For Obama, Afghanistan is a bridge too far

There has been no doubt for weeks now in my mind that President Obama has been planning a retreat from Afghanistan. All the dithering and hand-wringing over the elections, Harmad Karzai and the corrupt Afghan government was just a way to put distance between himself and the "decision" -- or series of decisions -- to create plausible blame on someone else for abandoning the Afghan mission. For those who understand Obama's true goals, this decision was made months ago, and the "high level" discussions within the administration have been nothing but air cover (no pun intended) for the abandonment of the erstwhile war "of necessity". Obama is a craven opportunist, and he sees nothing but messiness in Afghanistan in the years ahead. It will get in the way of his massive goals to restructure America to his liking -- and that's a bridge too far. The reality is that Obama doesn't see the Islamic terrorist threat as particularly significant, in in that vein he has much company among the left-wing intelligentsia (a contradiction in terms, I know.) This is a president who can't bring himself to call the Fort Hood massacre a "terrorist attack". Indeed, this is president who can't bear to even utter the word "terrorism". He doesn't seem to want to deal with the realities of the world we live in, preferring instead to craft a world of platitudes where our words can somehow influence their deeds. Afghanistan, it turns out, is just another "Bush" legacy that threatens to give America a black eye and derail Obama's need to "fix" us in a way that makes us a kinder, fairer place. The redistributionist goals here at home mean we can't really be bothered to fight abroad -- why waste all that energy and money when we can use it to make payments to the Democratic base?

Afghanistan has thus joined Iraq as a "war of choice" and Obama is choosing to bail. According to Jules Crittendon this morning:

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama does not plan to accept any of the Afghanistan war options presented by his national security team, pushing instead for revisions to clarify how and when U.S. troops would turn over responsibility to the Afghan government, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

That stance comes in the midst of forceful reservations about a possible troop buildup from the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, according to a second top administration official.

In strongly worded classified cables to Washington, Eikenberry said he had misgivings about sending in new troops while there are still so many questions about the leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

So Obama will temporize and pick a "middle ground" that rejects General McChrystal's recommendations in favor of a choice that reduces the American footprint and allows us to "retreat with honor". Of course, we've seen this movie before -- we tried retreat with honor in Vietnam and it failed miserably. But past is never prelude with this president, and in his desire to protect his domestic agenda, Obama will make moves that will forestall the fall of Kabul long enough to make it appear that it is someone else's fault.

The script has been written -- now its just a matter of playing out the act. Lots of serious debate, a sober decision. And a strategic retreat.

Of course, this doesn't change the fact that Afghanistan is the crucible of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and will again become a working base for attacks against the West. Perhaps the president figures he can manage this as a "law enforcement" exercise rather than a war, and send drones and cruise missiles in to try and make life difficult for the enemy. But the reality is that leaving Afghanistan will result in a more dangerous world for America.

And what's the point of health care reform in a nation where 9/11-scale attacks -- perhaps with WMD -- are occuring on a regular basis?

Income redistribution at U.S. expense

Many of us are still stunned that President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize even though he has no accomplishments to this credit beyond his major difference of opinion with his predecessor, if not practically every American president. He is determined to make amends for our nation’s sins by apologizing for them in speeches given abroad, as well as changing public policies to bring the nation in alignment with his thinking. In the text of the Nobel Peace Prize Citation, Obama is lauded for his efforts for promoting nuclear disarmament and combating "global warming," but I was particularly struck by this passage:

"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population."

Let’s unpack that paragraph. Not for a moment forgetting that our President still has no significant accomplishments to his credit, let us take seriously his current hold on "the world’s attention." Obama is believed to agree with the "values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population." Judging from other statements in the Text, that would be the aspiration for democracy and human rights.

While it may be true that most people either enjoy or seek democracy and human rights, a majority of the world does not enjoy them or is likely to. Democratic republics are to be found mostly in Europe and North America, with a scattering of them in Latin America and Asia. The only reliably democratic regime in the Middle East is Israel, which for its virtues has earned the hatred of Muslim nations, and many others besides.

Russia, China and emphatically the Islamic terrorists are not fond of democracy or human rights, not to mention the rogue regimes in North Korea, Iran and Venezuela; and the Third World generally has had little or no experience with these great human goods.

