Hey, That Anti-American Troop-Hater Has a Point!

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It wasn't a huge story outside of the conservative blogs and Sean Hannity's brain, but this week Barack Obama said this:

Now you have narco drug lords who are helping to finance the Taliban, so we've got to get the job done there, and that requires us to have enough troops that we are not just air raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there

The first sign that this was getting twisted and Dowdified was that bloggers and Fox cut out the first clause. Example:

The second sign was that Obama critics insisted that this was a comment not about policy, but about murderous troops—shades of John F. Kerry and "Jenjis Khan!" Gateway Pundit was a good example. But that was a strange attack, because the Kerry/Murtha/Durbin "slanders" were about one-on-one brutality between the troops and civilians or prisoners. Obama wasn't accusing any soldiers of malice—at worst they were continuing a bad policy. As to that policy, Joshua Foust of the great Registan blog had some perceptive comments.

In a macro sense, the idea that air strikes are too big and too inaccurate is not in the least bit outrageous—the Winograd Commission, which was convened in Israel to analyze why their war with Hezbollah last year didn't go well, came to three main conclusions about the failure of Israeli strategy. Most pertinent here is lesson one: Western militaries are in active denial concerning the limitations of precision weapons. This is a lesson NATO is figuring out, as evidenced by their decision to use smaller bombs to reduce the number of civilian casualties.

But Obama and the Israelis aren't alone in realizing an over-reliance on air power is counterproductive: just last week the British commander in Helmand province not-so-politely asked the U.S. Special Forces to leave the area, as their reckless house raids and constant air strikes were turning the population against them. This shouldn't be new news to anyone, as I said above, who follows Afghanistan with an ounce of seriousness.

I'd also point out that some (or many) proponents of the Iraq War had opinions very much like Obama's in the buildup to the Iraq War. This was actually one reason I supported the war initially—our policy of no-fly zones, embargoes and occasional raids was killing Iraqis without doing anything to dislodge Saddam Hussein or win support in the broader Middle East.

So what's it say about war hawks—the increasingly shrill-sounding Mitt Romney, for example—when direct criticisms of U.S. strategy in our war zones are deflected as "smears of the troops?"

NEXT: The Saudis are getting mad

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  1. This shouldn’t be surprising. The “Disagreement with any aspect of this war means you hate the troops and want them all dead” card has been in steady play for the past 4 years.

  2. Dave Wiegel,

    I didn’t know that you originally supported the war. I did too; but heck, we were young and naive then! Also, that was before I discovered the seductive charms of libertarianism. Just out of interest, have you written a mea culpa piece like all the other regretful ex-hawks? I’d just be interested in hearing your account of it all, that’s all.

  3. I’ve come to the conclusion that the hawks who respond to criticism of military tactics and strategies by wailing about the troops aren’t just being dishonest and demogogic.

    I don’t think people like Sean Hannity actually have the intellectual firepower to engage in a conversation about a topic as complicated as airpower, personnel levels, and civilian casualties.

    BTW, I’ve been thinking the same thing – we are over-relying on air power in Afghanistan because the Iraq War has once again prevented us from putting enough troops in the country to do the job. Now we can add these civilian casualties to bin Laden’s little jaunt from Tora Bora to the cost of that decision about the deployment of the military’s human resources.

  4. I don’t think people like Sean Hannity actually have the intellectual firepower to engage in a conversation about a topic as complicated as airpower, personnel levels, and civilian casualties.

    That wouldn’t surprise me in the least about Sean “AIDS from toilet seats” Hannity.

  5. Cesar,

    That wouldn’t surprise me in the least about Sean “AIDS from toilet seats” Hannity.

    Then you obviously have never seen how Hannity has sex with toilets. Although, afterward, when he’s crying and vomiting into the bowl while slamming his empty ballsack with the seat might the the actual vector of infection.

    Maybe you should think first before you post next time.

  6. Joe, every time you make two or more unsupportable leaps of causality to blame something on the Iraq War, God kills a kitten.

  7. I don’t read the sort of blogs that were making those comments, most I have read criticized the way it was suggested that aerial bombing was ALL that was going on there. That is clearly not true. Perhaps there is a greater reliance on air support than you might like, but let us not slip into hyperbole.
    I don’t really see how the beginning of that statement really backs it up anyway. I would have been happier if he would have gone with the “lets work with the local farmers instead of against them” angle.

  8. Perhaps there is a greater reliance on air support than you might like, but let us not slip into hyperbole.

    I would argue that every raid that results in the loss of a non-combatants life yields a enormous recruitment benefit for AQ. A hell of a lot better than any video.

    Counter insurgency in incredibly shitty work. You have to make sure your actions don’t enrage the populace and worsen your situation so you have to sit on your hands and not knock in every door and not call in a strike on a compound where there are innocents to get the big bad.

    Sometimes you gotta let the big bad get away. But that runs counter to almost all of the training our military receives about closing with and destroying the enemy.

