omitted to mention that Mr. Panetta rhymes with “vendetta.”

While sharp elbows are often thrown during the rush to the lifeboats, are those crafts properly provisioned and seaworthy? Well, not exactly. Part of the reason why any mention of “boots on the ground” in either Syria or Iraq drives designated presidential prevaricator Susan Rice into foam-flecked frenzies of denials is another inconvenient truth: Those boots are already down at the heels.

Barely have we announced another military deployment — this time to fight Ebola — than one more insider issues a devastating report about our defenses. This newspaper earlier this week carried my review of Yochi Dreazen’s shocking new book on soldier suicides, which in 2012 killed more American warriors than the Taliban. Mr. Dreazen is also the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine, hardly a Republican outpost. Yet the pages of its current issue carry a devastating portrait of this White House: “National Insecurity: Can Obama’s Foreign Policy Be Saved?”

With its control spreading by force of arms from the Turkish border to the outskirts of Baghdad, the Islamic State has its own opinions, judgments apparently undeterred by half-hearted American aerial pinpricks. Insurgents, you see, understand better than anyone that the soldier on the ground is the ultimate test of military power and a nation’s will.

So while our soldier-suicide problem is bad enough, an equally worrying omen has emerged in the latest assessment by another inside observer. Loren Thompson, a former Georgetown University colleague, runs the Lexington Institute in Arlington and is a defense analyst for Forbes. A long-time Obama supporter, Mr. Thompson’s latest blog post caught my attention: “After six years of slashing funds for military modernization, the Obama administration has suddenly discovered that countries like China are closing the gap with America in warfighting technology.” Although both parties share the blame for defense modernization shortfalls, sequestration and over-commitments have forced the Army to pay for current forces and readiness by sacrificing future air-defense systems, tanks and helicopters. The effects on the Obama legacy may, therefore, include higher American casualties and even “future military defeats.”

What Mr. Thompson tactfully left unsaid is that those defeats may happen sooner rather than later. Please remember to walk, not run, to the nearest exit.

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel, is a military analyst and author on national-security issues.

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