So what can it mean for the President to share the "values and attitudes" of most of the world? We have already seen what this means in practice as Obama negotiates without preconditions with despots likes Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Kim Jung-Il; has appeased the Russians by abandoning missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic; asserts moral equivalence between Israeli settlements and Palestinian massacres; is trying to impose a Chavez clone as President of Honduras; and has even ended the close partnership between the United States and the United Kingdom.

I fear that many Americans’ reluctance to take seriously Obama’s "transformation" rhetoric has blunted the alarming significance of these developments. Remember that Presidential candidate Obama deplored the fact that Americans use more energy than the rest of the world, leaving out of consideration that Americans produce much more than other peoples do.

Somehow it is unjust, according to Obama, that Americans have a higher standard of living than most other nations. Obama is also troubled that some Americans make more money than others. He famously told Joe the Plumber that those who make more than a quarter of a million dollars should "spread the wealth around."

Obama does not seem to understand that when some people succeed in their businesses, they are making jobs for others, not to mention that America is an upwardly mobile society in which those who make relatively small incomes in time work their way up to higher levels. More, he has difficulty distinguishing between disparate incomes in countries that encourage free competition and those which repress it. Class distinctions are not permanent in America as they are in our largely undemocratic world.

For Obama, I believe, just as the lower incomes of some Americans justify a claim on those in higher income brackets, so does the lower standing of most of the world have a claim on the United States.

Given the "values and aspirations" of most the world, it has no difficulty with international income redistribution. It seeks to transfer our wealth to other nations that lack our productivity and, more important, our freedom. Obama obliges by imposing unsustainable social welfare spending on our people, abandoning proven oil production for costly "soft" energy, and refusing to develop nuclear energy.

Whether Obama or not succeeds in "transforming" America from a prosperous nation into a succor (pun intended) for the rest of the world, he is laying the groundwork by catering to the world’s "values and aspirations." Be prepared to be fleeced.

Europe's Nobel peaceniks handcuff Obama

The Nobel Peace Prize has always been a reflection of the political inclinations of the Norwegian Nobel Committee – a group of five former lawmakers and politicians from one of Europe’s most liberal countries. The list of winners over the past two decades include Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Anan and Yasser Arafat, and reads more like a political commitment to left-wing causes than a sober award for promoting real peace in the world. This year’s award to Barack Obama is all that – and more. In fact, for the first time the Nobel Committee has managed a twofer: it has rewarded someone who shares its goal of diplomacy “first, last and always”, while at the same time placing a substantial set of symbolic handcuffs around the U.S. president’s ability to use force in the defense of American interests – including the war in Afghanistan. In bestowing the Peace Prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said this about Barack Obama:

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.

For Europe, Obama thus represents a real breakthrough: an American president who fancies himself as a “citizen of the world”, who has spent his first nine months rejecting the notion of “American exceptionalism”, and who seems to truly believe in the transformative potential for talking through even the most intractable problems. After eight years of a Bush Administration that was committed body and soul to American interests and security, Barack Obama represents a leader more interested in compromise than conflict, and who believes that American national interests are largely indistinguishable from those of the international community.

It would be a mistake, however, to view the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama as simply a rejection of the Bush years – or as just a pat on the back to America for electing such a cosmopolitan “man of the world”. The decision of the Nobel Committee to make award Obama was influenced heavily by the President’s commitment to a core value of the European peacenik movement – nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. The elimination of all nuclear weapons is an idealism based on the utility of diplomacy – even with rogue states such as North Korea and Iran – and is the logical extension of Europe’s multilateral engagement strategy. As Agot Valle, a Norwegian politician and member of the Nobel Committee said in a phone interview with the Wall Street Journal after the announcement,"…this was primarily an award on his work on, and commitment to, nuclear disarmament -- and his dialogue.”

