[I’m back home., and am almost finished with doing six ethics presentations in seven days in four states. I just added the photo of the Faber band marching into the wall in “Animal House”—the ultimate “march of folly”— and more importantly, fixing about ten typos in the post. I knew ttey would be there. I had an 8 AM start time for my seminar, which would end at noon, and then had to drive to Boston, ditch my rental car, and fly back to Virginia. I wanted to get the post on this topic up, but knew it would be rushed, and that I wouldn’t have time to proof it carefully until late in the day. Maybe I should do that; I don’t like posting sloppy content. I apologize for the typos, but it was either a timely post with mistakes, or a late post without. My choice; I’ll accept your verdict.]
“The March of Folly” was historian Barbara Tuchman’s most specific exploration of the theme of many of her works. It was a cold-eyed retrospective of how supposedly brilliant people in power can follow through on destructive and objectively stupid policies; how a mission, ordered by a leader, travels the arc from aspiration to delusion, and how the public, paralyzed by deference to authority, inertia, restraint, and irrational hope. accepts flawed premises long after the damage they are doing and will continue to do are obvious and undeniable. Tuchman calls this lethal tendency of policymakers throughout history a “process of self-hypnosis.” She concentrates on its long and bloody history using examples spanning the Trojan War, through the British handling of the American rebellion, and the Vietnam War. In another book, she applied similar analysis to the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade. This is exactly what is going on with the ridiculous and pre-doomed Obama plan to arm the Syrian rebels to fight ISIS—but not the Syrian regime, which is who they are currently fighting. I doubt whether anyone with the necessary influence will stop it until it becomes a chapter in another historian’s sequel to Tuchman’s classic.
Because I have been in a hotel room between three ethics presentations in the Providence area, I have had a rare opportunity to watch much of the hearings on the proposed ISIS plan, as well as listen to the reaction on all of the news networks, from all sides of the political spectrum. I have also watched the President’s speeches on the subject. Seldom has something involving national policy unfolding before my eyes so clearly indicated a shocking deficit of either ethical leadership, or, in the alternative, competent leadership.
I don’t need to bombard you with links: nobody, with the possible (and frightening) exception of President Obama, believes the proposed plan to defeat-degrade-stop-“send to the Gates of Hell” (pick your rhetoric) can possibly work as it has been described. Not the generals; not Republicans; not Democrats, not CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Carol Costello, who kept shaking their heads in amazement during the hearings, and not Fox News’ Shepard Smith, who was hilarious as well as eloquent in his sarcasm and dead-eyed disgust while questioning various experts and pundits about what was being said on Capitol Hill.
Nobody believes that American air power and “advisors” alone can accomplish the objectives of this campaign without eventually involving combat troops. The idea is being ridiculed by anyone who knows the region, the participants, and the facts of military strategy, and who is not under orders by the President to toe the official line. (Who knows what poor John Kerry and Chuck Hagel think?Who knows if they are even thinking….) Yet it appears Congress is going to approve this born-to-fail plan anyway. Why? Well, some Republicans and Democrats believe that when the Commander-in-Chief asks for Congressional approval in a military action, he should get it. This is irresponsible. Some Republicans want an Obama military fiasco to hang around his neck, and are willing to spend billions and kill people to do it. Some Democrats would support their man in the White House if he asked them for a resolution that the moon was made of cheese. And some are undoubtedly idiots.
Is the President? No, he’s not an idiot. He is a hopelessly, tragically over-matched leader without the skills or character required for the job, making terrible choice after terrible choice and lacking the courage to forget politics and lead. He hates war–real war, not video game war, but war in which Americans get shot, blown up and killed, and where the bad guys can’t be attacked solely from the safety of the skies, which is to say, war. His ideals in this respect are and always were completely contrary to the requirements of being the President of the United States. He is as close to a pacifist as we have ever had in that office, and pacifists do not belong there.
Sometimes, international crises and threats require American soldiers, with weapons, fighting. The President doesn’t like it? Too bad. (“I…hate…war,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in one of his many memorable speeches.) The public is tired of combat? Tough. The nation still has obligations, and sometimes there are no happy choices. “I’m tired of being responsible; I’m tired of having to sacrifice; I’m tired of being part of the constant battle against chaos that is life”—none of these are rational and responsible sentiments, and a competent leader has to know when to ignore them. The Democratic Party’s progressive base is, in essence, pacifist in philosophy? Gee, sorry. Republicans have their screwballs too. This isn’t the time for politics, partisanship, or ideology unhinged to the real world.
What’s going on here?
Incredibly, it really seems to be this simple:
1. The President hates war, and swore that he would end American combat.
2. To keep this pledge, he refused to acknowledge developments in Iraq that demanded that troops remain there, and pulled them out anyway.
3. This led directly to the disintegration of that nation, and the rise of ISIS there.
4. Polls show that the public now believes that the U.S. is endangered by Islamic terrorism, perhaps because Islamic terrorists have been sawing off American heads on TV and swearing that they are coming.
5. Midterm elections are coming, as if this should ever drive any decisions involving the military.
6. The President’s poll numbers are desperately low, and he is widely regarded as a weak and ineffectual leader, which he is. This threatens Democrats at the polls.
7. Thus it has been decided among the President’s politically-driven advisors that he has to do something.
8. That something cannot include “boots on the ground,” because the President will stomp his feet and hold his breath til he turns blue not to send combat soldiers to Iraq, even if the mission will fail without them.
9. Thus, to be perceived as doing “something,” because the public that doesn’t want combat wants something done about ISIS, the President is pursuing a half-baked strategy to defeat-degrade-stop-“send to the Gates of Hell” that doesn’t include combat troops.
10. Either he knows that this cannot succeed and is thus lying to the American people by claiming it can, or..
11. He is so deluded (a.k.a. incompetent) that he thinks it can work, even though his non-political, nmilitarily astute advisors, are telling him it can’t. (His political advisors don’t know or care.).
12. Either Obama is putting imaginary, pie-in-the-sky views of international realities ahead of hard truth because he does not have the character, courage or sense to abandon an ideal when that ideal no longer applies, or he is deliberately following a plan that cannot work.
“The March of Folly.”
It is obvious, or should be, that the two choices available to the President and the nation are to either commit to doing whatever it takes to end the ISIS threat, or not commit any substantial resources because the threat doesn’t justify it. To say that ISIS MUST be destroyed, and simultaneously state that we will refuse to do what may be necessary to destroy it, is either incompetent, or dishonest.
Since President Obama has already shown that he is both, it is difficult to know which.