The Magazine

The Obama Doctrine

Feb 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 21 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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Now, this doctrine presents some tiny difficulties. The first is that not every American goal can be achieved this way. Obama is in the proverbial position of the guy who has a hammer and looking around sees everything as a nail. Allies seeking our protection from neighbors like Iran or China will not be reassured by this combination of defense cuts and one-off raids. Second, the Obama approach threatens to eliminate intelligence sources because they are killed rather than captured in such raids (or by drones, which are not good at capture and interrogation). Third, the Obama approach requires dangerous revelations of exactly what is being done—or else the president gets no credit, looks wimpy, and might not be reelected. Former SEAL Babin, who holds a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and a Purple Heart, explained:

Of paramount importance—especially given the risk and sensitivity of the missions and the small units involved—is what the military calls “operational security,” or maintaining secrecy. If the enemy learns details and can anticipate the manner and timing of an attack, the likelihood of success is significantly reduced and the risk to our forces is significantly increased. This is why much of what our special-operators do is highly classified, and why military personnel cannot legally divulge it to the public. Yet virtually every detail of the bin Laden raid has appeared in news outlets across the globe—from the name of the highly classified unit to how the U.S. gathered intelligence, how many raiders were involved, how they entered the grounds, what aircraft they used, and how they moved through the compound. Such details were highly contained within the military and not shared even through classified channels. Yet now they are available to anyone with the click of a mouse. It’s difficult for military leaders to enforce strict standards of operational security on their personnel while the most senior political leadership is flooding the airwaves with secrets.  .  .  . Such disclosures are catastrophic to U.S. intelligence networks, which often take years to develop. Recklessness not only puts lives at risk but could set U.S. intelligence-collection efforts back decades.

Babin has it mostly but not entirely right, for he is looking only at the “operational security” of the warriors. Operational security in the White House has been maintained beautifully in advance of each operation: never a leak until the time has come to get some political reward. Babin has his eye on the wrong operation, the one being done by SEALs rather than the one being done by Obama, Biden, Carney, Axelrod, & Co.

Babin may be a better warrior than he is political analyst because he ends his article by asking this question:

Do the president and his top political advisers understand what’s at stake for the special-operations forces who carry out these dangerous operations, or the long-term strategic consequences of divulging information about our most highly classified military assets and intelligence capabilities? It is infuriating to see political gain put above the safety and security of our brave warriors and our long-term strategic goals. Loose lips sink ships.

Infuriating to be sure, for the military, but divulging the secrets is at the very heart of the Obama Doctrine. Secret operations gain the president no credit. Revelation of the completed operations is the whole point, demonstrating Obama’s courage and his commitment to yesterday’s deeds. The trouble with wars like Iraq and Afghanistan is that they commit you to doing risky things tomorrow, when you may wish to give a speech about health care or jobs. Thus the beauty of the Obama Doctrine. “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill,” might go the paraphrase of John Kennedy, “that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, a day at a time, so long as what is required of us will be over by tomorrow morning, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Not inspiring, you say? Obviously you’re one of the antediluvian defense types who wants a whole army and navy. That’s passé now. The new approach is raid, run, and announce.

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