But it is really more than just about Obama’s willingness to talk. Rather, there is something more strategic involved: an attempt to restrict Obama’s range of decisions in the critical reassessment of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan. According to Valle, the Nobel Committee reached its decision on the Obama award at their final meeting on October 5. It was thus no secret that the Obama Administration was in the midst of a full scale review of General Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 additional U.S. soldiers in an expansion of the U.S. mission. Nor was it a secret that Vice President Joe Biden and others in the Administration were openly lobbying for a change in U.S. strategy that would dramatically reduce the American footprint in Afghanistan in favor of a targeted “offshore” force that would be used for surgical strikes against terrorist targets. The Nobel Committee clearly also knows that in the wake of an all-out focus on health care reform, the Obama Administration has let public support for the Afghan war drift; the latest polling shows that less than half of America supports the war that Obama himself once called “necessary” for America’s long-term security. The Norwegians know that Obama is wavering on Afghanistan, and that the Peace Prize could be an effective leverage point in convincing him to radically reduce – or even end – the U.S. war there.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee understands that awarding Obama the Peace Prize will appeal to the President’s own image as a transformational figure, and will serve to heighten the already stratospheric confidence he has in his ability to alter the status quo ante. Obama’s own belief in the power of his words is well known. Now, with the Nobel Prize in hand, he has a validation that Europe also sees him as The One. The net effect of this will put Obama in a tough position as he addresses America’s security concerns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and elsewhere. With little more than a press release, the Nobel Committee has achieved what Europe has been trying to do for a generation: it has handcuffed the American president with the imprimatur of “Peacemaker”, narrowing the options for unilateral action in the process. For the peaceniks of Europe, awarding Obama the Nobel was a true masterstroke of preventive medicine.

The Nobel Committee has thus given the world's most prestigious award for peace to the American commander-in-chief in a time of war. Can the Nobel Peace Prize winner really escalate the war in Afghanistan? Or, for that matter, order a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the event that the current round of diplomacy fails? Even before the Prize, there was obviously much doubt as to whether Obama would make such tough choices. Now, it seems even more unlikely.

Poland: A Friend Betrayed

By Joe Gschwendtner Poland’s expansive plains have made her lands a military corridor in regional skirmishes and world wars. Teutonic Knights, cavalry and tanks have controlled her vast spaces and she has been uniquely oppressed by outsiders. Outstripping this history and braving long odds, she is now a successful recovering Soviet client state, defiant and free, the beneficiary of a robust capitalism flourishing within her borders and Eastern Europe. We would do ourselves great harm to not remember that this is the Poland of Generals Kosciusko and Pulaski who fought for our freedom in the American Revolution and it is the heritage of Colonel “Gabby” Gabreski, likely the greatest American air ace in U.S. history. Her soldiers have fought bravely, shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it possible she is now a friend betrayed, the casualty of a missile defense gambit in the broader initiative of global engagement?

The current administration’s decision to cancel the promised missile defense system has left Poles scratching their heads while other allies silently writhe. Is this really a small tactical decision that eases tensions and saves money? Or have we witnessed a grave course adjustment in the ship of state? Has Poland again become a pawn of a new war? Her history of being on the receiving end of plunder and partition is instructive.

Polonians (“people of the open fields”) are fiercely independent and resilient; they have had to be. Their first millennium was marked by dominance and manipulation, first by Mongols, Tatars, Swedes, Cossacks, and Russians, their own nobility, and then the late empires of Europe. These constant upheavals stunted the growth of both democratic institutions and a middle class needed to drive them. Not until World War I’s Treaty of Versailles in 1918 and the tenuous independence it granted was Poland really in a position to act strategically.

As that document’s ink was still drying, President Josef Pilsudski and the Polish people recognized the appetite of the Soviet bear to the east. Clearly, Lenin’s records prove his intentions to recover territories surrendered by Bolshevik Russia during World War I and then to later create a Communist “Anschluss” with German Socialists using Poland as his corridor. The Polish-Soviet War that resulted in 1919 was a pre-emptive effort by Pilsudski to thwart a reconstituted Russian military from resuming its march westward. The humiliating defeat of the Red Army at Warsaw resulted in the Treaty of Riga in 1921. With Russia’s territorial urges still unrequited and smoldering, the devil’s table was set for Stalin’s later revenge and en passant machinations at Tehran and Yalta during World War II.

