Military affairs

'Strongest Tribe' well worth reading

Like most news junkies who had followed the war in Iraq on a daily basis for six years, I thought I was pretty well informed. However when I read Bing West’s The Strongest Tribe I was stunned at how much I had missed- not just unreported or misreported events but also how to think about those events in balanced perspective. Soon after the lightning overthrow of Saddam the mainstream media began to turn against a war they had never much liked in the first place. As the war ground on their reporting disproportionately revolved around suicide bombers in Iraq and grieving families in America. Most books that promised “deeper analysis”- even well written ones like Bob Woodward ‘s trilogy- revealed a clear liberal bias and left us yearning for some Paul Harvey to tell us “the rest of the story”.

We find such a person in Bing West whose book is long on “on the ground” reporting and short on political opinion. It radiates an evenhandedness that gives a reader great confidence in its veracity.

West was a career military officer who distinguished himself as an authority on counterinsurgency warfare in Viet Nam. That war produced relatively few good books, but West’s classic The Village is one of them. Later he would serve as an Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan.

Published in 2008 the book covers the war from the beginning through the success of the “Surge” which snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. West employs a strictly chronological approach and avoids those annoying back and forth digressions that confuse readers.

West comes down hard on both civilian and higher military leadership who through most of the war utterly failed to define a unified and coherent American mission in Iraq. Whether it was Defense (Rumsfeld) vs. State (Powell) in Washington or their counter-parts (General Abizaid vs “Proconsul” Bremer) in Iraq their conflict and confusion over strategy profoundly undermined mission effectiveness on the ground. Underlying this confusion was an American naiveté and general cluelessness concerning cultural/historical and political realities in Iraq.

The State Dept. seemed to think that giving Iraqis a few PowerPoint presentations on tolerance/diversity, constitution writing, and Roberts Rules of Order could swiftly transform their country into an up and running self-defending democracy.

Having achieved their quick battlefield victory a la Afghanistan, the Pentagon wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, and while waiting to do so corralled its soldiers in large isolated bases from which the troops “commuted to work”.

Having no coherent plans for “post-victory” operations both Defense and State bought into the bizarre “Light Footprint” doctrine which suggested that the very sight of American soldiers so inflamed young Iraqi males that they immediately ran to the nearest Al-Qaeda recruiting office to become instant jihadists.

All this confusion went on for three years (2003-2006) during which Iraq spiraled downward into chaos and the American people soured on the war.

The great strength of West’s book rests on his frequent and lengthy stays in Iraq mostly spent embedded with American troops. He persuasively demonstrates that local American commanders and local Iraqi leaders (notably the Sheiks of Anbar Province) figured out what was wrong and what was needed long before the politicans and military brass in either Washington or Baghdad.

Finally a senior military leader emerged who grasped the validity of these local viewpoints. General David Petraeus saw clearly that victory was impossible without local Iraqi support, and that support was absolutely dependent on Americans providing the people with the security and stability that would allow them to inform on and fight back against the detested foreign fighters of Al-Qaeda who were terrorizing them by systematically murdering their men and raping their women.

Petraeus took a strategy that had worked for a number of local American commanders and applied it country-wide. He took his troops out of their isolated bases and had them “move in” with the people and stay. Beginning in the deadly “Sunni Triangle” he also authorized local American commanders to recruit, arm, and pay local Iraqi males (“Sons of Iraq”) as fighting auxiliaries to the American forces. Thus empowered local leaders (mostly tribal sheiks) courageously faced murderous Al-Qaeda reprisals and blessed joint combat operations against a suddenly exposed and then decimated enemy whose power rapidly melted away in the face of this new turn of events.

Petraeus success in selling this new strategy which was the critical element in the success of the “Surge” was absolutely dependent on his views becoming known to key National Security Council staffers who orchestrated an “end run” around the Pentagon and the State Dept- both highly resistant to any notion of increased troop levels.

While West praises the gutsy decision of a politically battered President Bush to authorize the “Surge” despite the rampant and poisonous “defeatism” pervading Washington, he severely faults him for his passivity and unwillingness to challenge senior Cabinet and military leaders during the long period (over two years) when the situation in Iraq was clearly deteriorating. Citing Lincoln, FDR, and Truman as examples, West correctly insists that Presidents must be willing to aggressively intervene and even fire people when a war is obviously going badly. For too long George W. Bush failed that test.

Even more severely does West condemn the rank hypocrisy of Democratic leaders like Reid, Pelosi and Murtha who endlessly chanted their “support for our troops” while doing everything in their power to undermine the mission of those troops and also giving aid and comfort to the enemy by publicly announcing that “the war was lost” when in fact it was about to be won.

The real heroes of West’s book are American soldiers. Their valor uncelebrated by their country’s media, their mission undercut by politicians, and often poorly served by their own higher leadership, they fought against a savage and fanatical enemy in deadly battle spaces like Fallujah street by street, house to house, often room to room with incredible skill and bravery. West sternly reminds us that “They are not victims; they are Warriors”. Their individual stories- the best part of the book- will fill your heart with pain and pride.

The title of the book comes from the remark of a Sunni Sheik when West asked him why the top Al-Qaeda leader in Fallujah had fled the city in a woman’s dress. The Sheik pointed to a passing Marine patrol and in respectful tones replied “Because they are the Strongest Tribe”.

West closes his book expressing concerns about the future of the “Strongest Tribe” in a country whose martial virtues are being drained by the poisonous atmosphere of political division and cultural warfare.

We all should worry about a day when- like contemporary Europe- there will be nothing worth fighting for and no more volunteering young warriors even if there was.

William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post.

Jihadist Jawad was caught in act

Both policy realities and military realities were shortchanged in today's Denver Post editorial, "The Reality of Closing Gitmo." Here's the link. To start with, policywise, the editors' admonition that “there should be no excuses” for failure to quickly shut down Gitmo is ridiculous, and flies in the face of both logic and international law. The Post editorial states: "The detainees should be properly adjudicated. If they can’t be charged, they must be freed." This is hogwash. The detainees at Gitmo are not simply common criminals; they are enemy combatants, subject to the laws of war (not criminal code) and may be detained until the cessation of hostilities. Holding these enemy combatants indefinitely, and the Gitmo facility itself, is fully compliant with international law, as noted in an Obama administration report (see my earlier post, It’s Official: Gitmo complies with Geneva Rules).

The Post editorial goes from debatable to irresponsible, however, in its characterization of the case of Mohammed Jawad, accusing the government of misdeeds “in the handling of the case of an Afghan held since he was a teenager on what Huvelle says is mostly hearsay evidence and on confessions gained through torture by Afghan captors. Mohammed Jawad is accused of throwing a grenade that seriously wounded two U.S. servicemen and a translator in Kabul.”

As it happens, I know a little bit about that case. I was deployed in Afghanistan at the time it occurred, just before Christmas 2002 (December 17th). The “two U.S. servicemen” wounded in the attack were from my unit at the time, the 5th Battalion 19th Special Forces Group (Airborne) of the Colorado Army National Guard.

The “two U.S. servicemen” wounded are not some faceless statistics (although Mohammed Jawad did his best to change that). They have names (and since it was reported at the time - including in Colorado newspapers - I can mention them here): SFC (Sergeant First Class) Michael Lyons, and SFC Christopher Martin. Their wounds were severe: SFC Martin almost bled to death from his leg wound, and had it not been for the alertness and skill of our unit’s medical personnel, might very well have died.

Incidentally, Mohammed Jawad was captured, at the scene, by local citizens (shopkeepers) outraged that an outsider (Jawad was not from Kabul) would attack “our” Americans (despite what you may have heard, at the time we were there, we were VERY popular with the locals for bringing peace, security, and yes, lots of American dollars to the Afghan capital city). Jawad was turned over to Afghan forces for a VERY brief period of time before being taken into custody by our Soldiers; allegations of “confessions gained through torture by Afghan captors” are baseless.

Post editors did a disservice to SFC Lyons, SFC Martin, and every Soldier in the Colorado Army National Guard with this inaccurate and misleading editorial.

'No Rest Elsewhere' relives Vietnam combat in 1968

Book Review by John Andrews [photopress:orcutt__cover.jpg,thumb,pp_image]

I'm honored to help an old friend, Allen Orcutt, bring out a little book of poems, prose, and pictures that explores how a year at war can change a man for life. And much for the better in this Marine pilot's case, searing as the ordeal was. No Rest Elsewhere: Vietnam Notes, 1968-2008, expands on a poetic collection initially published in 1973, just after Allen came home. It includes his account of reconciling war-shattered relationships in later years, climaxing with a trip back to Vietnam in 2007. You can order the book for $12.50 per copy, postpaid, by sending your check to Allen Orcutt at 737 Storm King Circle, New Castle CO 81647. Or email him at, providing your postal address to which book(s) and invoice can be sent.

Below are the Table of Contents for "No Rest Elsewhere," the author's introduction, and my foreword. If you or a friend or family member served in Vietnam or any of America's wars, or if you just enjoy honest, thoughtful writing about life's deepest issues, I encourage you to get this book.

------------------------------------ NO REST ELSEWHERE Vietnam Notes, 1968-2008 By Allen Orcutt Introduction by the Author

My father and both of my grandfathers served their country during world War I and War II . Their portraits in Army and Marine Corps uniforms of the day hang on the wall behind my desk. Although they were awarded several medals including silver and bronze stars, not one of them shared their experiences.

I know that Allen Wood Orcutt, my father’s father, served proudly in WW I. However, all we have of his experiences were love letters sent to my grandmother. He died at age 35 from complications of a virus and mustard gas.

During that same war, my other grandfather, Harvey S. Brown , was a runner-messenger with the Marines in the trench warfare of Belleau Wood., France. He, among very few, survived that assignment. Yet, he never spoke of his experiences.

My Dad, George H Orcutt, served in War II as a Scout with General Patton in France. Although he was highly decorated, his sense of duty made the bullet in his shoulder put there by a German sniper, a reminder to me that in combat, war’s rules and war’s memories remain deep within.

Before l departed for Vietnam, my friend and former WW II South Pacific Marine , David Rennie shared with me this message. He discovered it in a castle in Scotland. In Europe and Great Britain he saw plenty of armor mostly under glass and in pristine condition. There was one exception. It was of modest design with battle dents and heavy damage. On its breastplate was inscribed in Latin, “Nulla Quiat Alibi”. That is “No Rest Elsewhere” than to uphold the honor, camaraderie and trust shared by fellow warriors, in this case Marine Corps pilots.

For us there was No Rest Elsewhere when I began Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, in 1966, started flight school in Pensacola in 1967, or arrived in Vietnam in 1968, the twelve months after TET proved to be the worst for helicopters, pilots and air crews.

What you are about to read is not just my story. Rather, it’s a story about young men, the warrior elite, in war. It is also about their family and friends. Some who stood beside them, some who didn’t.

------------------------------------ NO REST ELSEWHERE Vietnam Notes, 1968-2008 By Allen Orcutt Table of Contents

Part One: In Country

1. Old-Fashioned War Poem 2. Strike 3. Fogged In 4. Strike Two 5. September 29, 1968 6. Zone Supposedly Secure 7. Delivered Again 8. The Climb 9. Medevac Inbound 10. In Memory of Tom Burton 11. What’s It All About? 12. Operation Meade River 13. Let’s Not 14. Fishing Resort? 15. In Memory of William T. Hale 16. Willy’s Last Day 17. Gold Star Mother 18. Fall of the Eagle 19. Midnight Mortartown 20. Away to Uncompahgre 21. Emergency Leave 22. Sandra, Arch, and the Colonel 23. And I Saw My Mountains Once More before Leaving 24. Linus’s Blanket 25. Kielhofer: All in a Day’s Work 26. Cloud Disguises 27. A Last Goodnight 28. Awareness

