President Barack Obama’s recent directive to the U.S. military restoring a broader ability to engage the Taliban in Afghanistan was little-noticed, not by accident. It’s a retreat from Obama’s oft-cited end of American combat involvement in that forsaken land ravaged by tribal and ideological wars since Alexander the Great’s rule ended 2,300 years ago.
Afghanistan, according to the Gospel of Obama, was supposed to be the good war, the one the rookie senator argued was necessary but botched by his GOP predecessor you-know-who when the Republican became preoccupied with Saddam Hussein and the Iraq War.
Both conflicts, it could be argued, are examples of the United States’ chronic inability to prosecute prolonged foreign conflicts because of politics at home.
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Put Americans in an all-out war against an enemy that threatens civilization, like World War II, and history suggests there’s virtually no chance of the good guys losing. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto foresaw the Japanese empire’s defeat against an aroused American colossus, even as he dutifully planned and executed the Pearl Harbor attack.
But time after time, stick America’s military in prolonged conflict far away with foggy goals and political proscriptions imposed by Washington politicians wary of impatient domestic public opinion, and the awful sacrifices of those men and women usually end up evaporating.
Take Vietnam. In 1961, right about the time Barack Hussein Obama was born, newly inaugurated President John Kennedy sent U.S. troops to advise South Vietnam’s Army and prevent a Communist takeover. Initially, Americans were not even allowed to shoot back if under fire.
Ultimately, the president was even picking specific bombing targets. Also, after a decade of domestic divisions and strife, the U.S. withdrew. Communism won. And 58,220 Americans were dead.
Flash-forward to 2016, the Middle East. Until recently, three-quarters of U.S. air sorties returned without dropping their ordnance, so strict were the rules of engagement imposed by Obama’s White House. Former secretaries of defense such as Robert Gates tell of non-military Obama aides circumventing the chain of command to call battlefield commanders directly.
Islamic State oil-truck caravans could not be attacked, for instance, because drivers hauling those million-dollar war revenues were civilians. In firefights with Special Ops forces, if the enemy threw down their weapons and fled, they became unarmed civilians; no pursuit or annihilation permitted.
See, despite flying bullets, this White House maintains the growing number of U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria are not in combat. Also, the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan officially ended almost two years ago.
How then to explain the 2,318 U.S. military deaths increasing by 25 since then? Fully 75 percent of that total has come during Obama’s presidency, which covers only 53 percent of the nation’s longest war.
Obama’s new Afghan rules, according to Reuters, allow Americans to participate in certain offensive operations with Afghans, not just watch and step in to prevent a disastrous defeat. Close U.S. air support is now also allowed.
The reason is clear: Not since the initial American assault in 2001 has the Taliban controlled or contested so much of Afghanistan. Only 10,000 American troops remain there.
Will Obama proceed with halving that number come December as scheduled? Even with the bloody lessons of the Islamic State and Iran filling the power vacuum of the Democrat’s hasty all-out Iraqi pullout in 2011?
Indications are Obama, who’s on another family vacation this weekend, is merely running out the clock on Afghanistan, Iraq and the Islamic State. He utters the right words about beating enemies but is simply trying to avoid defeat in his final 215 days.
After all, commander in chief Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner.