Thursday, June 5, 2014

Unknown unknowns

Here is a question I would like to pose to President Obama and his advisors on national security, especially Susan Rice, Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel.  What's next?

Critics and supporters are alike are flooding the Internet with their various assessments of Obama's release of Bergdahl, his West Point speech, and his seeming lack of action on Syria and Ukraine.  I'm just as guilty, having given into the visceral reaction of the moment that the US has not been able to follow through on any of it's stated foreign policy goals by the President.

But now I take a step back and want to ask, what does Mr. Obama and his advisors think they are preparing the US to do in the future?  Apparently it is to use negotiations instead of military force.  Negotiations are the preferred method of just about everyone.  They don't risk lives and save the expenditure of huge amounts of money waging military operations.

There is one flaw though to relying strictly on negotiations.  If you are unable to come to terms and have to walk away, then you must be willing to leave matters as they are.  If the person you are negotiating with knows there are no consequences to walking away, except perhaps economic sanctions, it becomes less imperative to work out a solution.  Ultimately there may be no incentive to even come to the negotiating table.

The shift to negotiations from direct action is coming for a President that did not hesitate to have Anwar al-Awlawki (an American citizen) killed in Yemen.  Nor did Mr. Obama hesitate to have Osama bin Laden killed rather than face trial (I'm sure Mr. Obama ordered the SEAL team only to capture Osama bin Laden but al-Awlawki's assassination months prior makes me skeptical).

So congratulation Mr. Obama, your switch in tactics has everyone confused.  Are you the no-nonsense, kill 'em first ask questions later leader or one who is too timid to follow-up on his threats?  Can this President only smite those that can't retaliate?

But back to my original question, what does this shift mean for the future?  Negotiations can only happen when a) the parties concerned are willing to negotiation and b) you know who those parties are.  Relying on negotiations means we are talking with the right people in the first place.

Now follow that thought further.  How do you know if you are talking to the right people?

Let's say we have a new terrorist group, "Derechos Elementales" (Elemental Rights).  They are an unknown group of environmentalists in Venezuela who believe the US is trying to overthrow their government to exploit their oil.  In retaliation for the assassination of Hugo Chaves (who they believe was poisoned by the CIA), "Derechos Elementales" decide to blow-up the US embassy in Caracas.  They pick that embassy because it is close, the US military presence abroad is now minuscule, and the US has withdrawn all UAVs from the South American continent.  Their plan is low risk in execution with the probability of high return if they are successful.  They use a Cessna 182 loaded with ANFO (ammonium nitrate fuel oil) and fly it into the embassy.  Caught completely off guard for such an attack, hundreds perish as a result of the explosion.

The error of Obama and his advisors is their way of thinking does not allow for any planning to prevent such an attack.  The above scenario used bits of actual things combined with a few extreme but realistic possibilities.  Obama and his cronies are smug in their belief that they know all of the threats and are able to effectively deal with them through negotiations.  Therefore, they feel validated in their cost-cutting measures to reduce the military.

The mistake is the world is not a rational place that follows simple models that the Obama administration seem to be enamored with.  Stopping Putin from continuing further into Ukraine does not mean that was ever his end-game.  Condemning Asad does not mean that he would not be re-elected nor that he may actually have more supporters than critics.

Anyone who has experience in working on labor negotiations has seen how when what is considered a generous offer is made, the opposing side may see it as an insult.  Obama and his courtiers smugly think the release of Sgt Bergdahl and the release of the GITMO prisoners have placed the US in a better position on the international front.  But then you merely have to read the NY Times to see how the US is now viewed by others;

TEHRAN — Speaking from a stage decorated with a banner proclaiming “America cannot do a damn thing,” Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday asserted that the Obama administration had taken the option of military intervention to resolve conflicts off the table.

“They realized that military attacks are as dangerous or even more dangerous for the assaulting country as they are for the country attacked,” the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an address to the country’s political and military establishment.

If that's what Tehran thinks, what conclusions might others draw from the current President's policies?

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