Streetwise Professor

November 17, 2014

Obama Draws Another Red Line–On Pluto

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:12 pm

Obama has identified a condition under which he would commit ground troops to fight ISIS: if ISIS gets a nuke.

The headline on the YouTube video is misleading. Read literally, it means that Obama has identified an ISIS nuke as a necessary condition for a commitment of US ground troops. He has instead stated a sufficient condition. There may be other sufficient conditions. Perhaps he would commit ground pounders if ISIS were to ally with space aliens whose ship landed in the Syrian desert. Or maybe if ISIS creates a zombie army. So an ISIS nuke isn’t necessary, exactly.

But it’s clear that Obama is making it plain that he would only contemplate ground troops under the most extreme circumstances. He has drawn a red line, without using the term. And learning from his Assad-uses-chemical-weapons red line blunder, he has drawn this one so far, far away that the probability it will be overstepped is vanishingly small, certainly in the two years remaining to Obama’s presidency. This red line might as well be on Pluto. Which is exactly Obama’s intent.

A reasonable interpretation of Obama’s remarks is that even though nukes are beyond the pale, chemical and biological weapons are not.

Note that the ground operation that Obama envisions is a commando raid to secure the weapon, rather than a persistent troop presence.

Further note the supercilious tone with which he delivers his statement. As if it as a nearly unbearable impertinence for someone even to broach this question.

There is a continuum of ways in which ground troops can be deployed. Obama’s scenario is about at one endpoint of that continuum. Moving close to the other endpoint, no one has seriously raised the possibility of deploying a force even remotely resembling what was on the ground in Iraq from 2003-2011. The deployments that Dempsey and Odierno and others have mooted are not far from Obama’s proposal, but would facilitate the two main pillars of American strategy, such as it is: an air campaign and relying on local troops to roll back ISIS. Ground controllers and special forces are tremendous force multipliers in an air campaign, especially when intelligence is hard to come by and avoidance of civilian casualties is vital and the battlefield is very complex. Moreover, the effectiveness of Iraqi and Kurdish troops would be greatly increased if US advisors were present at the front, at the battalion level and below. Training them in bases at the rear and then having US advisors wave goodbye as they send them off to get their asses kicked, again, is an exercise in futility. Every Iraqi battalion needs American officers embedded, and special forces should deploy with Iraqi troops at the point of the spear. These Americans can provide tactical guidance, buck up wavering Iraqis, collect intelligence, and facilitate coordination between ground units and between ground units and coalition air forces.

But no. Obama’s mulish insistence on no ground troops absent nukes/aliens/zombies substantially hampers the effectiveness of the limited resources he has grudgingly committed to the battle. He has imposed irrational limits on an already limited strategy and operational concept.

It would be reasonable to conclude that he wants to fail, because the constraints he has imposed make failure highly likely.


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  1. Thank you very much Professor. As a former Platoon Leader in the U. S. Army (R) – Infantry during the Viet Nam era (I was not in combat as Nixon pulled the troops back one month before I was scheduled to deploy); the people who are most at risk under Obama-like clones are the often young men and women who risk their lives to try and protect their and our country. While Obama is playing golf, they are often out on patrol and when they get a short period of time to spend with their family out of a combat zone, if not at home exhausted they are spending every waking moment with their spouse and children. I resigned my commission under Carter (though I voted for him since Ford did not seem to understand the link between Poland and the USSR at the time) because he did not provide material support for our soldiers but that is another story. For how much longer will outstanding young people volunteer to protect our country and fight for our freedom. Leave no one behind? Only if they are traitors it seems. ‘About Face’ by Lt. Col. David Hackworth might be a worthwhile read for those who want to get the perspective from a proven Warrior who left.

    Comment by SamuelCyrus — November 18, 2014 @ 7:47 am

  2. ‘About Face’ by Lt. Col. David Hackworth might be a worthwhile read for those who want to get the perspective from a proven Warrior who left.