Part Two: Home Front

29. Through White into Blue 30. Citadel 31. Anybody Home? 32. Crossing over the Pond 33. At China Beach 34. Haikus for You 35. I’m Here 36. Against the Tide 37. Forgiveness Forgotten 38. Fierce Communion 39. Our Peniel 40. Still 41. Disorientation 41A. Resolution

Part Three: Long After

42. Despite the Rain 43. Shining Horizon 44. Tea with Mr. Houng 45. Glenwood Canyon 46. Smoke Signals on the Periphery 47. Petals of a Smile 48. Ho Chi Minh City, Formerly Saigon 49. Lumahai Beach, Kaui 50. Fallujah Echoes Danang 51. The River Wins 52. Condominium of Hope 53. Peace Rock 54. Before Moving On


NO REST ELSEWHERE Vietnam Notes, 1968-2008 By Allen Orcutt Foreword by John Andrews

“Jacob would be proud.” (1) A Marine pilot in the war zone wrote that in a poem to his wife between attack missions one night 40 years ago. He had seen death that day and would see more tomorrow.

The hours of darkness were a short and uncertain respite; the airbase itself was often mortared. In the morning his number might come up and he’d never go home again. Home would soon mean something different anyway; their marriage was collapsing. The biblical wrestling image was doubly apt.

Yet he held on fiercely to duty and country, faith and hope. Part of what helped him hold on was the catharsis of scribbling such poems in a DOD logbook. In God’s good time that pilot came home, rebuilt his life, and kept writing. “I will teach my son all about peace,” he poetically promised another wife long after. (2)

Over the decades, Allen Orcutt kept that promise. He has taught his children – and is now beginning to teach their children – all he can about how peace and honor can transcend war and violence, how love and loyalty can transcend loss and sorrow. The teaching continues with this book of Vietnam sketches in poetry, prose, old maps and grainy combat photos.

Unlike the often-stoic veterans of our fathers’ and grandfathers’ generations, Allen has opened up his war memories for the life lessons they can provide the rest of us: comrades, friends, contemporaries, and descendants. I thank him. When you finish these pages, I believe you will too.

Only the inner circle of battlefield comrades can know the full meaning of what is here. But from the next circle, as a lifelong friend, I have known a good part of it. Allen and I were close as brothers in school, fellow volunteers for officer training, business partners and political allies later on, soulmates to this day. Submarine duty gave me few credentials to comment on the harrowing combat journal you’ll read here. What I can do, though, is stand character witness for the author. Absolute integrity is on every line. Blood and tears are in the ink.

This volume grows out of a smaller collection of poems published by Allen Orcutt in 1973, under the title Before Moving On. (3) At that time the war was still going on, he was back to civilian life working for my father, and I had become a presidential speechwriter, from which vantage point Allen asked me to write a foreword. I described the book as “the story of thirteen months in a man’s life, battle episodes sharing the stage with family scenes, introspection, friendship, tragedy.”

The present book, you will find, is all of that and something more. Now enriched by the perspective of a generation, and expanded with additional detail from the helicopter squadron in 1968-69 as well as from the author’s trip back to Vietnam in 2007, No Rest Elsewhere gets at deeper questions the previous edition didn’t anticipate. How can a year at war shape a lifetime of seven decades? How does a man finally become the man he is? It may even hold up a mirror for any reader to ask himself: What fires forged me into the person I am?

Three sections, “In Country,” “Home Front,” and “Long After,” unfold the narrative. We meet Allen’s fellow pilots including the fallen Willy Hale; the Vietnamese Mr. Houng who witnessed Hale’s death; college sweetheart Sandra who abruptly fled the Orcutts’ wartime marriage; and Barbara, Allen’s wife today. Andre and Georgia, his children with Barbara, as well as Amy and Ashley, his children with second wife Nancy, are sensed as a presence in the story though never introduced.

