William Hamilton: Vital interests and sound military decisions
April 27, 2011
As predicted five weeks ago in this space, Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi still rules most of Libya. Questions: Will the Obamessiahs continue their “mission-creep” into a Vietnam-like quagmire? Or, will the Obamessiahs realize the U.S. has no vital interests at stake in Libya and re-focus on our actual vital interests in the region which are: freedom of maritime commerce (read oil) and the preservation of our ally, Israel?
Another question: It is in the vital interest of the U.S. to throw Israel under the bus in order to create a separate Palestinian state (most likely led by Hamas), that will be an anti-American dictatorship that takes its orders from Iran?
Apparently, Mr. Obama, like so many of his predecessors, suffers from an inability to define America’s vital interests and then make sound military decisions.
Making sound military decisions requires the identification of clear objectives or aims, the achievement of which protects or promotes our vital national interests. General of the Army, George C. Marshall, famously said, “If you get the objectives right, any lieutenant can write the strategy.”
Actually, the importance of getting the objectives right was noted about 700 years prior to the birth of Christ when the Chinese military genius, Sun Tzu, wrote The Art of War. In 1936, the U.S. Naval War College published Sound Military Decision, a volume of only 210 pages, that endorsed Sun Tzu’s views about choosing proper objectives or aims. Updated versions of Sound Military Decision are still available via amazon.com in hardcover, paperback, and via Kindle e-book.
Following a distinguished career in submarines, Rear Admiral Henry E. Eccles, settled in Newport, R.I., where he became an iconic figure at the Naval War College. Ever giving of his time and counsel to faculty and students, Admiral Eccles, who always had a copy of Sound Military Decision at hand, led many discussions about U.S. policy with regard to the Vietnam War.
Admiral Eccles opined that the U.S. wandered into Vietnam without a clear definition of our vital interests in Southeast Asia and, as a consequence, our civilian leadership was never able to set clear objectives for our military to achieve. Certainly, the U.S. could not afford to allow communist aggression to gain control of all of the landmass of the Far East and, especially, of the waters and straits of the Western Pacific. But just where, how, and when to draw the line was never arrived at with the precision required for making sound military decisions.
Back to Libya and the year 2011: Writing in the Winter/Spring issue of The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, S. Eugene Poteat, the president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), asks this question: “So, is Democracy a likely outcome in the Middle East? The protesters certainly appear incapable of understanding, building, or running a true democracy. For most of them, democracies have too many tenets that are antithetical to their fervent religious views. A democracy would require a constitution, an independent judiciary, free and fair elections, and laws that protect freedom of expression, tolerance and respecting the rights of others – including women and non-Muslims – factors that will quickly sideline all the pro-democracy bombast and hoopla we’re told by our press that is behind these protests.”
If Mr. Poteat is correct, none of the protests simmering across the Middle East are likely to result in anything resembling Jeffersonian Democracy. What is clear is that a growing number of Arabs are tired of, to paraphrase Mr. Poteat, enriching their rulers while many of them are starving.
Now, Mr. Obama has thrown U.S. missile-firing drones into the Libyan War; however, lest the Arab Street erupt, a safe bet is that the drone controllers have been ordered not to make a martyr out of Colonel Gadhafi. A classic Catch-22 situation.
– Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
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