    That’s the second mention of this book on here within a couple of months (the first was by me) and funnily enough I was just thinking of it again this morning along much the same context as your comment. I thought Hackworth became a bit of a paranoid nut-job in his later years writing at WND (I was particularly pissed off that he accused the British of funding the Viet Cong) and I think a lot of his views on the military were outdated (he seemed a bit stuck in the past, even when he was in Vietnam in some ways). In fact, he comes across as a bit of an asshole. But his book is superb, and there is no doubt he was a real soldier and superb leader of men, and many of his views on the army bureaucracy and the craven cowardice of senior ranks and politicians is as relevant to civilian life (including my own industry) as the military. I love About Face, I must have read it 3 or 4 times and never tire of it. And he was a full bird colonel, not Lt. Col.

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 18, 2014 @ 9:27 am

  3. I wouldn’t worry about ISIS raising a Zombie Army; after all, isn’t that why they behead people?/sarcasm

    Comment by Blackshoe — November 18, 2014 @ 10:17 am

  4. Another “I will show flexibility when two straight, parallel lines meet in a Euclidean universe.” statement from the wizard of O. The issue isn’t that we can kick butts with force multipliers – look what a smaller contingent did in Afghanistan – the question is what is the political endgame? In Afghanistan we have tribal system with everyone hating everyone else: in the mid-east we have the same, writ large. What are our objectives, and can we meet them.

    In other words the issue is political, not military and the one thing this last 6 years have proven is that Obama is a really lousy politician, outside of personal electoral politics. He has never really been able to work with any opposition to find common ground, horse trade, etc.
    The last few years have also shown that Obama is extraordinarily ignorant, and worse than that, he doesn’t know he is ignorant. Rather than face his ignorance he will ignore it. In this he is bordering on pathology: he views the world through magical thinking: in this world he can define what he will or will not do. It is not so much that he wants to fail, but that he doesn’t want the question to exist: if he ignores it, it will go away.

    The situation, in part to his ineptitude, is probably now insoluble, if the solution is to maintain the current state system. The Middle East looks like it is becoming a Democratic Republic of the Congo writ large, with many groups facing existential threats (Druze, Alawites, Sufi sects, etc.). These make the stakes very high, and the triggers for violence a very sensitive one.
    Where the state has failed, either military rule is established, or there is a descent into revanchist and irredentist anarchy (the Yemen, Iraq), with the “solution” being various forms of Islam backed by even more magical thinking: examples: did Mohammed foresee personal computing? Of course he did. If we only believe, everything will return to “normal’: the infidels will be slaves and we will rule, etc. etc. etc.
    In this O is only partly to blame: what we are seeing here is the failure of a series of societies (NOT one Umma) to actually produce something and work without economic rents from the west to mask their differences and contradictions. We are seeing population displacements equal to those following WWI. In fact the model that followed WWI, the mass forced emigration and liquidation of ethnic and religious minorities that occurred might be a foretelling of what is to come.

    One thing that is different now is that the populations affected are no longer productive of anything other than cannon fodder. This is not an insult, or an issue of blame, but a fact.
    As a Venezuelan President once named it: the “devil’s excrement” (oil) has allowed regimes to exist independent of the societies that they rule: as the old inversion puts it, no representation without taxation. Could ISIS exist without foreign weapons bought with oil money? No. could the Saudi State exist in its current state if it depended on the non-oil productivity of its people? No. Can the Yemen feed itself? No.

    As long as this disassociation exists, there will be no peace.

    Comment by sotos — November 18, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

  5. From 2006 until about 2010 the American military was the muscle for a corrupt Shiite oligarchy in Baghdad that created an environment(a) breeding anti-Western resentment by rounding up all the Sunni military leaders that joined the US and the Baghdad government in suppressing terrorist activities in Sunni provinces and (b) channeled corruption directly into the 30 billion dollar military the US spent a decade building up that so spectacularly collapsed, handing over divisions worth of equipment to primitive savages in pickup trucks. The total combined force of ISIS represents the manpower of one of the three divisions that collapsed. So what is the solution, as soon as Mosul fell pour in American troops? Thats great but that means they are there forever since Maliki — and his ilk of Arab politicians — are also there forever. Even the much beloved Kurds, at least those in Iraq living softly for the last 11 years, degenerate into the regions default political mode — petty corruption and theft and their vaunted army falling apart, relying on random Kurds living abroad to rush home and defend effete oil salesmen.