Another unseen presence here is the author’s fight with Parkinson’s disease for the past dozen years. Since the condition is known to Allen’s friends, I asked his permission to mention it. Does the high incidence of this and similar illnesses among veterans stem from their exposure to Agent Orange, the dangerous chemical defoliant? That’s uncertain. But the possibility heightens the book’s theme of what war can cost those who fight it – how it may forever change even those who survive. Courage may be demanded from the warrior, and from his loved ones, long after the shooting stops.

To vow at 25 that you are “determined to be the rock I say I am” amidst war and heartbreak, two storms at once, is character under pressure.(4) To look back at 65 and take inventory of how well you did – and print the results for review – to me that’s character of a higher order still. “Counting years is ugly work,” the younger Allen wrote when things seemed darkest.(5) “I’m so grateful… fare thee well,” the older Allen writes now. (6) Back then his pledge and prayer was to be “able to kiss a tormented sea.” (7) It seems he’s gotten there. The struggle was long, but rest finally came.

This brings us to the title of the new collection, “No Rest Elsewhere.” David Rennie, cited in the author’s introduction as a retired Marine, was also a Bible teacher. I suspect that his motto from a knight’s breastplate, given to Orcutt by Rennie as a talisman for battle, held scriptural overtones for the older man. A secret refuge in the Almighty and a table safe from enemies are mentioned by David the Psalmist. A rest like no other is Jesus’ promise to the weary and beleaguered. Such thoughts are not explicit here, for my friend isn’t one to sermonize. But listen closely and you’ll hear them in the poems.

When he says that “awareness is the constant path of my being,” it’s spiritual reliance that is meant, not just military vigilance.(8) The rest referred to is not found in escape or avoidance, but in keeping faith, hanging on and pushing through, wrestling to the limit of endurance like the patriarch in Genesis. In the Jacob poem quoted earlier, Allen speaks of “our Peniel,” the crucible of love and war.(9) It seems to me that Jacob would have approved the poet-pilot’s tenacity back then in wartime – and that he’d be prouder still today at the way this aging wrestler (Orcutt’s sport in high school, come to think of it) has yet to relinquish his grip.

Politics does not enter into any of this, then or now, even with America’s difficult experience in Iraq replaying the Vietnam agony in some ways. There is only the glancing reference in “Fallujah Echoes Danang” to enduring issues of savagery and civility in combat – more a military concern than a political one anyway. “Condominium of Hope” was prophetically titled in light of all the hopes riding on President Obama, yet the poem’s civic yearnings from 1969 seem no closer to realization in 2009.

Personal crises and victories are really the subject matter here. While the “endless surrender in disguise” may be a double reference to the no-win war as well as the author’s troubled marriage, the drama of the book ultimately turns on his emergence from the inward hell where “a very dead man screams in my ear.” (10) In two of the earlier poems, the rock seems to signify a solid place of rest. (11) In a later one about the Orcutts’ home in Glenwood Canyon, however, Allen suggests that was a false certainty: “Only a patient river wins the battle with the vertical rock [and] brings confidence to our mutual search for our souls.” (12) The ugliness encountered “when time freezes over” has given way at last to the beauty experienced as time flows on. (13)

As the weary pilot’s combat tour of duty ended, he felt sure “the problems I will face will never again be so consistently great, so persistently antagonistic, so emotionally bereft, so human.” (14) In some ways that has probably proved true. Yet for this “Colorado comet with an Oklahoma soul,” life after Vietnam was not going to be a mere postscript to war. (15) New challenges would keep forcing him back to the fields of honor and the fortress of faith. He would keep accepting those challenges in the simple belief that there was no rest elsewhere.

“You got to know how to hold a dream,” says Allen Orcutt in a latter-day meditation on what all the years, all the battles, all the sorrows and joys have meant. (16) He has held his with grit and grace, it seems to me after reading these writings.