Poland’s geopolitical significance would rise exponentially with the dominance of mechanized warfare in World War II. Germany’s invasion of Poland began with the bombing of Wielun and the overwhelming of Gdansk on September 1, 1939, an act of a war that would put 100 million men under arms globally. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, struck weeks earlier between Germany and Russia, committed the signatories to non-aggression while allowing the Red Army to move quickly into eastern territories ceded to Poland at the end of World War I. The pact also made provisions for a later, final partition of Poland between Russia and Germany.

In a ruthless seven months of terror, Stalin initiated a comprehensive round-up of Polish intelligentsia, primarily officials, policemen, academics, and military officers. His defining act of revenge and brutality was the April 1940 Katyn Forest Massacre near Smolensk where 4,421 Polish officers were summarily executed. At three other nearby locations another 14,400 leaders were shot and buried in mass graves. Killings were clinical and efficient, virtually all delivered with a bullet to the back of the head.

With Operation Barbarossa, Hitler double-crossed Stalin and launched Germany’s invasion of Russia in June 1941. With the Polish pawn in play, the ebb and flow of unchecked warfare was visited upon the people of the open fields. Brutalized or exterminated by the Germans, Poles were then subsequently raped, plundered, and finally yoked by their Russian Slavic brethren in their counter-offensive. Most of today’s aging survivors have long gotten over the Germans, but will never forgive Russian depravities.

In a final preview of things to come, an extraordinary Warsaw uprising staged against the Germans by the Polish resistance in 1944 was unaided by the Russian Army positioned just across the Vistula. Stalin’s unwillingness to help was motivated by his Katyn-like desire to see the German defensive force destroyed by a still vigorous underground in a fight to the death. That Polish pawn played in Warsaw resulted in over 200,000 military and civilian deaths and Hitler’s vengeful order to level the city block by block.

Whether Katyn, the Warsaw Uprising and other compelling evidence was conveniently overlooked or ignored by the Franklin Roosevelt’s State Department is debatable. Indisputable is FDR’s bad call on the beguiling Josef Stalin. Unmoved by Winston Churchill’s suspicions, Roosevelt remarked: “I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man….I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.” The Iron Curtain and almost 45 years of oppression was the price of that gross miscalculation.

At the Potsdam Conference, Truman was more wary of Stalin, but east-west political boundaries had been established in Crimea and only minor adjustments were made. Pawned again, Poland’s national sovereignty continued to be ignored as was her ravaged populace. Russia unilaterally shifted her post-war boundaries, reclaiming Slavic peoples and territory in eastern Poland and returning territory to Poland in the west at the expense of Germany. In the process, millions of Germans and Poles were displaced and forcibly relocated.

Fortunately, the Polish people retained their indomitable resilience. They continued on with the business of rebuilding their lives after betrayal, living as Poles and not Communists, ever guided by their Catholicism. Poles who survived the German General Government and the Polish Communist State will tell you bluntly that their beliefs were unshakable and that they deceived their communist masters at every opportunity.

It was in this environment that a shipyard worker in Gdansk and the first Polish Pope concomitantly led worker-based and spiritual efforts that would finally set them free of Cold War bondage. Pawns no longer, and in concert with other eastern bloc uprisings, the Poles foiled their masters with unionized solidarity and simple Christianity. The award in 1983 of the Nobel Peace Prize to Lech Walesa was the signal event and when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Poland quickly made its own political transition. Mikhail Gorbachev himself would later acknowledge that the Wall’s collapse would have been impossible without Pope John Paul II.

Nowhere in the failed Socialist states of Eastern Europe did freedom take deeper root. Along with the Czech and Baltic republics, no countries were more anxious to embrace America as a partner in the quest for freedom and Poland proudly joined the European Union in 2004. Her current economic challenges are not insubstantial, but Poland is committed to an ambitious $3.5 billion privatization effort to eliminate remaining state-run industries.

The defensive missile agreement struck with the Bush Administration in 2002 was emblematic, proof positive that Poland understood the nature of her contemporary adversaries and readily accepted her role in the Free World’s defense. The cancellation of this agreement has significant implications beyond the current tactical situation. Unlike current American policymakers, Poland knows that new threats to peace are no longer limited to powerful nations with massive military might, but also include stateless terrorist rogues and bad state actors with enough nuclear capacity to annihilate millions in the civilized world. Few countries on earth could know more about the horrors people are willing to inflict on each other.

