Courageous Restraint?

Courageous Restraint?

Posted By Alan W. Dowd On May 21, 2010 @ 12:42 am In FrontPage | 5 Comments

Hoping to win more hearts and minds in Afghanistan, the U.S. and its NATO allies are planning a commendation to recognize “courageous restraint” among troops in the field. According to a NATO statement [1], the goal would be to “celebrate the troops who exhibit extraordinary courage and self-control by not using their weapons.”

What an apt metaphor for the Age of Obama. If there is a coherent theme to President Obama’s foreign policy, it seems to be constraining and restraining American power.

Consider the “New START” agreement. From Moscow’s perspective, New START [2] will constrain the U.S. from building and deploying additional missile defenses. New START, according to the Russian interpretation, will “be viable if the United States of America refrains from developing its missile-defense capabilities quantitatively or qualitatively.”

Where would the Russians get that idea, if not from the administration? And if this is so, then it means the administration is unable to recognize that missile defense is, by definition, defensive. In other words, the goal of missile defense is to constrain America’s enemies.

Then there’s the related issue of the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR [3]), which is all about constraining the United States. Among other things, the NPR pledges that the United States:

Will not conduct nuclear testing, and will seek ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,

will not develop new nuclear warheads, and

will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.

Obama’s NPR also removes the protection afforded by what Defense Secretary Robert Gates [4] calls “calculated ambiguity.” “If a non-nuclear-weapon state is in compliance with the nonproliferation treaty and its obligations,” Gates explains, “the U.S. pledges not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against it.” Instead, such an enemy “would face the prospect of a devastating conventional military response”—even if that enemy “were to use chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies or partners.”

“Calculated ambiguity” has kept America’s enemies on notice and off balance for decades—and, not coincidentally, has kept America and American forces safe from nuclear, biological or chemical attack. As Eisenhower counseled at the beginning of the nuclear age, quoting Gen. Stonewall Jackson, “Always surprise, mystify and mislead the enemy.”

Obama clearly doesn’t subscribe to that commonsense view. In fact, he recently took a huge step in the opposite direction by revealing [5] the size of America’s nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, the likes of North Korea and Iran play games with the world—and appear to be under no constraints whatsoever.  For instance, in the past 12 months, North Korea has detonated a nuclear weapon, test-fired long-range missiles and blown a South Korean ship out of the water, killing 46 sailors.

Likewise, Iran has shown no restraint in response to Washington’s restraint. Last summer, as the Iranian people rose up against a sham election and as Ahmadinejad’s henchmen crushed the popular revolt, the President was virtually silent. The sad irony of the President’s restrained reaction to the Twitter Revolution was that it answered his own rhetorical question [6] of a year before, albeit in a manner his supporters would never have imagined. “Will we stand for the human rights of…the blogger in Iran?” he asked during his 2008 rock-concert speech in Berlin. Last summer provided the answer.

And it gets worse. When evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear-fuel plant came to light last autumn, there was no reaction from the White House. In fact, it was French president Nicolas Sarkozy [7] who spoke up: “Since 2005, Iran has violated five Security Council resolutions…An offer of dialogue was made in 2005, an offer of dialogue was made in 2006, an offer of dialogue was made in 2007, an offer of dialogue was made in 2008, and another one was made in 2009…What did the international community gain from these offers of dialogue? Nothing.”

Perhaps nowhere is the policy of restraint and constraint on better display than in Afghanistan itself. German forces, for instance, refer to a seven-page guidebook [8] before engaging the enemy. Until mid-2009, they were even required to shout warnings to enemy forces—in three languages—before opening fire. The joys of coalition warfare.

The president has told us, over and over, that Afghanistan is a “war of necessity.” It was so important, as the New York Times [9] reported, that the president gave his military commander “extraordinary leeway” and “carte blanche” control to choose “a dream team of subordinates.”

But when Gen. McChrystal asked for the resources necessary to win this war of necessity, the president balked. Then, after a lengthy re-review of his own policy, the president concluded that “it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan,” before promising [10] that “after 18 months, our troops will begin to come home.”

Of course, vital national interests don’t have expiration dates, and letting the Taliban know when the U.S. military will end its offensive won’t make victory any easier to achieve. But victory is probably not the goal in this era of constraint and restraint. As the constrainer-in-chief himself [11] puts it, “I’m always worried about using the word ‘victory.’”

That brings us back to NATO’s “courageous restraint” idea.

The notion that there needs to be a commendation for restraint is based on the false and faulty premise that U.S. forces haven’t used restraint to date. In fact, as Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis told Navy Times, “Our young men and women display remarkable courage every day, including situations where they refrain from using lethal force, even at risk to themselves, in order to prevent possible harm to civilians.”