    Comment by d — November 18, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

  6. “These Americans can provide tactical guidance, buck up wavering Iraqis,…” and then they can be shot by an Iraqi corporal that happens to be a disenfranchised Sunni. Doesn’t seem to be working so well as a long-term strategy in Afghanistan, what makes Iraq different?

    “And learning from his Assad-uses-chemical-weapons red line blunder…” Does Assad still have chemical weapons? With not one US bomb dropped, Russia saved face, Iran started negotiations and you think Obama’s rhetoric was a blunder? Sounds more like diplomatic savvy on a level most war-partisans would find hard to reconcile. Sure, Assad is still in power (only over half of his country), Russia is still a bully (but much poorer now) and Iran is…still talking.

    ISIS, gross and inhumane, is still a creation of inept US foreign policy and it is the responsibility of this government to control and eliminate. Rushing to boots-on-the-ground would be effective, no doubt, but will only scatter the fanatics to many locales and multiply the problems for the next administration ten-fold.

    Comment by eddie munster — November 18, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

  7. “Does Assad still have chemical weapons?”

    Apparently yes, actually.

    They’ve been using chlorine bombs to kill people since after the OPCW declaration, at the least.

    Comment by Blackshoe — November 18, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

  8. Leave it to the vacuous Boy Wonder to invoke the presence of ISIS nukes, that’s a laugh, as his action plan while the mad mullahs in Iran are getting their nukes together slowly but surely in real time with real engineering.

    Sorry, eddie, but the rise of ISIS isn’t a policy failure on America’s part as much as a vacuum filled in the twisted and failed culture of the ME which is in its death throes, a process which has been happening for decades.

    Why has the Empty Suit failed to train/arm the long suffering, feisty and very capable Kurds a long time ago as a smart pro-US counter measure in the region?

    Obama is in way over his head in that region plus everything else the numbskull touches.

    Comment by penny — November 18, 2014 @ 9:06 pm

  9. @sotos-Depressing, but all too true.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 19, 2014 @ 11:13 am

  10. You are very welcome, @SamuelCyrus. Thank you for your service.

    I have serious concerns that we are at risk of experiencing a repeat of the post-Viet Nam Broken Army (or Broken Military more generally), though the reasons are very different. We are at risk of serious morale problems, due to the factors that you mention. We are also at risk of having an undercapitalized military due to budget constraints and a totally dysfunctional weapons acquisition process.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 19, 2014 @ 11:22 am

  11. @Tm & CyrusBlack-Hackworth was high variance. For that reason, I have always been somewhat ambivalent about him. He was brilliant in performing, and writing about, the thing for which he was uniquely suited: infantry combat and leadership. He was often sadly out of place in writing about other things.

    I’d be surprised if anyone with his experience and career trajectory would be anything but an asshole, but some jobs need an asshole. He was the epitome of a combat leader. We need those types, but they have a difficult time in other circumstances. Hence the depressing cycle: “perfumed princes” who excel at bureaucratic infighting and political ass-kissing rise in peacetime, but prove utterly unfitted for the unique demands of combat; a war erupts, the princes fail the test, and a Darwinian process selects people like Hackworth; but when the war ends those types are misfits and anachronisms in a peacetime military, and the princes take over again. We desperately need such people, and they are priceless at what they do. But we have yet to find a way to advance and retain them in bureaucratic peacetime militaries. The problem is far worse now because of political correctness and the “zero tolerance” mindset.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — November 19, 2014 @ 11:36 am

  12. He was brilliant in performing, and writing about, the thing for which he was uniquely suited: infantry combat and leadership. He was often sadly out of place in writing about other things.

    Yes, that’s the conclusion I reached, and it’s why I rarely bothered to read his WND stuff but loved his book.

    Quite agree on your other points too (mainly as I am one of the assholes who do well when the budget has been blown, the project is 2 years late, and there are no more excuses; but so good in an HQ or when the campaign has just started and I find George B. McClellan as Project Manager…).

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 20, 2014 @ 6:18 am

  13. *not* so good…

    Comment by Tim Newman — November 20, 2014 @ 6:19 am

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