United States Of Common Sense

The cost of indecision

Bashar al-Assad
Bashar al-Assad
The President of Syria and Regional Secretary of the Ba'ath Party. His father Hafez al-Assad ruled Syria for 29 years until his death in 2000. Al-Assad was elected in 2000, re-elected in 2007, unopposed each time. | Photo: Archives | Syria, President, Ba'ath,

Dithering While the World Crumbles Around US

We learned during the years of the second Bush administration what the cost was of hubris mixed with ignorance. On the ground in Iraq, as the leader of the first CIA team to enter that country, I saw the devastating impact of decisions made ten thousand miles away by men and women who did not understand the decisions they were making or their consequences and yet, nonetheless, made them with absolute confidence.

Ten years later, we are faced with the cost of a very different problem. We are faced with the cost of an Administration, which cannot make a decision and cannot steer a course.

North Korea continues its march toward fielding a credible nuclear threat. It has tested long range missiles. It has detonated nuclear devices. It has been supported throughout all of these efforts by its patron, Communist China, without whose financial and material assistance, North Korea, would have long since collapsed.

This Administration, unwilling to face the prospect of having to stand up to our "banker", Communist China, has gnashed its teeth, disparaged the North Koreans and wished aloud for a change in behavior. It has done nothing to actually force the North Koreans to change course, and they have not. In an apparent acknowledgment that we have lost, and that we now live in a world where North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles will soon threaten the continental United States, we are now beefing up missile defense forces in Alaska in the hope that if we cannot prevent the North Koreans from firing nuclear weapons at us we an at least shoot them down before they impact in Seattle and San Francisco.

Barack Obama
Barack Obama

Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. He was born on August 4, 1961 and as of 2010 his reported net worth was US$ 11.8 million. | Barack Obama, President, Democrat, Liberal, 2012, Phone,

Iran continues its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. It already has fully functional intermediate range ballistic missiles. These missiles are capable of hitting Tel Aviv and of carrying nuclear weapons of the types fielded by the Pakistanis and the Chinese. This Administration has imposed economic sanctions, expressed its willingness to engage in "dialogue" with the Iranians and hoped for a change in behavior. Faced with no easy answers and only hard choices, it has done nothing more. The Iranians are pressing ahead, and even the President has stated that they may have a nuclear weapon within a year.

President Obama came to office faced with an Afghan policy that was rapidly failing. We had too many assets of the wrong type committed to wage a war narrowly focused on counter-terrorism and defeating Al Qaida. We had too few assets on the ground to wage a conventional war and build a functioning, modern nation state. In classic fashion, he opted to choose neither clear direction. He send fewer troops than necessary to truly control the country and far more than necessary for a focused counter terrorist effort. Then he compounded his error by immediately announcing when he would withdraw the additional forces and that by 2014 we would quit entirely.

Our troops are on their way out. We are leaving. The Taliban remain, and the government in Kabul is wavering.

Egypt has been since the Camp David accords the linchpin of peace in the Middle East. It is now a bastion of Islamic radicalism. This Administration did not act to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from coming to power. It is doing nothing of consequence now to force it to modify its behavior or fully embrace liberal democracy. It has engaged in wishful thinking and hoped that the Brotherhood would for some unknown reason renounce its principals and change its spots. It has not, and we are, apparently, unwilling to do anything to compel it to do so.

North Korea satellite
North Korea satellite

North Korea may have moved the first stage of a rocket to a launch stand, indicating it is on schedule for a controversial mid-April launch, according to a new analysis of satellite images. | Photo: |
The situation is difficult. The choices are hard. It is easier to wring our hands, wish it were different and do nothing.

In Libya, faced with growing opposition to our long-time foe, Muammar Qaddafi, President Obama ultimately committed limited amounts of American air power and assisted the disparate rebel elements in taking control of the nation. He did not commit troops on the ground. He did not put any significant number of American personnel of any kind in country. He did not in any meaningful fashion attempt to gain control of the opposition or direct its course after Qaddafi fell.

We did the minimum and, again, faced with hard choices, we hoped it would all turn out for the best. The deaths of our Ambassador and other Americans in Benghazi tell us everything we need to know about how well that turned out.

Syria is disintegrating. We have watched from afar, thrown stones at Assad and offered no meaningful assistance. The opposition has grown and moved ahead without us. The dominant force on the ground in the areas controlled by the rebels now is militant Islam. We face the very real prospect that we will trade a hostile dictatorship for a radical, Islamic state in the heart of the Middle East.

This is an Administration of half-measures. Every decision made is tentative, indecisive, hesitant.

These are not the actions of some master strategist carefully arranging pieces on a chess board. These are the actions of a President unable to make hard decisions and choosing always to split the difference. Nothing is resolved. Threats are not dealt with or dispatched. At best hard decisions are deferred and threats allowed to gain strength. At worst, those threats are magnified.

Three years from now, President Obama will step down. Most of North Africa by then may either be under the control of radical Islamic forces or devolving into chaos. North Korea will likely have nuclear-armed missiles capable of hitting Japan. Iran may well have nuclear weapons as well. Afghanistan may be muddling forward or it may have disintegrated into all-out civil war. Syria will likely be a shell of a nation state consumed by warfare and supporting substantial radical Islamic forces.

This is the future. This is the cost of indecision.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:10 PM EDT | More details

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