Archive for September, 2012

Let me start by saying that I don’t think Barack Obama is the worst president the U.S. has ever had, especially when it comes to his accomplishments overseas. I too was in a state of Christmas-like ecstasy when news of Osama bin Laden’s demise surfaced last year, and I still jump for jingoistic joy at the site of a UAV/RPA (unmanned aerial vehicle/remotely piloted aircraft) prowling the skies over South Asia and Yemen. However, in lieu of these triumphs I feel that the Obama administration has employed a grossly misguided, ill-conceived, and downright paradoxical national security strategy in the Middle East and South Asia.

In this entry I will present 3 examples of Obama’s flawed strategy in the region, specifically his expansive use of RPA’s to kill terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, ripped straight out of headlines within the last week. In each example I will present you with three components: (1) a snippet from President Obama’s speech at the end of last week’s Democratic National Convention which highlights his policy goals and attempted jabs at presidential-hopeful Mitt Romney; (2) a series of quotes from a recent CNN article authored by Peter Bergen, the Director of the New America Foundation (a non-partisan think tank in DC), about Obama’s RPA use; and (3) some personal and original analysis of the the previous two components. Let’s get started…

Obama’s Speech: “Around the world, we’ve strengthened old alliances” … “You [Romney] might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.”
Reality: “In Pakistan, the [drone] program is deeply unpopular and the Pakistani parliament voted in April to end any authorization for the program, a vote that the United States government has simply ignored.” … ‘According to Pew Global’s research: “In Pakistan, only 13% say they have confidence that the new American president will do the right thing in world affairs”‘ … “the killing of at least 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO air strike in November severely damaged the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, and resulted in the eviction of CIA-controlled drones from Shamsi air base in Baluchistan in southwestern Pakistan.”
Analysis: Pakistan is (was?) the U.S.’s single greatest ally in the fight against terrorism in South Asia, period. Pakistan has sacrificed thousands of lives (many of which were military officers) trying to root out terrorists along their perpetually porous border with Afghanistan, and did so in support of a largely unpopular commitment to a war the U.S. brought to their backyard. President Obama’s flagrant disregard for a diplomatic, or even cordial, relationship with the historically hold-and-cold country is a strategic error and the precursor for worse relations to come. I understand that President Obama has set a withdrawal date from Afghanistan that he plans to stick to vehemently, but to burn your bridges along the way seems to be a foolish and amateurish move for our Commander-in-Chief.

Obama Speech: “And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don’t even want, I’ll use the money we’re no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work.”
Reality: “He [Obama] has already authorized 283 strikes in Pakistan, six times more than the number during President George W. Bush’s eight years in office.”
Analysis: To claim that Mitt Romney would be a frivolous purchaser of military hardware is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black. In half the time that former-President Bush had at his disposal (during the onset and apex of 2 wars, mind you), President Obama has launched an astronomically larger and more costly drone campaign by comparison. Let’s not forget that paying for these drone missions and all the related expenses associated with them (such as fuel, transportation, pilot’s wages, missile payloads, etc.) is no frugal order. Some quick and conservative calculation indicates that President Obama has spent nearly $20 million on the Hellfire missiles alone that his cherished drones rain from above, with another million to cover the fuel costs and hourly rates of their pilots. With tens of millions of dollars being poured into the drone campaign each year, responsible voters must examine whether or not their hard-earned money is being put to effective use. This question leads me to the final section:

Obama Speech: “After all, you don’t call Russia our number one enemy – and not al Qaeda – unless you’re still stuck in a Cold War time warp.”
Reality: “Under Obama, the drone campaign, which during the Bush administration had put emphasis on killing significant members of al Qaeda, has undergone a quiet and unheralded shift to focus increasingly on killing Taliban foot soldiers.” … “Under Bush, al-Qaeda members accounted for 25% of all drone targets”, and “Under Obama, only 8% of targets were al- Qaeda”… “And while under Bush, about a third of all drone strikes killed a militant leader, compared to less than 13% since President Obama took office”
Analysis: Perhaps President Obama is the one stuck in a 2001 time warp because his current strategy is clearly not an effective use of our military tools and treasure. It was al-Qaeda that attacked the U.S. on 9/11 (among other times), not the Taliban. It is al-Qaeda that continues to expand its influence and destructive rhetoric around the globe, not the geographically-constrained Taliban. The Obama administration continues to spend money and dedicate inordinate attention to a futile tactic of killing strategically insignificant terrorists scurrying around the dusty villages of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. Terrorists like the ones President Obama targets are essentially hydras: replaceable, bountiful, and inert in the grand scheme of U.S. national security. The Bush administration demonstrated level-headed and informed understanding of the true terrorist threat in South Asia, and recognized that one must eliminate leadership, not pawns, when dealing with global and top-down organizations like al-Qaeda.

As foreign policy and defense issues continue to take a back seat to economics, health care, and the battle for women’s hearts and minds during this election cycle, it’s important to remember that our president is not only a catalyst for job creation and admirable oratory, but also our Commander-in-Chief. The U.S. needs a President who understands the cultural sensitivities in a region who’s diplomatic relations are predominantly affected by custom, dialogue, and historic dispositions. Our future President should be cognizant of effective military spending, especially in an era where unprecedented budget cuts loom over our defense industry and the 2 million+ jobs it supports. Finally, our President should have a clearly defined plan to thwart and eliminate our greatest enemies before they have the chance to strike again. Though the U.S. remains invested in Afghan security for years to come, we must not have tunnel vision in conceptualizing who (and where) our enemies really are.