Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | February 27, 2009

Who Needs Spies?

Who needs Spies?


I’m surveying an interesting contrast at the moment, between the insistence of the National Football League on the protection of team signals against “spying” by opponents, and the remarkable clarity with which President Barack Obama today insisted on announcing the precise timing of our drawdown plans in Iraq to the world.

I have to confess, I was not among those who thought it was some kind of travesty for the New England Patriots to have someone videorecord the defensive signals being made from the sideline of the New York Jets.  This case from the 2007 season seemed a bit silly to me.  Seriously, how hard would it be to sneak around NFL rules – and minimize the chance of getting caught — by just putting the recorder(s) elsewhere, and ensuring there is no obvious connection between the people doing the recording and a team that’s on the field that day?



Of course opponents want to know each others’ signals in advance.  Sportswriters and blogs spent considerable time, during the investigation of the Patriots, on how much good teams’ “spying” – with or without recording technology — even does them; and in general, concluded:  Not much.  Maybe they are right.  Maybe they’re not.  But in any clash of opponents, intelligence on the other guy is as basic as human nature – and keeping your plans and intentions from him is a measure as old as human conflict itself.  Coaches whom we see holding clipboards and papers in front of their mouths, as they bark orders into their head-mikes, are simply doing what you do:  try to hide your signals from the opponent.  Any opponent who’s not trying to gather your signals and interpret them – ain’t tryin’.

It is in this context that Obama’s actions today are thrown into strong relief.  It is clear, from the nature of Obama’s speech at Camp Lejeune – and the related signals being sent by others from his administration — that he perceives America to no longer be in an “opponent” or “conflict” situation with terrorists in Iraq.  If he did, it would be a colossal mistake of the most basic kind to proclaim to those terrorists – and to Iran, and Syria, and Russia – as he did today, the following:

“Let me say this as plainly as I can.  By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.”

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, enlarged on Obama’s point to reporters (see above NYT link):

While the Bush team once envisioned a long-term peacetime presence along the lines of Germany and South Korea, Mr. Obama’s aides rejected that.

“The path we’re on here, the path is not towards any sort of Korea model,” said a senior administration official, briefing reporters under ground rules requiring that he not be identified. “The path is towards reducing, in a fairly substantial way, U.S. forces in 2010 and then down to what’s currently anticipated, down to zero, by the end of 2011.”

In professional football, the equivalent action would be holding up a sign for the opposing sideline that read:  “Now hear this.  We will remove our offense from the field at the end of the third quarter.  We will remove our defense when the game clock is at 5:00 in the fourth quarter.   In the meantime, the offensive coordinator plans to focus our attack on running off the right tackle.  Watch this space for updates.”

The irony – and that word is becoming too weak to express the sheer reality of the intellectual dissonance – is that America’s political and military leaders don’t seem to understand what Obama has done today.  It is understandable that most of them (as recounted in the NYT story) are comfortable with the drawdown itself.   We always intended to draw down; the point of the surge was to bring itself to a conclusion; a drawdown is the intended and natural outcome of stabilizing Iraq, and preparing her to be left – secure and self-defending – in the hands of her own government.

But the political declaration need not – should not – have been made in Obama’s strategically careless, wholly self-referential terms.  “Let me say this as plainly as I can.  Set your watches.  On August 31, 2010, we will stop fighting.”

Rhetoric matters.  What thousands of terrorists heard – what the leadership in Tehran, Damascus, and Moscow heard – is an announcement of exactly when we plan to see the conflict as “over.”  They heard no determination to keep Iraq in the condition we, and the Iraqis, have brought it to since 2003.  They heard no commitment of that kind, or any evidence that continued progress on Iraq’s security, integrity, and self-determination is a condition of our relinquishment of a combat posture, or our departure.  They heard, rather, an absolute emphasis on our determination to leave.

In democratic government, it is necessary to be as open as possible with the people.  But that obligation does not impose on national executives an obligation to publicly emphasize operational timetables over national objectives.  The whole point of executive leadership, and experience, and wisdom, is to produce the ability to decide when and how to draw down force, and communicate to the people the intention to do that responsibly and accountably – but signal, in that communication, not our eagerness to leave, but our determination to keep the conditions we have bought with blood and sacrifice.

Obama failed to do that today.  He has given hope to everyone who opposes us, with the drawdown speech at Camp Lejeune – and probably sent shivers down the spines of our allies and partners, particularly in South Asia.

“Gentlemen,” Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson famously said in 1929, on shutting down his agency’s cryptanalysis office, “do not read each other’s mail.”  With Obama as president, neither gentlemen nor anyone else will need to read our mail.  They will only have to read his lips.





