On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams.
Far and near and low and louder
On the roads of earth go by,
Dear to friends and food for powder,
Soldiers marching, all to die.
(From “A Shropshire Lad”; A. E. Housman, 1896.)
“For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”
(I Corinthians 14:8)
This week I thought of both A. E. Housman’s classic poem and the verse from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, when President Obama – now artfully dubbed “The Reluctant Warrior” by his worshipful media – sounded a (sort of) call to arms for America to contend with resurgent Islamic State forces, in his September 10th speech to the nation.
Did he say? – “We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…” (Winston Churchill, 1940)
Or how about? – “No matter how long it may take us … the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” (Franklin Roosevelt, 1941)
Nah! None of that corny stuff. Basically, what our Reluctant Warrior said was, ‘We’ll huff, and we’ll puff, and we’ll blow their house down…’ (with apologies to the Big Bad Wolf).
Even Al Capone would have pounded the table, and shouted, “We’re gonna hit ‘em! And we’re gonna hit ‘em again! I want ‘em dead! Mort’!”
But any of that would have been too brutish for our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president, who was elected (twice) on a vow to end wars, not start them. Mr. Obama rode to victory in 2008 on his promise to quit Iraq. He said Iraq was “the wrong war” – ground of no value.
The field for the “right” war – the good war – was where the bad guys were hiding: Afghanistan. We would flush them out of that wasteland of camels, scorpions and savage tribesmen, which neither the British in the 1880s nor the Russians in the 1980s were able to conquer. Obama’s acolytes cheered him on wildly, but students of history wondered what ignorant fools were advising him and who in the world he thought he was.
So we pulled out of Iraq. Mr. Obama said all of our troops had to leave because Prime Minister Maliki would not give us a Forces agreement that would protect our soldiers from “war crimes” prosecution. Thus, we abandoned a field of combat won at a cost of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions in treasure – all forgotten by feckless leaders and a war-weary public.
Our departure left a vacuum into which fresh, rested terrorist forces – fierce, ambitious and thirsting for conquest – soon rushed, under a new flag and a new name. Soldiers of fortune – including adventurous teenagers from all over the world – flooded in to join the romantic “freedom-fighters” of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It was 1936 and the Spanish Civil War all over again! Glorious – almost a Rapture! Within weeks, soldiers of their well-armed, well-led army had routed Iraq’s disorganized military and occupied large areas of Iraq and Syria – threatening oil fields and throwing the entire Middle East, not to mention our own government, into riotous chaos.
For several weeks President Obama remained sublimely above all this – playing golf, attending lavish Democrat fund-raisers, and issuing snarky quips about ISIS being only Al Qaeda’s “junior varsity.” He did nothing significant to stop them. Wisecracks were his weapon of choice. Perhaps he thought he could laugh them out of Iraq. Or maybe it wasn’t really happening at all…
Then the beheadings started. First, an internet video showed the grisly decapitation of journalist James Foley by an ominous, black-clad and masked figure who spoke English with a British accent. He warned that the USA must stop its air-strikes against ISIS or face more executions of its citizens. A few weeks later the similar murder of a second American journalist, Steven Sotloff, was shown in horrifying color on the internet. (As I write this, a third beheading has occurred.)
Appalled and outraged, the American public began to call for the president to “do something.” Even Democrats reflexively loyal to Mr. Obama ran for cover, as a political firestorm fueled by rage swept through the country. Polls showed the president’s approval under 40%. For the first time in his presidency poll-respondents said Republicans were more able than Democrats to manage foreign affairs. Mr. Obama was between a rock and a hard place. He had to act.
The president’s brief speech of September 10th was his answer. Journalists pre-hyped it as the “speech of the century.” A grimly determined Mr. Obama vowed to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. But we would do it with air strikes alone. There would be no American “boots on the ground” – meaning no ground troops, which military experts know are always necessary to win any war.
Aha! But that’s just it. This wouldn’t be a “war.” A significant anti-terrorist action, yes, but certainly not a war! War was George Bush’s shtick, and it didn’t work. It just made those peace-loving Muslims mad at us. Everyone knows that Islam is a “religion of peace.” (The president assured us of that again in his speech. This whole Iraq mess is Bush’s fault – Republicans’ fault, really. (Remember those post-9/11 pix of Republicans and Democrats standing with linked arms, singing and vowing to “never surrender?” It never happened. The photos were faked. No Democrat could have voted for war. Impossible!)
Today I heard radio talk-jock Michael Savage commenting on the president’s “non-war” war-speech. “My god!” he said, “How many times do we have to hear this same absurd sermon about Islam being the Religion of Peace? …Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims!” (Obviously, though, he was overlooking the militant Methodists and Seventh Day Adventists who have been blowing up mosques and terrorizing Muslims, world-wide.)
What “trumpet” did Mr. Obama sound? It was a political trumpet meant to soothe the ears and calm the vexed spirits of all factions. It blew notes that most of us wanted to hear.
To the many Americans who wanted strong action against ISIS from their president and his government, it signaled that a highly visible military action would be undertaken – a “shock and awe” demonstration to show that we really mean business. Film-clips of jets taking off from carrier decks, loaded for bear, always impress the hoi polloi. It will make the president look like a real commander-in-chief again – recalling those halcyon days when he personally dispatched Osama bin Laden. It should raise his approval-ratings out of the cellar.
To the president’s leftist base – the no-more-wars-ever gang who elected (and re-elected) him – his uncertain trumpet signaled that he would not get the country into another war. This is why he assiduously avoided the W-word – as liberal commentators have labeled it. Anti-war Democrats can rest easy. America’s air force – perhaps joined by ground troops of his 10-nation coalition (or perhaps not) – will stomp ISIS into submission without a single American soldier being harmed. It will be combat the Obama Way – another miracle, right up there with healing the planet and stopping the rise of the oceans. (The guy is just amazing. He’s actually remaking war…)
Well, we shall see. Is there some new “military reality” at work here that will let us defeat guerilla-armies with air power alone? Color me doubtful. The “old reality” that I know about showed that although we bombed Germany to rubble, we still needed overwhelming ground forces to subdue the Wehrmacht. Mr. Obama is fond of rewriting laws to suit his fancy, but some laws – e.g., the Laws of War – can’t be changed so easily. The Obama Way should be an interesting experiment that lets Democrats skate safely past the November elections without doing much damage to ISIS.
By pointing out these realities, I don’t mean to suggest that I personally want another war. Certainly not! The thought makes me sick, bringing to mind those depressing lines from A. E. Housman’s poem. Nor do I want a halfhearted swipe at ISIS, for PR purposes, that accomplishes nothing. We truly have a choice of evils here.
The president was so fixated on leaving Iraq to please his anti-war base that he took ill-considered actions which made a new war likely. Withdrawing our troops from Iraq clearly enabled the new ISIS threat to gain traction against Maliki’s weak and incompetent government. Did Mr. Obama think he would be long-gone before things blew up again? I don’t know. If so, he obviously miscalculated. Now, here we are again – starting all over from scratch.
This is the kind of thing that happens when we choose leaders who have no experience with military matters beyond marching in anti-war rallies back in the day. Let’s hope we can learn from this and choose more wisely when decision time comes round again. Unless we like watching more beheadings in living color, we’ll have to stop electing amateur warriors like the lady who slept blissfully on when that 3 AM call came in from Benghazi.
We can do better. For the country’s sake, we must.