Indeed, the U.S. military is so self-restrained that the world doesn’t even notice. Just think about what happens when the U.S. military makes what we civilians, from 7,000 miles away, call a mistake: It court-martials people, changes target sets, scrubs missions, orders bombing pauses, investigates, apologizes and invests in ever-more precise weapons to prevent mistakes.

The fact is, the American military of today is the most lethal force in history, which makes its self-restraint so impressive. U.S. forces could flatten Kandahar, kill anything that moves in Waziristan, erase all the Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and all the terror camps in Syria, eliminate the North Korean and Iranian thugocracies, and turn Mosul into glass—all in less than 24 hours. But they don’t do those things. The reason? Thankfully, the means are as important as the ends to Americans and their military.

This is not an argument for shooting first and asking questions later or for countenancing battlefield brutality. Rather, it’s a reminder that U.S. forces in Afghanistan are already holding their fire enough. They already think twice before squeezing the trigger. We shouldn’t expect them to think three times.

The people who know best—those who have served—worry about the unintended consequences of rewarding and thereby encouraging “courageous restraint.” As Clarence Hill, national commander of the American Legion, observes, “Too much restraint will get our own people killed.”

Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis adds, ominously and presciently, “The creation of such an award will only…put more American and noncombatant lives in jeopardy. Let’s not rush to create something that no one wants to present posthumously.”

Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security issues.

Military Medal for Courageous Restraint ie the Obama Coward award

Military Medal for Courageous Restraint

Posted May 12th, 2010 by USNavySeals

A feature on the Navy Times shares information regarding a proposal that is making the rounds in the Kabul headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

military medalsAnother medal may eventually be added to the array of medals that service members can earn while in combat – and it is a medal that may be earned for doing nothing. The proposal was reportedly put on the table by British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, commander for the Regional Command South of the ISAF, during a visit by Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Hall, the top U.S. enlisted member in Afghanistan.

This award is an effort towards the prevention of civilian casualties; the proposed award will be in commendation for what was termed as “courageous restraint,” where a service member chooses to hold their fire, even if they are at risk, in order to save civilian lives.

Air Force Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis shares: “Our young men and women display remarkable courage every day, including situations where they refrain from using lethal force, even at risk to themselves, in order to prevent possible harm to civilians. In some situations our forces face in Afghanistan, that restraint is an act of discipline and courage not much different than those seen in combat actions.”

There are concerns, however, that having such an award may cause confusion among service members and embolden further the tactics of enemy combatants, who recognize that U.S. Troops are concerned about civilian casualties and already use them as shields or even turn them into targets, as shared by Veterans of Foreign Wars spokesman Joe Davis.

Outrage: Obama Administration Targets Military for Pay Reductions

Outrage: Obama Administration Targets Military for Pay Reductions

May 11th, 2010


President Barack Obama — who came to power with the help of government employee unions across the nation and has lavished on them hundreds of billions in stimulus funds to keep them on federal, state and local payrolls with no strings attached — is moving to cut spending on salaries for military personnel.

This weekend The Washington Post headlined story, “Pentagon Asking Congress to Hold Back on Generous Increases in Troop Pay,” disclosed that the Obama administration is “pleading” with Congress to give military personnel a much smaller increase in pay than lawmakers have proposed.

The Pentagon contends that Congress simply has been too generous with troops during the past decade.

In fact, lawmakers have lavished so much money on troops, according to the Post, that service members are now better compensated than workers in the private sector with similar experience and education levels.

For example, the military brass claims that an average sergeant in the Army with four years of service and one dependent would receive $52,589 in annual compensation, according to the paper. This figure includes basic pay, housing, and subsistence allowances, as well as tax benefits.

Read More:

Kagan spit in the eye of America’s Armed Forces

Kagan spit in the eye of America’s Armed Forces

May 10th, 2010

Curt Levey, The Committee for Justice

Realizing that the retirement of Justice Stevens threatened to leave the Supreme Court without a military veteran, the Committee for Justice and others urged President Obama to replace Stevens with someone who has “the military experience necessary to understand and evaluate the government’s national security arguments.”  Most importantly, Justice Stevens himself talked recently about the importance of having “at least one person on the Court who had military experience.”  It was disappointing enough when the President showed no interest in this important concern.  But in selecting Elena Kagan, Obama has chosen to replace the Court’s last veteran with a nominee who essentially spit in the eye of America’s armed forces. Kagan banished military recruiters from the Harvard Law School campus during a time of war, after pronouncing our armed forces guilty of “a moral injustice of the first order” for carrying out the Clinton Administration’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Millions of Americans will be outraged when they learn that Obama has picked a Supreme Court nominee with a demonstrated hostility to the very armed forces that make our freedom and constitutional rights possible. But that’s just one reason why President Obama is in for a more difficult confirmation fight than he bargained for when he chose Kagan.

