Saturday, September 20, 2014

Obama...ISIS, and American History

Obama worries about Isis, his legacy
and Reagan
A recent (9/15/14) article in the International New York Times was titled Obama reflects on past wars and campaign against ISIS.  Peter Baker wrote about a foreign policy meeting held in the White House, "It was clear to the guests how aware Obama was of the critics who have charged him with demonstrating a lack of leadership.  He brought up the criticism more than once with an edge of resentment in his voice.

'He's definitely feeling it,' said one guest.  At one point Mr Obama noted acidly that President Ronald Reagan sent Marines to Lebanon only to have hundreds of them killed in a terrorist attack because of terrible planning, and then withdrew the remaining ones, leaving behind a civil war that lasted years. But Mr Reagan, he noted is hailed as a titan striding the earth."

This article raises a number of interesting points.

First, even the New York Times seems to have noticed Obama's lack of leadership!

Second, Obama is desperately sensitive now about his historical legacy.  His vanity and ego are pricked at the thought of being compared unfavorably with past Presidents.  He may fear that his primary historic legacy will be 1) a house and senate in Republican hands and 2) record gun sales.

Third, Obama's near total lack of historical perspective on the American experience is jarring.

I categorically assert that ALL American Presidents have been human beings and none has been perfect. Many Presidents have made many mistakes in their role as Commander in chief.  That does not always make them losers.
George Washington
USMA, West Point, NY
George Washington, our first President, lost more battles than he won during the American Revolution. But it was his valor, persistence and astonishing integrity that is recalled today by Americans.  His courage at Valley Forge and his leadership at Yorktown are his enduring legacy to our nation (

Abraham Lincoln was a disastrous Commander in Chief during the early stages of the US Civil war.  Lincoln the lawyer had virtually no military experience before becoming President.  First Bull Run, the first major battle of the US Civil war, in 1861 was a farce for the Union.  Lincoln appointed a series of dangerously incompetent Union general before eventually discovering talent such as Meade, Grant and Sherman.  Yet Lincoln is justifiably remembered as one of the great winners of American history.

Grosvenor Square, London
Do we remember FDR as the leader on whose watch the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor?  Do we think of FDR as C in C for the battle of Kasserine pass in Tunisia where thousands of Americans were captured and many more fled at the approach of the Wehrmacht?  No, we think of FDR as the victorious war time President who helped lead the Allies to victory in World War II.

Moreover, FDR was unafraid to articulate a clear strategy that the American public could understand and support: Unconditional Surrender.  Could the American people have ever found a negotiated peace with Hitler politically or morally acceptable?  Is FDR's clear cut approach not exactly what is needed in our current dealings with ISIS?  Did FDR ever suggest that he wanted merely to degrade the Third Reich?  No, he wanted to annihilate it.

Ronald Reagan
Grosvenor Square, London
What about Obama's specific charge against Reagan?  In my recent book with Stuart Laycock America Invades we write, "on October 23, 1983, a suicide truck-bomb loaded with TNT attacked the US Marine barracks, and 241 US and fifty- eight French servicemen were killed."  (  Shortly after Reagan withdrew this peacekeeping force and a civil war did ensue in Lebanon.  Our withdrawal from Lebanon may even have emboldened Saddam Hussein prior to his invasion of Kuwait.  Reagan's Iran Contra arms for hostages deal was also a costly mistake which nearly derailed his second terms.

New this month!
Order now at or on
It would be absurd, however, to judge Reagan as a Commander in Chief solely on the basis of Lebanon or the Iran-Contra scandal.

Reagan's heart and faith informed him that the use of nuclear weapons by any nation was a sin.  Many have been astonished to learn that he hated these weapons just as much as the long-haired anti-war crowd that had such contempt for him.  Remember the "Ronnie Ray-gun" signs and Democratic conventions?

Reagan's great insight was simple but also masterful.  Reagan, unlike any previous American President of the Cold War, was clever enough to realize that the Cold war was winnable. We remember him as a "titan" because he helped steer the West to victory in the cold War without firing a shot.
Stinger missile
USS Essex
Reagan helped to win the Cold War by strengthening the US military, by arming the mujahideen with stinger missiles that could shoot down Soviet helicopters in Afghanistan, by countering Soviet and
Cuban adventurism in the Caribbean and Central America and, finally, by calling for the execrable human rights scar of the Berlin Wall to be torn down.

Reagan, of course, did not win the Cold War single-handed.  Many people (Thatcher, Pope John Paul, Lech Walesa, Truman, Eisenhower, George Kennan, etc.) in many countries deserve enormous credit for helping the Soviet Union to implode.

To judge the Reagan Presidency on the basis of the tragedy that took place in Lebanon in 1983 is simply to lack any real sense of historical perspective.  Obama's partisan take on Reagan is just as shrill and unconvincing as the right wing loonies of the post war period who accused FDR of sinister betrayal at Pearl Harbor (

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

1 comment:

Mark Dombrowski said...

Well done Commander. Well done indeed.