by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado

President Barack Obama has finally acknowledged that we are at war with someone. That’s a start, at least. Unfortunately, he limited his definition of the enemy to al Qaeda. There are, of course, other terrorist organizations that consider themselves to be at war with us. They mostly have in common a hatred of western civilization and its modern ways and they consider America, as the leader of the western world, to be the great Satan.

If, as the president claims, we are at war, then why are we not employing wartime tactics? Why are we not fighting to win as we have in previous wars, at least those prior to the Korean Conflict, instead of just trying to prevent attacks on us? And why are we treating terrorists, the new kind of enemy, as criminal suspects rather than as enemy agents who don’t even qualify for protections under the Geneva Conventions because they wear civilian clothes while engaged in suicide bombings to kill innocent civilians in the name of Allah? They are, as Eliot Cohen recently described them, neither soldiers nor criminals. We should therefore treat them as neither.

If, as the president belatedly acknowledges, we are really at war, then why was Umar Farouk Abdulamatallab, the al Qaeda-trained terrorist who tried to blow up Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day, not turned over to military authorities to be questioned by interrogation and intelligence experts in order to obtain information which might prevent future attacks and save innocent lives? Why was he instead arrested by civil authorities, read his Miranda rights, indicted by a grand jury and provided with an attorney, effectively ending any chance of obtaining critical information which could save lives without having to resort to a magnanimous plea bargain arrangement?

These are not rhetorical questions. Americans should demand answers since their safety and the safety of their loved ones is involved. The bungled prosecution of this war by an administration focused mainly on being the polar opposite of the Bush administration and a president who is dangerously inexperienced in the demanding wartime role of commander-in-chief puts American lives at risk. Their safety is a primary responsibility of government.

Mr. Obama used uncharacteristically strong language acknowledging the security and intelligence failures that allowed a suicide bomber to board an American-bound aircraft which he described as a “screw-up”, adding that such failures will not be tolerated by him. Yet, as of this writing at least, no major official has been fired or publicly reprimanded. Rather, the president himself took full responsibility. This, of course, is an empty gesture unless, that is, he plans to resign or punish himself. Unless there are career consequences for those responsible for such major “screw-ups” that imperil lives, we increase the probability of future lapses. Next time, we may not be so lucky.

In spite of the gravity of this near disaster, Mr. Obama felt compelled to reiterate his determination to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. There is no compelling reason to follow through on this reckless and ill-considered campaign promise now that we are at war other than appeasing the liberal, anti-war wing of his party and our Arab “allies”. There is every reason to reconsider it, given the gravity of the problem of what to do with the detainees there and the recidivism rate of those already repatriated to Arab countries.

Some defenders of the president’s method of fighting this war have said that we will continue to be faithful to the principles and ideals that guided us through past conflicts. They should review their history. Wartime presidents of Mr. Obama’s own party who recognized the overriding necessity of actually winning a war, employed methods which included racial profiling, firebombing cities with tremendous loss of civilian lives and dropping atomic bombs that obliterated entire cities. No one is seriously advocating a return to such tactics, but common sense needs to prevail. Rules governing the conduct of war are designed to apply to both sides in a conflict. If the enemy is not and has no intention of abiding by the rules of war, then clearly, the rules no longer work unless, of course, our mission is to lose the war with our principles still firmly intact. Perhaps Mr. Obama should have Americans polled to see if that’s what they really want. CRO

copyright 2010 J.F. Kelly, Jr

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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