    Boots are a hell of a lot better at counter insurgeny than bombs. And, yes, we have fewer boots in Afghanistan because they are in Iraq instead. That leap of causality is pretty firmly supported.

  9. I would argue that every raid that results in the loss of a non-combatants life yields a enormous recruitment benefit for AQ. A hell of a lot better than any video.

    Agreed. Also, as the occupying power, the locals transfer some of the blame for the AQ atrocities to you. This is fundamental problem in combatting this type of war – you are held responsible for everything that goes wrong and hurts the locals.

  10. What scares me more is that Obama wants to escalate the drug war in Afghanistan. EVERY escalation in drug war policy since Richard Nixon declared the modern drug war has been met with superior escalation from the intoxicant drug black market distribution chain. Turning the Afghan. operation into a full fledged drug war will be a disaster that will come back to haunt America in the form of more addiction, crime and terrorism.
    See my August 14, 2007 post:

    Obama’s war on terror and or drugs or terror and drugs and terror and drugs or terror and drugs
    http://independentsofamerica.blogspot.com/2007/08/obamas-war-on-terror-and-or-drugs-or.html

    As well as my posts:
    U.S. national security “creating chaos and instability”
    http://independentsofamerica.blogspot.com/2007/08/us-national-security-creating-chaos-and.html

    U.S. drug war prisons: “A Radicalizing Cauldron”
    http://independentsofamerica.blogspot.com/2007/08/us-drug-war-prisons-radicalizing.html

    According to the newly released New York City Police Department report, “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat” (PDF) by Mitchell D. Silber and Arvin Bhatt Senior Intelligence Analysts NYPD Intelligence Division, prisons are “A Radicalizing Cauldron”.

    “Prisons can play a critical role in both triggering and reinforcing the radicalization process. The prison’s isolated environment, ability to create a “captive audience” atmosphere, its absence of day-to-day distractions, and its large population of disaffected young men, makes it an excellent breeding ground for radicalization.”

    So one wonders why America pursues a drug war policy that gives our nation a world record prison population.

  11. End the drug war and the Taliban and alQaida would dry up and blow away in the wind without their main source of funding.

  12. Obama is a drug warrior idiot.

    Many of the problems we face in the war on terror are in fact the outcome of hundreds of billions of dollars sloshing around the world wide drug black market. Regulate the drug market and we cut the gangsters and terrorists out of that source of cash.

    Obama is a drug warrior who will continue to support America’s enemies by his continued support for the drug war.

    I would like nothing more than to see a new president swearing in with the statement that since the White House as built mostly by Black slaves that its about time that a Black American occupy the Oval Office. Obama is not that candidate as long as he supports the violent crime fostering terrorist funding drug war prohibition policy.

  13. I don’t think people like Sean Hannity actually have the intellectual firepower to engage in a conversation about a topic as complicated as airpower, personnel levels, and civilian casualties.

    Sean Hannity doesn’t have the intellectual firepower to engage in a conversation about Tic Tac Toe.

  14. “Obama is a drug warrior idiot.”

    The Audacity of a Dope.

  15. Well the, Josh, it’s a good thing I don’t make unsupportable leaps to blame things on the Iraq War.

  16. Western militaries are in active denial concerning the limitations of precision weapons. This is a lesson NATO is figuring out, as evidenced by their decision to use smaller bombs to reduce the number of civilian casualties.

    This statement is ass backwards. It is precisely because of precision weapons that the US and NATO have decided to use smaller bombs (for example, “the small diameter bomb”).

    The reason to drop a bomb on a target is to destroy a target that is valuable to your adversary, and specifically not destroy anything else. If your target is a mail-box then an ideal “bomb” would be an M80. If you’re relatively certain you can hit a mailbox with an M80 from 40 miles away, then that is exactly the weapon you would choose. What you want is a WMD, a “weapon of minimum destruction”. Military strategists and tacticians know this and practice it.

  17. “I would argue that every raid that results in the loss of a non-combatants life yields a enormous recruitment benefit for AQ. A hell of a lot better than any video.”

    I agree that the death of innocents at the hands of Americans is a propaganda windfall for AQ.

    There is one thing that puzzles me about this line of thinking though. Why isn’t the wanton and intentional targeting of innocents by AQ (and others) driving Iraqis onto the side of the good guys, the Americans? For example, this [http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/08/15/iraq/main3168487.shtml] is just one amng many murderous bombings by the bad guys.

    Apparently, in Al Anbar, the locals have begun to side with the good guys in a big way, but not in Baghdad, at least not so far.

  18. These are counter insurgency wars, so perhaps we should consider them from that point of view instead of going on about the size of the bombs we are dropping.

    Which suggests that we should be thinking about Special Forces, paramilitary police and local militas, rather than the Air Force.

  19. wayne,

    Maybe because those “good guys” keep making the streets run with blood, too?