Kagan starts out with more than thirty votes against her confirmation to the High Court.  Only seven Republican senators voted to confirm her as Solicitor General 14 months ago.  Now she faces the less deferential standard applied to lifetime Supreme Court appointments, an emboldened Republican Party, nervous red state Democratic senators, and a public concerned about the nation’s leftward drift.

Added to that mix will be scrutiny of Kagan’s out-of-the-mainstream views on gay rights, which are sure to generate controversy and vigorous opposition. Kagan’s argument that “don’t ask, don’t tell” justifies kicking the military off campus was unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court in 2006, placing her to the left of even the Court’s most liberal Justices on the issue of gay rights and the First Amendment.  Moreover, Kagan allowed her obviously strong feelings about gay rights to interfere with her duties as Solicitor General.  At least twice during the last year, in cases involving challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act and the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy,” Kagan failed to vigorously defend federal law despite her institutional obligation and promise to senators to do so.

At a time when the number one goal of the purveyors of judicial activism is the discovery of a right to gay marriage in the U.S. Constitution, the American people should be worried about this nominee’s views on gay rights.  However, in light of speculation and White House denials concerning Kagan’s sexual orientation, let me be clear that it is Kagan’s constitutional orientation and not her sexual orientation that is a legitimate cause for concern.


President Obama’s selection of Kagan is particularly disappointing given that the potential nominees he considered included at least two highly respected judges with a proven track record of moderation – Merrick Garland and Leah Ward Sears.   Conservatives made it clear that they would have a hard time opposing either nominee. While no nominee would silence all the President’s critics, Garland or Sears would have been widely seen as a bipartisan, non-ideological choice and either would likely have been confirmed by an overwhelming margin in the Senate.  Instead, the President chose to pick a fight with Republicans.

Perhaps picking a fight is part of the President’s reported strategy of using the confirmation debate to portray Democrats and the judges they chose as protectors of the “little guy.”  If so, Elena Kagan is a strange choice because her background is far more elitist than humble.  In addition to heading Harvard Law School, one of the most elite schools in the world, and serving as a Clinton Administration politico, Kagan was a paid member of a Goldman Sachs board during the height of Wall Street’s excesses.


It’s not clear how the White House can portray Elena Kagan as a woman of the people, but it is apparent that the Administration plans to portray Kagan as a moderate by calling the press’s attention to the concerns of some on the Left that she is not a genuine liberal.  It is hard to know if concerns expressed on the Left are borne of disingenuousness or just a propensity to worry.  However, the bottom line is that it’s downright silly to imagine that a fervent supporter of gay rights who thrived on the Harvard Law School faculty and in the Clinton Administration and embraces Justice Thurgood Marshall’s approach to judging will turn out to be a closet conservative once on the High Court.

Specifically, Kagan described Justice Marshall’s view of the judiciary – that its primary mission is to “show a special solicitude for the despised and disadvantaged” and “to safeguard the interests of people who had no other champion” (Kagan’s words) – as “a thing of glory.”  The Kagan / Marshall judicial philosophy sounds an awful lot like President Obama’s promise to appoint judges with “the empathy to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom [or] poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old,” a view of judging that even the very liberal Sonia Sotomayor rejected last summer.

Particularly because the American people are concerned like never before about unrestrained federal power, Elena Kagan’s view of a judge’s role is a real threat to her confirmation, as Judiciary Committee Ranking member Jeff Sessions has noted.  After all, a Supreme Court that is free to ignore the law in order to “show a special solicitude” for the interests of certain groups or to discover new rights in the Constitution – such as a right to gay marriage – is an insitution whose power is essentially limitless.

For example, when the constitutionality of ObamaCare comes before the Supreme Court, as is inevitable, will a Justice Kagan decide that “special solicitude” for the disadvantaged is served by okaying Obama’s federalization of health care or, instead, by protecting the rights of those who do not want to be coerced into purchasing health insurance? In other words, it is hard to see how the Kagan / Marshall standard puts any limits on a Justice’s indulgence of their personal policy preferences.

Kagan’s troubling statements about judicial philosophy will take on added significance given her thin record, which includes a puzzling dearth of academic scholarship after more than a decade in academia.  Her thin record also makes it vital that the White House release, in a timely manner, the documents Kagan produced while serving as President Clinton’s associate counsel and domestic policy advisor.

Finally, given her thin record, Kagan owes it to the American people to engage in an open and honest debate with senators about her judicial philosophy and other controversial views.  One hopes that Kagan agrees, given her assertion that “when the Senate ceases to engage nominees in meaningful discussion of legal issues, the confirmation process takes on an air of vacuity and farce.”