  1. A readable typeface, at last! Well, all except the final paragraph which appears in the same Epson MX80 dot matrix font from the 1980s that has made previous posts almost unreadable. [I’m using Firefox 3 on Ubuntu — I have no idea what the blog looks like in IE7 on XP, say.]

  2. Wow, A.Reader, I’m not sure what to tell you. I’ve used the same typeface for every post (the basic post composed by myself, at any rate. Some of the quoted material has mysteriously been transformed into other typefaces during the “Publish” process).

    The typeface is called “Calibri” and is in 12-pitch (my first two posts were in 10-pitch, but that looked too small to me). I have IE7 on XP/SP2, and it looks readable to me.

    Comments from other readers?

  3. Typeface works fine on Safari. Looks like 14 point helvetica (big). Comments typeface looks like same style but smaller, maybe 9 point (small but very readable).

  4. Viewed on Firefox, the last paragraph appears formatted like the (I assume) blockquotes. There’s also a queasy look to the main text – it looks like uneven kerning and line-spacing.

    As for the main subject matter, I agree that the insistence on having a pullout to announce, now, obviously for political reasons, should be unacceptable. It suggests either an assumption of total and irreversible victory, or a lack of interest in victory – almost as though Obama really is as indifferent as he and his allies often sounded ca. 2005-6 to the circumstances under which we withdraw and to the aftereffects.

    To extend the maximum in charity to the Obama Administration, their calculation would have to be that being able to announce a pullout leading to complete withdrawal (I presume down to Embassy guards?) carries with it some tangible advantage transferable to some other context, worth the marginally greater risk to ourselves and the Iraqis, reduced flexibility, etc. I’d like to know what that advantage might be.

    I’d also like to trust that officers like Odierno and Petraeus have their own “this far, but no father” point about accepting orders that run counter to the welfare of the troops and the interests of the nation. I don’t expect them to resign over the first theoretical breach of perfect military necessity, and I would also expect them for a long time to stay and stubbornly defend what’s been gained, rather than walk away, but I worry that they’ll gradually sacrifice their credibility, currently so much greater than Obama’s, and instead become “Obama’s generals.”

    Is it too much to expect at least some smoke signals reflecting their displeasure, if any, regarding presidential conduct and directives? If none are forthcoming, or communicated indirectly, are we to assume that they’re satisfied?

    I could imagine the fighting spirt of the American military deteriorating quickly under the right wrong circumstances – a victory in Iraq unrecognized and unnecessarily put at risk, almost as perverse wish fulfillment on the part of the anti-war candidate now in office; an open-ended, half-hearted commitment in Afghanistan; concessions and premature retreat emboldening enemies and would-be competitors worldwide… I won’t even get into social issues imposed on the military…

  5. I’m using Firefox and it all looks O.K. to me.

    Baseball is much more interesting to me than football and stealing signs is an artform in that game. A couple years ago someone wrote a book recounting his experience with a baseball bench coach renowned for his ability to steal signs, learning everything he could about the process. He was never able to successfully steal even one sign.

    Anyway, as much as I dislike giving BHO any credit for anything, there still exists the possibility that he can change his mind to suit the circumstances, the pragmatic approach. This silly statement gives him a lift with the foaming mouth crowd that elected him yet he can always modify his response to new conditions. Not that I expect such a thing, it’s just a possibility.

  6. Occams razor suggests that BHO’s speech and its implications is entirely intentional.

    Consider for a moment that Obama actually believes the typical left wing rhetoric; that we are not ‘at war’ with anyone. That we have been attacked by a few disparate groups who really pose no great threat. That we brought 9/11 upon ourselves by our imperialism and that all we have to do is retreat from that posture.

    Pacifists by nature are unable to contemplate the inevitable consequence of their philosophical position; suicide or slavery.

    Only intellectual dishonesty allows them to avoid the conclusion that Pacifism does not inevitably lead to either suicide or slavery. And, that the only way to avoid that fate, requires them to rely upon the very thing which they oppose; “rough and ready men who stand ready to do violence upon their behalf”.

    At the very least, Obama is an intellectual pacifist, that is demonstrated when he asserts that dialog can succeed with such as Iran’s mullahs.

    In the office of the Presidency, where his inclinations have national repercussions the prospects for the nations future are grim indeed.

  7. I’m wondering, given Obama’s announcement that we will cease combat operations on a specified date, whether we should do the same in Afghanistan.

    The mission (limited as it was) in Afghanistan seems to have been completed some time ago. The US overthrew the Taliban regime and routed al Qaeda from its nest. Bin Laden and his confederates appear to be in Pakistan. A new government has assumed the power of the state–however fleeting.

    It is unlikely any political and civilizational reform along the lines of Iraq can occur. Afghanistan is not a territory we are likely to control, and I don’t believe there is any rationale (or political will) to occupy it militarily.

