The Magazine

No Defense

Jul 14, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 41 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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After U.S. goalie Tim Howard had a record-setting 16 saves in the American team’s 2-1 World Cup knockout loss to Belgium, a wag edited Chuck Hagel’s Wikipedia entry to show Tim Howard as the true U.S. secretary of defense. The meme took off on the Internet, and by Wednesday afternoon Hagel was placing a phone call to Howard to get in on the joke. Hagel, as the Pentagon explained in a statement, called “to thank him for defending the United States of America at the World Cup.” Hagel also told Howard “that with some training, he could someday become the real secretary of defense.”

Hagel, Howard

Hagel, Howard

Newscom

Actually, given the duties and mission of the real secretary of defense in the Obama administration, Tim Howard could take over the SecDef’s office in the Pentagon’s E-Ring tomorrow, and who would notice?

Consider: As Iraq collapses, “a ranking Pentagon official with knowledge of the situation” told the Daily Caller last week that “the Pentagon is split and the administration is paralyzed.” In particular, “people are putting targeting packets through unnecessary bureaucracy to slow events to the point that—they hope—the situation is overcome by events.” Indeed, targeting packets “are being sent to the White House because the lawyers there are notorious for wasting time and looking for an excuse to say ‘No.’ ”

So while the Obama administration dithers, a nation that was liberated and then stabilized thanks to the extraordinary efforts of American servicemen is being lost to terrorists and enemies of the United States.

Consider: In Afghanistan, where the war effort was supported by both parties and where the bulk of U.S. troops were committed by the current president, things are beginning to fall apart. Some of the toughest fighting of the war, during President Obama’s first term, took place in Sangin district in Helmand Province. American Marines succeeded in pacifying the district. It has now been abandoned at the order of the president, and may well fall back into the enemies’ hands.

As the Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe noted last week, “Well, that didn’t take long.” Lamothe’s report continued,

The last U.S. Marines pulled out of Afghanistan’s notoriously violent Sangin district last month, turning the security mission over to Afghan forces as part of the ongoing transition that requires all U.S. combat troops to be out of the country by year’s end. The question hanging over the Americans and the Afghans at the time: Would the Taliban or other insurgent groups in Sangin launch an assault to test the Afghan government, and when?

Now we know. The Taliban has waged a vicious onslaught in the district for four days, killing dozens of people while targeting military checkpoints, government buildings and other strategic locations.

The Post suggested that “the violence may serve as an eye-opener for U.S. and Afghan officials, who have continued to proceed with the military drawdown in Afghanistan as the security crisis in Iraq dominates the news.” But President Obama seems resolutely uninterested in real-world eye-openers. He seems fully committed to the frittering away of all that American forces under his command accomplished.

The Post account continued, “The Taliban offensive also comes as three Marines were killed Monday in Helmand. They are Staff Sgt. David H. Stewart, 34; Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Garabrant, 19; and Lance Cpl. Adam F. Wolff, 25, Pentagon officials said. All three Marines were with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, of Camp Lejeune, N.C., and died while patrolling near Camp Leatherneck, the Marine Corps’ major base in Afghanistan, Commandant Gen. James Amos said Tuesday.”

Gen. Amos’s reaction? “It took the wind out of us. It was a rude awakening.”

Really? Has the Pentagon become so supine in relation to the White House that it now has to feign surprise that when we retreat, our enemies attack?

And consider, finally: There is one thing President Obama’s Pentagon is resolute about: firing military officers who’ve served the nation. As Brendan McGarry of Military.com reported last week,

A U.S. Army captain with more than a dozen years in the service, including multiple tours of duty in combat zones, assumed his job was safe. .  .  . What’s more, he had just received orders to move to a new duty station. So he and his wife, who’s newly pregnant with their first child, signed a lease and put a deposit on a home at the family’s next location. A few days later, he was called into his post’s commanding general’s office and informed that, effective almost immediately, he would no longer be in the military.

This isn’t an isolated case. As McGarry goes on to explain, this week the Army began notifying about 1,100 captains and about 500 majors that their active-duty careers are over. The Army, having already shrunk under President Obama from 570,000 soldiers to fewer than 520,000, “is on pace to shrink to 490,000 soldiers by next year.” The Pentagon’s proposed budget for fiscal 2015 calls for further cuts to fewer than 450,000 by 2017. And “if sequestration remains in effect, the number may fall to as low as 420,000 soldiers—tens of thousands less than what the Army’s top officer, Gen. Raymond Odierno, said is needed to adequately respond to conflicts around the world.”

But in Obama’s America, who needs an Army large enough “to adequately respond to conflicts around the world”? And in Obama’s America, does the country feel an obligation to these men anyway? In Obama’s America, all compassion is owed to illegal immigrants and every effort is to be made for Bowe Bergdahl. But for the men and women in the military, and for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, including those who fought side by side with us .  .  . nothing. Not even a phone call from “the real secretary of defense,” Chuck Hagel.

If only we had a real secretary of defense. If only we had a real president.

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