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Time for a Dose of Reality

9:35 AM, Jun 19, 2014 • By KEVIN NICHOLSON
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I, along with many veterans, believe that a serious attempt should have been made to recover Bergdahl, but not at any price. The exchange of five Taliban commanders for Bergdahl should have never even been an option, regardless of the circumstances of his disappearance. Those who say otherwise should be asked the question of whether President Franklin Roosevelt would have exchanged five of Hitler’s divisional commanders for an AWOL private in 1944. Think that’s an extreme analogy? Ask the families of U.S. troops killed by Taliban thugs, or the families of thousands of Shiites massacred at the order of Mohammad Fazl.

There was a wide set of options available to President Obama and his staff when it came to the method employed to recover Bergdahl. In fact, all indicators point toward the likelihood that the exchange of Bergdahl was a convenient excuse to release the five detainees as a precursor to further “peace” talks with the Taliban (to meet a pre-condition imposed by the Taliban). Bergdahl was likely a convenient excuse to achieve an incredibly naïve and perverse goal. This is hardly an unrealistic view of the scenario.  The decision on the part of the White House and the New York Times to malign the members of Bergdahl’s unit who’ve had the temerity to speak up regarding his likely desertion, should just make Americans all the more suspicious of what it is that the administration and its allies are trying to do. 

And though it’s not politically correct to say so, there’s maybe no greater sign of detachment from reality than assuming that one can engage in peace talks with a group of men known by their penchant for cutting off the heads, noses, and ears of those with whom they have disagreements. After seven months of leading a team designed to fight the enormous IED threat in Maiwand, Afghanistan, I speak from personal experience when I say that one cannot engage in peace talks with a group of fanatical murderers. If you do, they will use the opportunity to try and kill you and your allies at some point in the future.

Iraq: Heartbreaking but Predictable

Afghanistan, President Obama always assured us, was a worthwhile war from which he wanted no distractions.  His lack of leadership on Afghanistan since his first election, his use of politicized and publicized drawdowns, and his decision to summarily release five top-level Taliban commanders, should all call that claim into question. 

And if that’s how he treats what he deemed a worthwhile effort in Afghanistan, his treatment of a war he disdained in Iraq should come as no surprise.  For all intents and purposes, President Obama has thrown his hands in the air from the beginning of his administration and declared Iraq to be a conflict for which he was not responsible, and in which he had no interest in securing a lasting peace. 

But in the real world, he is responsible for Iraq. He was responsible from the moment he took office. While he may not have created the problems he assumed, he assumed them nonetheless.  That’s the price of leadership, and if one doesn’t like it, they should not run for president.

Many public and private sector leaders inherit serious problems from their predecessors; few have had such complicit support from professional onlookers (the media, in this case) as they have willfully ignored their obligation to successfully solve those problems.

In 2011, as President Obama geared up for his last campaign, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that allowed U.S. troops to operate within Iraq was drawing to a close. For an extended period, the Obama administration had been “working” on establishing a new agreement with Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki. But in Al Maliki, the president had the perfect foil: someone who was a Bush ally, a problematic figure to be sure, and a reason to engineer a crisis over the agreement and walk away. And thus, the vacuum of power was created that has now allowed ISIS to march through the streets where American blood was once shed to secure a new hope for a people’s future.

During much of the time that U.S. troops were on the ground there, Iraqis were briefly lifted from the oppression they had previously felt under the rule of Saddam Hussein; I saw it myself as I led Marines in Al Anbar province.  Like all wars, Iraq was imperfect and unclean. Mistakes cost Americans and Iraqis their lives; victories gave both new opportunities.

But none of these mistakes compare to President Obama’s. Now we are faced with the prospective birth of a new terrorist state, and President Obama has assured everyone that the U.S. will not be sending ground troops back to Iraq (beyond those he has already been forced to send to secure the American embassy).  Americans are no doubt relieved to hear this, but that’s partly due to the fact that their president has told them that the conflict in Iraq was nothing more than a mistake for the past six years.

Meanwhile, ISIS has taken advantage of President Obama’s desire to avoid responsibility in order to kill its enemies in pursuit of ground, power, wealth and influence.  All of these are “nineteenth and twentieth century” tactics that Obama and his allies no doubt find antiquated, off-putting, and unworthy of the international community’s respect. 

I’ve seen these tactics employed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the twenty-first century, and the results are gruesome.  The impractical elitists who ignored the existential danger of similar threats in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and failed to muster an adequate response then, ended up getting millions of people killed. Statements of disapproval are not enough to keep Americans or our allies safe from the threat of determined killers.

Re-establishing Our Tether to Reality

These are the results of the mistakes and scandals that stem from a leader’s fundamental detachment from reality. The Obama administration has made many mistakes, but it’s more difficult for the president and his allies to fudge the result of military-related errors.  They hit home in an obvious manner that’s difficult to hide.

During what often seems like another lifetime, at the age of 21, I served as the national president of the College Democrats of America. I worked at the Democratic National Committee, served on the DNC’s executive committee, and spoke at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. I spent one year in that role, and left Washington largely disgusted with what I saw. 

In the ensuing years after my time leading the College Dems, I began a journey that took me back home to the heartland, off to a cattle ranch in the mountains of Wyoming, across the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, and through the halls of two Ivy League schools. Along the way, I got married, had three children, kept my drive, dropped my illusions, and came to admit, then embrace, the fact that I am a conservative. 

Reality, dished out through raw experience, got the better of me, and I’m thankful for that. I want no part of an elite class of pretenders, who are willing to consistently ignore reality whenever it collides with their ideology.  Whatever President Obama, Susan Rice, Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, and – yes – Hillary Clinton may tell themselves, willful ignorance doesn’t solve problems or help people.  Only clear-eyed assessments of problems combined with hard-earned experience, iron will and hard work can do that.

Leaders and commentators may have made good or bad decisions and arguments in the days and months following September 11, 2001. They may have been right or wrong in their assessments of long-term threats. 

But I’m willing to bet that in the days following that attack, when everyone’s tether to reality was pretty strong, that none of our nation’s leaders would have considered trading five top-level Taliban commanders for an AWOL private.  That’s a decent benchmark to remember when it comes to matters of such importance.  Such reality-based decision-making would also have helped to avoid the current situation in Iraq, and would have led to addressing problems at the VA years earlier.

Going forward, my hope is that conservatives will give many more former Democrats like me a good reason to join them in embracing reality en route to providing solutions capable of actually solving problems.  I don’t have much hope for converting the would-be aristocracy that sits atop the left’s establishment, but I do believe that a significant chunk of what the Democratic leadership assumes to be their future voting base is tired of their failures, and open to a new way of doing things. They realize that reality, as it always does, is catching up to us all. 

Conservatives have only one arrow in our quiver that is fully capable of bringing down the hot air balloon that keeps the would-be aristocracy of the left afloat: reality. Luckily, it’s a powerful arrow. We just need to learn how to aim it better.

Kevin Nicholson, a management consultant living in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan. After leaving the Marine Corps, he completed a joint graduate program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.

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