What other nation is better positioned and willing to protect the Free World against an almost certain destruction that can be rained down upon the northern hemisphere from Middle Asia? If one correct answer is a willing Poland, how is it that the politics of globalization seem to have prevailed over common sense? Has Poland served as a pawn yet again?

Is it possible that our President has not completely studied the success and failures of his idol FDR? Are Mr. Ahmadinejad’s intentions not clear for the entire world to understand? Does he really think that Russia is ready to disown a history of territorial aggression? Has a potentially fatal miscalculation been made about the many threats we face? Is it worth the risk to find out?

A useful phone call for President Obama would be to former President George W. Bush. I suspect the conversation would go something like this:

“Mr. President, this is Barack Obama and I need your advice. When you said that you looked into the eyes of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and you could see the measure of his soul, what did you really see?”

Joe Gschwendtner is a Denver businessman and writer

We're talking. But do we speak the same language?

Finally! A national news outlet has published a piece on something I have been railing about for the past several years: the futility of more negotiations with Iran. As Michael Ledeen writes in today's WSJ: "We've Been Talking to Iran for 30 Years".  And what do we have to show for all that talk? Absolutely zilch. Nada. Nothing.

It all began with Jimmy Carter after the fall of the Shah in 1979. In an effort to "reach out and engage" the Ayatollah Khomeini and his new revolution, Carter offered "aid, arms and understanding". And what did we get in return? A siege of our Embassy in Tehran and a year-long hostage crisis.

A lot of good that did us.

And it goes on -- every administration since has tried (and failed) to negotiate with Tehran. Here's what Ledeen says about the George W. Bush years -- the administration that was notorious for its (supposed) unwillingness to negotiate: Most recently, the administration of George W. Bush—invariably and falsely described as being totally unwilling to talk to the mullahs—negotiated extensively with Tehran. There were scores of publicly reported meetings, and at least one very secret series of negotiations. These negotiations have rarely been described in the American press, even though they are the subject of a BBC documentary titled "Iran and the West."

At the urging of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the U.S. negotiated extensively with Ali Larijani, then-secretary of Iran's National Security Council. By September 2006, an agreement had seemingly been reached. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, her top Middle East aide, flew to New York to await the promised arrival of an Iranian delegation, for whom some 300 visas had been issued over the preceding weekend. Mr. Larijani was supposed to announce the suspension of Iranian nuclear enrichment. In exchange, we would lift sanctions. But Mr. Larijani and his delegation never arrived, as the BBC documentary reported.

Negotiations have always been accompanied by sanctions. But neither has produced any change in Iranian behavior...

Thirty years of negotiations and sanctions have failed to end the Iranian nuclear program and its war against the West. Why should anyone think they will work now? A change in Iran requires a change in government. Common sense and moral vision suggest we should support the courageous opposition movement, whose leaders have promised to end support for terrorism and provide total transparency regarding the nuclear program.

Exactly. But this should be no surprise to anyone who even has a basic understanding of revolutionary regimes. They don't want accommodation. The animating principle around revolutionary change is to upset the status-quo. The Shah represented the capitalist West and all its "depravity". It kept Iran from a society based on the core tenets of Shia Islam. Khomeini and the Mullah's sought to destroy Western influences and create a fundamentalist Islamic state -- which they have done so, even as they pay lip service to "democratic elections" (we saw how democratic those elections were this summer). They do this by exporting revolution and their ideology abroad. It is the reason the current Iranian state came into being.

President Obama said during his speech at the recent G20 that Iran "has an opportunity to join the community of nations". This is pure folly. This is not a nation -- sorry, Mr. President -- that wants to be a part of the international community". Iran wants fundamentally to destroy the system, not join it.

The point here is this: Iran isn't interested in substantive negotiations with the United States, Europe or anyone else. We speak different languages -- both literally and figuratively. Iran wants power so that it can further its Islamic goals. It doesn't want to play nice and play in the international sandbox.

This should be crystal clear to anyone who is willing to listen and look objectively at the record of Iran since the 1979 revolution.

Got that, Mr. President?