    There’s probably a need for some military presence–support, training, intelligence, counter-terrorism, but really, wasn’t the original objective satisfied some time ago?

  8. Anyone who thinks that because President 0bama said, “Let me say this as plainly as I can. By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.”, this will actually happen hasn’t been paying attention. The truth isn’t in him.

  9. Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

    Making Money $150 An Hour

  10. Pete Madsen — We should, of course, always take your comment into account. The problem is that the enemy has a vote. He has his own independent intentions and strategic concepts, and his morale just got a big boost. Signalling that our main goal is to just get the heck out of there can’t be done without a consequence to be paid in what the ENEMY will do.

    We have more than one enemy in the Middle East. Our campaigns there could have remained a “war on terror,” as they have been under Bush, but they will not. Russia is an enemy in the Middle East, not intending to directly confront us, but to gain influence with Iran, Syria, and terrorist groups through supplying and working with them. Iran and Syria are our enemies: they want us gone. And terrorist groups, while they represent less coherent political aspirations, remain motivated to attack us, and will be emboldened to by both our determination to leave, and fresh support they are likely to get from national patrons.

    None of this means that Iraq will promptly revert to her condition of three years ago. I think the momentum of the opposition is shifting to Afghanistan. Our position there is more tenuous than we even realize, starting with its amazing geographic vulnerability: Russians to the north of us, Pakistan to the east, Iran to the west. The Taliban have made inroads further into Pakistan, and had them tacitly recognized by Islamabad, just in the last few weeks. The Taliban have established an operational rear right in our face, and we are self-constrained to do little about it.

    Iraq was one set of conditions, but Afghanistan is another one. Russia has reason to oppose us more strongly there. The common strategy of Russia, Iran, and Sunni transnational terrorists will probably be to make us choose between Afghanistan and Iraq, and then lose both because of having to retreat ignominiously from one.

    That’s what they will hope to accomplish. While it was clear that we would fight determinedly for Iraq, Russia and Iran were deterred from trying to impale us on Afghanistan. Now that Obama has signalled that leaving Iraq, not securing Iraq, is our priority, we can expect that to change.

  11. I agree with you about the tenuousness of our position in Afghanistan. It is an entirely different sort of place from Iraq, and not the sort of place that is amenable to overall hegemony or rule by any one group.

    It is unfortunate that Obama said what he did. What he said will make no difference to him with regard to decisions he makes in the future except as having said it changes the conditions that obtain then.

    However, I’m not sure that he will be expected to do the things he says he will do with regard to foreign policy any more than he has done in other areas what he claimed during his campaign that he would do. I don’t see in him any sense of continuity, or steadiness of purpose.

  12. It *is* disturbing that Obama puts political expediency–half-fulfilling a campaign pledge to set a withdrawal date–above what is clearly in our best interest militarily. The McCain campaign did have one thing right: Obama is not a “country first” kind of guy.

    The honorable thing would have been to carry out the commitments we had made to the Iraqi people in the SOFA and etc., which would have had us drawing down at a similar rate in any case.

    Commander, I’d be interested in getting your thoughts not just on the date-certain, but on the strengths/weaknesses of withdrawing entirely, rather than occupying a base there.

  13. It seems to me that the basic problem is that we’re all still trying to figure out Obama. I suspect that he firmly believes all standard Liberal boilerplate.

    We had no business in Iraq, it was just Bush’s warmongering, and we must get out and besides I have to please the anti-war folk.

    We are constantly told that he is “brilliant”but where is the evidence of that? Is he mathematically challenged or does he really believe that enormous amounts of money gifted to favored groups will fix the economy?

    Our enemies were created by Bush’s warmongering and his support for Israel. If we just get out of the M.E. there won’t be any more ‘dissidents’. Besides all that terror talk was just Bush trying to scare us.

    Liberals, you may have noticed, are just not that into consequences.

  14. Thanks all for the great comments. I’ve been submerged, working on the next post (on kinetic attack options against Iran), and am trying to focus on that and just get it online. But Ahithophel’s question about staying in Iraq is a good one to address, and has features in common with a question C.K. MacLeod posed over at Commentary’s contentions — regarding how conservatives might see our overseas engagement profile, given the Obama domestic agenda.

    One thing we happy blogging few never have to ask ourselves these days is where’s the beef. We’re on an all-meat diet now, political-commentary-wise. I hope to address conservative ideas and our posture in the eastern hemisphere, as a natural follow-on to the extended Iran nuclear discussion, in the next 1-2 weeks.

  15. Looking forward to it, OC – though the observation makes me think of a certain oft-cited Chinese proverb/curse that we could update as “may the world ask you highly-bloggable questions” or some such.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: