The White House spin machine went into immediate high gear, through "US officials", to broadcast many of the particulars of the operation which netted the safe release of Jessica Buchanan and Poul Thisted, as well as the news that nine hostage-takers were killed. I can readily agree to the publicizing of these two main elements of the story (particularly the latter, pour décourager les autres), but we find again an administration that uses the news of the success of the operation in a way beneficial politically, at the risk of disclosure of information likely to be inimical to the actual operators, now and future, in operations such as this. The sources of the story are all White House political spokesmen, and yet again the Pentagon, with a professional structure to properly handle the information, is frozen out.
One of the principle reasons for classifying information or intelligence is to protect the source, both from retaliation and to protect the methods and technology for future operations. The immediate actions in the target area were different from the earlier celebrated take-down of bin Laden because we had to ensure the rescue of hostages, and in this we are clearly refining the lessons learned from earlier ops such as the attempts to rescue Scottish aid worker Linda Norgrove (by SEALs and Rangers) and New York Times journalist Stephen Farrell (by British Paras). But the public has a ‘right to know’ only so much, up to the point where it can jeopardize people and our security, and no further.
The Washington Times has a piece in the Commentary section, "Obama's deadly new PR firm", written by J D Gordon, a retired US Navy Public Affairs Officer (a restricted duty public relations professional) with experience in properly disseminating information of this sort, who laments the increasing public exposure of our operators.
The military still avoids discussion of the unit and its highly classified missions. On Wednesday, the Pentagon merely referred to “U.S. special operations forces” in its just-the-facts statement from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on the rescue.
The one and only reason why there has been so much recent publicity on Seal Team 6 rests with the commander in chief.
Casting aside decades of careful leadership to keep these stealth warriors out of the public eye, away from would-be revenge-seekers and assorted far-left protesters, Mr. Obama has discussed their exploits to such an extent that their mystique is largely diminished – and their identities closer to being disclosed.These military special units, such as the SEALs, Rangers, Special Forces and the like, as well as other members of the clandestine community, are not the same as the National Football League. A little public acknowledgment of these highly skilled and dedicated professionals is certainly warranted, and they can be justifiably proud of just being able to make it into that very select group. But a true professional in this field shies away from publicity, and the ones with whom I have been most impressed, American and foreign, are those with a modest confidence in their experience and abilities. The true operators usually keep quiet, and I am immediately suspect of someone who broadcasts his exploits or even membership as a member of the community, beyond anything that is absolutely necessary. It is simply unprofessional, and when they pledge to protect the secrets and capabilities of our national security, they take that very seriously. (This extends to one of my pet peeves – news pundits introduced as retired CIA clandestine or covert operatives. People in that position must be concerned not only with their own safety but also with that of anyone with whom they had come in contact while they were ‘down range’. Years later, those contacts can still be put in serious jeopardy. Besides, I expect that it still holds true that over 95% of the CIA is involved in analytical work – ‘newspaper clippings’ as Bill Buckley put it – which is good to keep in mind if someone lets drop that they worked for ‘the Agency’. And that would include Valerie Plame. To these people, I simply ask them to kindly shut up -- that is part of what they signed on to.)
Gordon objects to the publicity strap-hanging by the Obama administration on two principal grounds, the first being the unwanted attention that could be injurious to themselves and their families. “That presents force-protection concerns in our open society, where the Sept. 11 hijackers lived freely and the ‘Occupy’ protesters have run amok.”
The second problem is that heaping such praise on a select few in uniform can be deceiving. Instead of Americans focusing on how Mr. Obama is weakening the military with a projected $1 trillion in defense cuts over the next decade, the elimination of 100,000 ground troops, cuts in personnel incentives such as tuition assistance for college, and raised retiree health care costs, many might mistakenly conclude that he actually is a strong, pro-military leader. Thus, voters might be tempted to give him a second term, while in reality, he is slashing defense budgets, as Mr. Carter did.This rush to demobilize is endemic to American political history, and is always at a cost that must be borne by the needless sacrifice of the next generation of fighting men in order to buy time to get our military back into proper form when war ‘comes round again’, as it always does. After the Civil War, which saw the largest standing army of its time, our demobilization resulted in a later feckless pursuit of Mexican armed forces that were raiding across the border into Texas and New Mexico, and then, when we entered World War I, we had the military good fortune to rely on our British and French allies while we eventually mounted an effective army in France that finally ended the war, with Germany facing onslaughts of some two million American soldiers and Marines, but also seeing plans to field as many as two million more. The beginning of World War II saw our standing army smaller than that of Romania, and the Marines and Navy fought a very close-run war in the Pacific while we bought time to mount an attack into Festung Europa, and the war to its conclusions in Japan and Germany. Within only a few years, we suffered humiliating losses against the North Koreans until we could mount a counter-attack at Inchon, then fought to a standstill against the Chinese.
The Cold War gave us some measure of preparedness for Viet Nam, but only after we overcame a very serious attempt in the 1950s to reduce our military power to little more than the CIA and the Strategic Air Command. We won the war militarily in Viet Nam, only to lose the political will to see it through, particularly after the initial strategic reasons for entering it vanished (containment of a rising and belligerent China cut short by the disastrous Great Leap Forward; the threat of a potentially communist Indonesia, ally of China, ended by the overthrow of Sukarno). The 1970s saw a hollow army, and the only real military operation of the time was the Desert One debacle in Iran, which epitomized our ‘Paper Tiger’ status. Ronald Reagan was able to rebuild our strength in the 1980s and called the bluff of a Soviet economy which could not keep up, beating them at their own game. The collapse of the Soviet Empire permitted a quick shift of forces from Europe to Saudi Arabia to fight the First Gulf War, but then faced the rapid reduction in force (RIF) under Clinton. We were severely undermanned after the attacks of 2001, which partially explained our slim yet successful operations in Afghanistan, but we had over a year to prepare for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and still must maintain, for the time being, enough of a force to try to buy time for the Afghans again. Nevertheless, at the height of the wars in those two countries and elsewhere against Islamic Supremacists, we were still some 200,000 troops short of what we had in liberating Kuwait in 1991.
But now we are seeing another rationale to fight the next potential war on the cheap, with airpower and reliance on special operations, without considering the risks of war involving a nuclear Iran or a go-for-broke or collapsing North Korea. China is expanding rapidly, both in size and technological quality. The Obama administration failed to secure a diplomatic agreement for security cooperation with Iraq, so the goal of the ‘end of the war’ in Iraq (Obama refuses to use the words ‘win’ or ‘victory’, which we essentially achieved by the summer of 2008) saw our last forces mount up at night and make a run for the border. Obama can’t see us out of Afghanistan fast enough, but we are logistically stuck there until 2014. Nevertheless, the timetable for our withdrawal ignores the advice of the Pentagon and is entirely structured on political considerations, which places our troops and our gains in jeopardy. The Taliban have already said that they are content to wait out our departure, so that Afghanistan, and Pakistan as well in all probability, will become a greater threat in the near future.
‘Peace dividends’ are ephemeral, and we need a well-balanced military structure, not a reliance on our special operations forces to bear the brunt of potentially catastrophic conflicts, or to try to convince our enemies that we can effectively respond to their moves. This administration is already gutting the military by some $450 billion, and the sequestration debacle demands a cut of over $500 billion more.
But Obama continues to exploit the flash of SEAL Team 6 and others, and hopes that in the future we won’t see that there is nothing behind the curtain.
Update: Now we hear from Defense Secretary Panetta that combat operations in Afghanistan will cease by the end of 2013, rather than the following year. This acceleration comes on the heels of a similar surprising announcement several days ago by French President Nikolas Sarkozy. One has to wonder if one influenced the other, or more likely if the two were already coordinated. This now falls into what was originally to be the middle of our surge troops' final offensive to the east, against the Pakistan border where the Taliban have operated with some degree of impunity due to the sanctuary of Waziristan across the border. The Taliban are setting up an office for conducting talks in Qatar, which our State Department inexplicably feels is a significant sign, while they wait for us to release five of their most important prisoners from Guantánamo.
The Afghan people whom we have cultivated with assurances of protection have been blind-sided. I can see them refusing all cooperation with US forces now that they know that we are abandoning them at an accelerated pace.