- - Wednesday, June 3, 2015

“I hope to God I know what I’m doing.”

Seventy-one years ago this week, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower turned to his staff and uttered this half-self-reassurance, half-prayer. On the eve of D-Day, even the wise, steady, old pro had his doubts about the mission, his leadership of it, and its potential for success.

Fortunately, Gen. Eisenhower did know what he was doing and had the guts to pull the trigger despite the inconceivable death and chaos he knew lay ahead. It had to be done if tyranny were to be crushed and freedom restored. On June 5, after getting final weather reports for the Normandy coast, Gen. Eisenhower stopped pacing and said firmly, “OK, let’s go.”

Would we recognize such exemplary leadership today?

Several weeks ago, I made a pilgrimage to Normandy to see the combat zones about which I had long read. We began in St. Mere Eglise, into which paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions drifted in the dark, early hours of June 6. From there, we stood at Pointe du Hoc, the 100-foot cliffs which the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion scaled in the face of unrelenting German fire. Past the cliffs lies Omaha Beach, site of the fiercest combat and greatest carnage of D-Day and the location of the heartbreakingly beautiful American cemetery. And further east, the British and Canadian beaches and German gun emplacements at Longues-su-mer.

At each site, I tried to imagine the incomprehensible violence — and the magnitude of what our brave soldiers achieved — that day, and in the days, weeks and months that followed.

We took very young men from their homes, trained them, gave them some weapons, and asked them to fight the world’s most fearsome war machine. And so they did, and in the process won the war and rescued the free world.

That incredible feat required courageous, unwavering leadership of the kind we have been completely without in recent years. No American ever wants war. But sometimes the enemy chooses war, and we must fight it if we want to protect life and liberty.

True leadership requires educating, inspiring and rallying the American people to do what is necessary, even if it’s unpopular. The lesson of Normandy — and of history more broadly — is that when the United States is weak in real terms or is perceived as weak, the good guys tend to retreat, the bad guys advance, and chaos ensues. If you do not nip the threat in the bud while you still have the advantage, you will be forced to deal with it at some point, perhaps after you’ve lost the advantage. The unavoidable cataclysm thus ends up being far more catastrophic than if the threat had been dealt with early on.

Our current president, a committed leftist, not only refuses to project American power in any meaningful way but has the United States in active retreat, leaving gaping vacuums to be filled by pure evil.

The Islamic threat grows in scope, territory, power and influence by the day.

The world’s greatest state sponsor of terror, Iran, strides toward a nuclear weapon — with the assistance of a U.S. president pushing for a deal that would legitimate Tehran as a threshold nuclear power.

Across the Middle East, borders are being erased, weapons of mass destruction are being used, jihadi armies are on the march, and a Christian genocide is underway.

Russia swallows Crimea, eastern Ukraine and parts of Georgia while threatening the Baltic states and other territories as it expands its sphere of influence.

China grows its military, flexes its muscles in the Pacific and engages in what its top generals refer to as “economic warfare.”

And yet, as these threats metastasize, the president does little to nothing to stop them. Franklin Roosevelt he is not. And our servicemen and women know it.

On D-Day, the soldiers approaching the beaches knew that they had the full support of their commanders — and their commander in chief. Neither Mr. Roosevelt nor Gen. Eisenhower would have hamstrung them with the kind of dangerous and mission-killing rules of engagement, bureaucratic red tape, and political correctness our troops must deal with today.

Example: When the preliminary bombing resulted in the unavoidable but tragic loss of thousands of French civilians, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote to Mr. Roosevelt to express his War Cabinet’s concerns.

Mr. Churchill received this reply from Mr. Roosevelt: “However regrettable the attendant loss of life is, I am not prepared to impose from this distance any restriction on military action by the responsible commanders that in their opinion might militate against the success of Overlord or cause additional loss of life to our Allied forces of invasion.”

This is the essence of leadership: educating the public about the nature of the threat, making wrenching decisions, persevering and adapting in the face of setbacks, and remaining steady in one’s convictions.

America’s enemies have always ruthlessly pursued our destruction. Our current enemies are no exception. We lack firm leadership to neutralize these threats, which means, if history is a reliable guide, that a major cataclysm may be on the way. Only this time, it may take place here and not “over there,” and given the destructiveness of modern weapons, it may make June 6, 1944, look like child’s play.

“OK, let’s go.” We need that kind of clear-eyed, fearless leadership, and time is short.

Monica Crowley is online opinion editor at The Washington Times.

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