-------------------------------------- References: 1. “Our Peniel” 2. “Peace Rock” 3. From the poem of that name 4. “Citadel” 5. “Forgiveness Forgotten” 6. “Resolution” 7. “At China Beach” 8. “Awareness” 9. “Our Peniel 10. “What’s It All About?” 11. “Peace Rock” and “Citadel” 12. “The River Wins” 13. “Forgiveness Forgotten” 14. “Before Moving On” 15. “Citadel” 16. “Despite the Rain”

Afghan War winnable & important

(Washington, May 10) As news from Iraq got progressively better in the last year the reflexive pessimists among us have shifted their focus to Afghanistan where they tell us portents of gloom and doom can be found in abundance. We hear of a resurgent Taliban advancing on several fronts, the capital of Kabul under siege, insurgents controlling ever more of the countryside, attacks and suicide bombings way up, the Pakistan border uncontrollable, and U.S. and civilian casualties increased dramatically.

Back in fashion are the words “quagmire” and of course “Viet Nam”. In fact a Newsweek cover story called Afghanistan “Obama’s Viet Nam”.

All these grim tidings, of course, lead to the inevitable advice that the U.S. should cut its losses, and escape this “graveyard of empires”, ASAP.

While most of the alarmist assertions cited above contain the proverbial grain of truth, collectively they represent a gross distortion of reality in Afghanistan.

A vital key to these misrepresentations is that increases in attacks or casualties are invariably reported as percentile increases over a previously established base number while failing to report how relatively tiny that number may be or offering any comparisons from similar conflicts (e.g. Iraq).

For example the Brookings Afghanistan Index reported a 48 % increase in attacks for 2008 in regional Command-Capital which includes Kabul and environs and has a population of over four million people. What is not reported is that the actual number of attacks went from just 106 to 157 for the entire year or that 157 was the average number of attacks that occurred in Baghdad every four days during the summer of 2006.

Similarly while civilian casualties are increasing in Afghanistan the total for 2008 represents only one sixteenth of the casualties in Iraq in the pre-surge year of 2006.

Thus when we hear as we do of late that attacks or casualties for a given week or month were greater in Afghanistan than Iraq this is much more a reflection of the dramatically improved situation in post-surge Iraq than any gross deterioration in Afghanistan.

In assessing the validity of comparing the two countries consider that Afghanistan ( 249,934 sq. miles) is a much larger country than Iraq ( 167,884 sq. miles) and its 30 million people exceed the population of Iraq as well.

In terms of results the Afghan war from the beginning has been a considerable success story despite being greatly “under resourced” when compared to Iraq. Today there are just 38,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and even with the recently authorized 17,000 increase the total will be barely one third the number in Iraq during the surge (160,000).

Similarly the Afghan National Army (ANA) which has performed most effectively and is universally regarded as the most trusted indigenous institution in the entire country numbers only 80,000 men. Even adding the 70,000 men of the far less effective Afghan National Police (ANP) 150,000 total security personnel is small when compared to the 500,000 men in Iraq’s army and police.

Finally we frequently hear that “primitive” Afghanistan can never be a real nation but only an aggregation of feuding tribes.

This ignores the fact that while highly tribal Iraq has been a nation for less than one hundred years (1919) Afghanistan has been an independent country since the 18th century with a history of strong monarchs ruling a reasonably stable country. The last of these- Mohammed Zahir Shah (1933-1973) – oversaw substantial economic and political progress including a fairly democratic written constitution. Only a 1978 Marxist coup and the subsequent Soviet invasion precipitated the tragic period of war and civil conflict that has characterized the last thirty years.

By no means should we minimize the very daunting challenges we face in Afghanistan or conceal the fact that only a strong multi-year U.S. commitment can assure success.

However neither should we minimize the severe price of failure.

