For the last week, the election debate has been focused on the existential question of how much impact will result from Mitt Romney’s “47%” remark. The campaign suffers from a malaise that can only be cured by a real crisis such as Obama replacing Joe Biden with Paris Hilton or Dave Letterman.
In that same week, there’s been a steady flow of SGO (“s**t going on,” in the comprehensively useful acronym coined by former SEAL Al Clark), events far more important which are going almost unnoticed. Consider just a few.
The treacly flow of information from the Obama administration about the war in Afghanistan is more reminiscent of Vietnam each day. “I think we are on track,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last Friday in announcing that the last of our 33,000 “surge” troops have been withdrawn. Panetta also said that the surge had met “…its objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically [increasing] the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces.”
The latter remark would be comical if it didn’t come in the context of cessation of joint operations with Afghanistan forces below the battalion level, resulting from another “green on blue” attack on U.S. troops by the Afghan troops they are supposed to be training. Training operations have been slowed as well, while new “vetting” procedures are used to re-clear Afghans who are supposed to be trainees.
The context includes the Taliban attack on Marine Camp Bastion which resulted in more U.S. deaths and the destruction of so many Harrier aircraft that the Marine air squadron, VMA-211 whose aircraft they were, is now out of action. The last time VMA-211 was combat ineffective was in December 1941 when it was almost wiped out in defense of Wake Island.
The squadron commander, Lt. Col. Christopher “Otis” Raible, and Sgt. Bradley Atwell were killed in the 16 September attack. (Raible was killed while inspecting the flight line at 10 pm, as was his custom. According to an e-mail from a direct source that was forwarded to me, Raible was armed only with a 9mm pistol and died fighting.)
The “green on blue” attacks — Afghani soldiers and policemen attacking our troops — account for 51 U.S. deaths so far this year and the frequency of these attacks is increasing.
In Barbara Tuchman’s epic history The March of Folly, she recounts that in 1954, the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote a memorandum for President Eisenhower (which he may have never read). In part, the memo said it was “absolutely essential” to have a “reasonably strong stable civil government in control” in Vietnam. As Tuchman wrote, the memo said that it was “hopeless to expect a United States training mission to achieve success,” unless — in Tuchman’s words — Vietnam “could effectively perform all functions necessary to recruitment and maintenance of its own forces.”
The Karzai regime, like Diem and his Vietnamese successors, has utterly failed to perform those functions, with the entirely predictable results that parallel our involvement in Vietnam.
We have been defeated in Afghanistan. Obama has succeeded, with Romney’s complicity, in keeping the Afghanistan war out of the campaign debate. Obama’s White House has also succeeded in claiming ultimate credit for the SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden while, at the same time, leaking an enormous amount of classified information about that operation, going so far as to bring in Hollywood producers of the coming movie about the raid, Zero Dark Early.
Those leaks damaged national security. Alleged leaks by former SEAL “Mark Owens” in his book about the raid, No Easy Day, briefly stirred that concern. But “Owens’s” book has done something else. It has angered the SEAL community because it breaches a trust.
Special operators — SEALs, Army Special Forces, Marine Recon and Air Force special ops — share a code of silence. It’s not like the Mafia’s “omerta” code of silence, which is a code of fear, a tyranny. It’s a code of honor that compels the spec ops guys to serve without discussing, even with their families, what they do. It’s a large element of the pride they take in their job. The pseudonymous “Owens” — a real hero, a warrior’s warrior by all reports — broke that code. From what I’m hearing, he will be ostracized for violating the code, and he should be.
Though “Owens” will be ostracized, the Mujahedin e-Khalk, an Iranian opposition group, shouldn’t be. The MEK was listed as a foreign terrorist organization by Bill Clinton in 1997 as a sop to the Tehran regime, which didn’t change its behavior toward us or the MEK.
After the Iraq invasion of 2003, MEK forces were bombed by U.S. forces, surrendered and were disarmed. In captivity, they were designated by the U.S. as “protected persons” under the Geneva Convention. The MEK were transferred to Iraqi custody and have been attacked repeatedly by Iraqi forces. They have also reportedly been deprived of medical supplies and other humanitarian aid. Despite their maltreatment — and abandonment by America — the MEK have been a source of valuable intelligence information from inside Iran on the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Britain and the EU nations removed MEK from their terrorist lists in 2008 and 2009. Now, after a long legal battle, the US State Department is about to delist MEK as a terrorist organization. That is a good step, but what else will State do?
The question is not rhetorical. The MEK members still in Iraq, who may number as many as 3,000, have been relocated in Iraq to Camp Liberty. But they are still vulnerable to attack and — as the MEK fears most — to deportation to Iran where they will be imprisoned or murdered. We may not have a strict legal responsibility for their safety, but having declared them “protected” under the Geneva Convention, we have at least a moral responsibility to ensure their safety. That we have not done. As a result, we may be responsible for their eventual massacre.
While all this is going on, wars both large and small are brewing around the world. The Chinese and Japanese dispute the Senkaku Islands off Okinawa, under which are enormous oil and gas reserves. Japan is about to declare clear ownership of the islands, and the Chinese have signaled that war may result if it does. While we sit mute, that dispute could erupt in fighting all too soon. If it does, that war would briefly overshadow the coming war between Israel and Iran.
But it won’t overshadow the coming release of about one-third of the terrorists now confined at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Obama administration is reportedly about to announce the release to Yemen of about 55 of Gitmo’s inmates, coming closer to Obama’s goal of closing the facility. Will this make us safer? Will Yemen confine these men or release them as so many others have been released once transferred to their native countries?
That question is answered definitively by the recent attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya in which Ambassador Stevens and three others were killed. Sufyan Ben Qumu, a leader of the al Qaeda connected Ansar al-Sharia terrorist group, is suspected to have been the planner of that attack. He was a prisoner at Gitmo until he was released to Libya in 2007.
I am confident in predicting that none of these issues will be part of the campaign debate this week or at all before Election Day. Instead, we’ll probably be hearing about Mitt Romney’s tax returns or Joe Biden’s remark that cheerleaders are the best of collegiate athletes. On Saturday, Biden said “They are amazing. You think I’m joking. You think I’m joking. They’re almost all gymnasts. The stuff they do on hardwood, it absolutely blows my mind, thinking, you know, they’re up there without a net. You know?” Yes, Joe. We know.