  20. ad,

    Sorry, our Special Forces are tied up in operation “Pretend We Weren’t Wrong.”

    We’re just going to have lose in Afghanistan, and kill lots of innocent people in the process.

    Sorry.

  21. This is just more proof that Obama is not ready for prime time. He is apparently unaware that most of the fighting in Afghanistan is occurring on the ground and that the enemy has been rather brazen in claiming civilian casualties where there are none and in exaggerating the numbers of casualties where they do occur. That civilian casualties are a natural consequence of an enemy that ignores the rules of war by blending in with (and hiding behind)the terrorized local population seems not to register with Obama. That the enemy kills civilians purposely and indiscriminately as a tactic is apparently not worthy of mention. His comments have served no purpose that serves this country or that serves free people anywhere in that they distort the facts and are reprehensible in their moral equivalency. Our problem is less that we will kill civilians fighting in a war than it is that so many of the people on “our” side will mindlessly parrot whatever the current talking points of our enemy happen to be. The Taliban hate the air attacks and have mounted a propaganda campaign against them because they are effective. Obama is not informed enough or sophisticated enough to realize that fact.

    We are fighting an enemy that could not be more barbaric in its acts and its beliefs. They could not be more diametrically opposed to the libertarian ideals that are espoused on sites like this one. The chortling and snarking in some of the comments here is unseemly and unworthy of anyone who values freedom. If pith and snark would bring the Taliban to their knees then I suppose these comments would be helpful (if directed against the other side). As it is, it will take bullets and bombs just as it has in most of the other conflicts with totalitarianism throughout history.

    Oh, and just WTF is “air-raiding”?

  22. That wouldn’t surprise me in the least about Sean “AIDS from toilet seats” Hannity.

    The man is living proof that no one ever went broke…

  23. Maybe because those “good guys” keep making the streets run with blood, too?

    Joe, you are too easy. It’s like shooting ducks on the pond. “American” and “good guy” in the same sentence are just more than you can bear. Americans are the good guys in Iraq, but I have come to expect you to take the opposite position.

    Your moral equivalence of AQ’s destruction of a village, and intentional murder of more than 400 innocent civilians in northern Iraq using multiple truck bombs, with US military actions is not only factually wrong, but repugnant. Shame!

  24. wayne,

    All you’re doing is drawing attention to your inability to raise a counter-argument.

    You asked who Iraqis aren’t siding with Americans. I answered you – because the damage we’ve done makes us poor candidates for their affections.

    And your answer is to proclaim that we ARE TOO the good guys. Because we’re the Americans and, er, um, YOU HATE THE TROOPS.

    The truth hurts, wayne. The Iraqis don’t love us, no matter how good our intentions were. How many more people do want to see dead so you won’t have to acknowledge this truth? Do you think it will stop being true if you insult me a little more?

    The shame here, you massive coward, is in your chichen-hearted refusal to face hard facts. No one is arguing that the actions of American soldiers are the moral equivalent of the actions of al Qaeda. You know it, and you just can’t bring yourself to acknowledge the point I actually made.

  25. Voluable,

    Neither the badness of the Taliban, nor the fact the ground troops do carry out actions in Afghanistan, are refutations of Obama’s statement that we are leaning more heavily on air power to make up for inadquate troop numbers.

    You point out that the Taliban are interwoven with the civilian population, which is true. Which makes the use of air power even more problematic.

    Obama is making a point about the efficacy of our tactics. Banging on about the moral superiority of our troops isn’t an answer to his observation; it’s a dodge.

  26. Barack Obama made an argument about the efficacy of our tactics.

    Not a single one of his critics has managed to put together a counter-argument.

    All I see is people whining that his argument hurts their feelings. And hey, if you pretend his statement about our tactics being counter-productive was a statement comparing our morality with that of al Qaeda, boy can you make him look bad!

    Five years of this bullshit hasbrought us to brink of defeat in two theaters. Grow the hell up, wayne and voluble. Your ego-stroking declarations are a luxury we can’t afford anymore.

  27. Joe, so Obama was making an argument on the efficacy of our tactics, was he?

    Well, if he thinks that our tactics consist of air raiding villages and killing civilians he is, shall I say it charitably, misinformed.

  28. Weigel’s missing the point here entirely.

    The problem with Obama’s statement is the word “just.” When you say we’re “just air raiding villages and killing civilians” then you are smearing our troops as lazy, incompetent, and murderous — it’s offensive and or course factually incorrect, as troops carry out all kinds of ground operations.

    This is not the same as saying “hey, maybe some of our air raids could be more accurate.”

    Not ready for prime-time.

  29. joe,

    Brink of defeat?? Bwaahahahaha! That’s the stupidest thing ever written here. We haven’t lost a single platoon-level engagement in years in either theater. We have 350,000 ISF carrying out joint operations. The only place the war is being “lost” is in public opinion polls and between the ears of vacuous defeatists like yourself.

    Grow up, indeed.

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