Many critics including President Obama long derided Iraq as the “wrong” war and a distraction from Afghanistan which was the “right” war and the one we “had to win”. The 17,000 additional troops President Obama authorized are a commendable first step in backing that conviction with deeds. In continuing along this necessary road of many difficult steps he deserves our strongest support.

William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post.

Dem delusions debilitate America abroad

As the nation’s attention is currently focused on our troubled commerce, and no less on the Big Government responses that President Barack Obama favors, it is easy to slight international relations. But this administration will be no more successful in its so-called "soft power" approach to intractable and dangerous situations than was President Bill Clinton. Intellectual sophisticates are afflicted with the conceit that words can accomplish what force cannot. Long ago the Greek political philosopher Aristotle identified the error, viz., that politics can be reduced to rhetoric. Aristotle wrote a work on rhetoric as well as politics and ethics, so he did not believe that rhetoric was unnecessary. But he understood that it was not sufficient.

This sort of prudence was fully appreciated by America’s founders, as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "free and independent states" have "full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances [and] establish commerce." In the Constitution they authorized Congress "to provide for the common defense," "to regulate commerce with foreign nations," and declare war; and the President to command the armed forces, negotiate treaties with foreign nations and establish diplomatic relations.

It is necessary to review these elementary facts to remind ourselves that the world is a dangerous place, occupied by enemies as well as friends, not to mention fair-weather friends and even enemies with whom we may at times have a common interest. It will not do, as Democrats are prone, to take refuge in our fundamental principles. Hard choices must be made, based on what can accomplish the most good and cause the least evil in the circumstances.

When in 2001 President George W. Bush described an Axis of Evil, consisting of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, he spoke the truth and laid down our obligations to deter or defeat the threat that they posed. Their common denominators were their despotic nature and their possession, or imminent possession, of weapons of mass destruction and, sooner or later, the means of delivering them to other countries.

Much abuse was heaped upon the President for singling out Iraq, particularly when there turned out to be insufficient evidence that Saddam Hussein was as advanced a threat as our intelligence estimated. But Bush rightly concluded that temporizing with the regime that had used chemical weapons against Iran and the Kurds was no longer entitled to keep his region and the world in tension.

Barack Obama pretty consistently denounced Bush’s Iraq policy, on the grounds that force was employed without adequate cause. He also contended that "we had taken our eyes off" the primary target in Afghanistan, where the former Taliban regime had harbored the Al Qaeda terrorists who perpetrated the vicious attack on our country on September 11, 2001.

There are those who think that Obama’s public statements on Iraq and Afghanistan show that his quarrel with Bush was over strategy and tactics, not over the broad aim of defeating our enemies. But permit me to doubt. His decision to keep troops in Iraq somewhat longer than the 16 months he promised during the campaign simply split the difference with the Joint Chiefs, who recommended longer to accomplish the pullout. Whether Obama means to preserve the strategic advantage which Bush gained by the successful "surge" remains to be seen.

If nothing else, liberal Democrat members of Congress were unhappy with the decision, not less because a substantial number of troops will remain after the withdrawals. Obama already caved to Congress in the content of the "porkulus" bill recently passed. Why should he show any leadership in Iraq if his fellow Democrats want to bug out sooner with less assets left in place?

As to Iran, partly because our main focus was on Iraq but also because domestic opposition to that intervention placed severe limits on what could be accomplished elsewhere, Bush consented to European negotiations with Iran, which has not tempered the mullah’s drive for a nuclear war capacity. Yet Obama denounced Bush for not negotiating with Iran.

Similarly with North Korea. Bush lacked leverage with that tyrannical regime too, although he may be criticized for having let the State Department dominate the negotiations, as the communists’ military buildup goes on unabated.

But in spite of the failure of these negotiations, Obama has already made clear his intention to talk–"without preconditions" he said during the campaign–to these and other despotic regimes. He believes that he and his "cosmopolitan" colleagues will point out to the two remaining members of the Axis of Evil the folly of threatening the world with nuclear weapons. Fat chance.