Former Secretary of Defense Panetta has taken strong exception to the Obama notion that the threat of war has been receding. Quite the contrary, Panetta warns that Americans should prepare themselves for the country to be at war with the Islamic State and other terrorist groups for decades to come (emphasis added).
No one would (or should) ever accuse Leon Panetta of being self-serving, or of playing politics when it comes to our national interest or welfare, even if he has just published his memoires. Democrat Panetta is, by any standard, a great American patriot and an honorable public servant who has served his country with incredible distinction. President Obama appointed Panetta to serve as Director of the CIA where he oversaw the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden before tapping him to be Secretary of Defense in 2011. Panetta, who is now 76 years old, had served in Congress for 16 years before being asked to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget by President Bill Clinton and then as Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff. If anyone’s perspective on radical Islam or the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) should be taken very seriously, Panetta would be the perfect “go-to” guy.
Already, members of the Obama Administration are calling him disloyal, as have a few talking heads and some Administration sycophants in the press. But as Panetta replied in responding to such criticism, “you can’t put history on hold.” His point is a valid one. There are but a few truly qualified Americans who can provide meaningful perspective to an America desperate for such perspective as it faces threats on many fronts from Radical Islam. Leon Panetta has done so in his newly released memoire, “Worthy Fights.”
“I think we’re looking at kind of a 30-year war,” he says, one that will have to extend beyond Islamic State to include emerging threats in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere. Panetta blames President Obama for decisions he made over the past three years that have made that battle more difficult.
Panetta writes (as have we) that threats from other terrorist networks in Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya as well as other countries will engage U.S. military for the foreseeable future. “The fight will not end when the U.S. defeats ISIS in Iraq and Syria.”
This corresponds with statements of other US officials including James Comey, Director of the FBI who believes the al-Qaeda offshoot Khorosan Group will, in fact, strike the United States very soon.
Panetta’s use of the conflict that history describes as the 30-years’war as analogous to where America finds itself today is, we think, quite significant. The Thirty Years’ War was an awful series of wars in Central Europe between 1618–1648. It was largely a religious war between Protestants and Catholics, and one of the most destructive conflicts in European history, and one of the longest. Radical Islam is at war with Christians, Jews, Hindus Shiites and even Sunni Muslims who are not Muslim enough for them. The current conflict with Radical Islam is every bit as gruesome as the historical 30-years’ War. Beheadings, crucifixions, firing squads, rape, kidnapping, forced conversions to an extent not seen since the inquisition, and pillage are all acceptable tactics.
The Thirty Years’ War, like the war the Islamic State is waging, saw the devastation of entire regions, with famine and disease significantly decreasing the populations of the conquered territories. And just as the forces of the Islamic State steal treasure, food and property, warriors in the armies during the historical 30-years’ war were expected to fund themselves by looting or extorting tribute at great cost to the inhabitants of occupied territories.
In an interview with USA TODAY’s video newsmaker series, Panetta says Obama erred:
– by not pushing the Iraqi government harder to allow a residual U.S. force to remain when troops withdrew in 2011, a deal he says could have been negotiated with more effort. That “created a vacuum in terms of the ability of that country to better protect itself, and it’s out of that vacuum that ISIS began to breed.”
– by rejecting the advice of top aides — including Panetta and then-secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — to begin arming Syrian rebels in 2012. If the U.S. had done so, “I do think we would be in a better position to know whether or not there is some moderate element in the rebel forces that are confronting (Syrian President Bashar) Assad.”
– by warning Assad not to use chemical weapons against his own people, then failing to act when that “red line” was crossed in 2013. Before ordering airstrikes, Obama said he wanted to seek congressional authorization, which predictably didn’t happen.
The reversal cost the United States credibility then and is complicating efforts to enlist international allies now to join a coalition against the Islamic State, Panetta says. “There’s a little question mark as to whether, the United States is going to stick this out? Is the United States going to be there when we need them?”
Showing leadership in the fight against ISIS is an opportunity “to repair the damage,” he says. It’s also a chance for Obama to get a fresh start after having “lost his way.”
Somewhat telling is the extent to which Panetta’s criticism parallels that of others who have left the Obama Administration including Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton and others who have no further aspirations for public office or lucrative book deals. Gates, who was generally complimentary of Obama, especially in his pursuit of Osama bin Laden, lamented, nonetheless, that “getting anything of consequence done (within the Administration) was so damnably difficult.”
Gates, was also critical of Obama’s handling of Afghanistan, feeling that Obama made military decisions based on political considerations, a criticism shared by other former White House officials.
As we have written in a recent essay, America cannot simply declare peace when our enemies are bent on war. Budgeting for our defense as though the threat of war has been receding, as the President has opined, is dangerous. The world has rarely been a tranquil place. Only 8 percent of recorded history (268 years out of 3400 years) has been free of war (NY Times, July 6, 2003). We do not seem to be living in a time characterized by those tranquil 268 non-consecutive years. The sooner we understand that the better.
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