Barack Hussein Obama at war and George W. Bush at war: How does the 44th president of the United States differ from the 43rd? If nothing else, former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has settled that question. Bush sent troops to fight futile battles without flinching; Obama did the same with some reservation.
Hardly a peacemaker
, Obama questioned the mission in Afghanistan and was skeptical of the military brass's motivation in securing for itself—to the detriment of the grunts on the ground—a long-term commitment to the theatre of war in that country.
Like Obama, 82 percent
of Americans oppose the war the president is being panned for having embraced publicly, but agonized over privately. On Afghanistan, Obama is more aligned with the American people—and the truth—than the former defense secretary and his Republican champions. This I say with reluctance. I awarded Barack Obama brownie points thrice in his tenure: for doing not a thing about the 2011–2012 protests in Iran, for ceasing the criminalization of cancer and AIDS patients for their medicinal use of illegal substances, and for breaking with Bush and his neocons in refusing to step on the Russian Bear's claws. Obama scrapped the missile-defense shield in Russia's backyard.
Yet this revelation in Gates' "Duty," a book that hangs on one hook, has Republicans gurgling with pleasure. Limitless is the GOP's zest and zeal for ignoring the negative
right of the American people to be free of the Sisyphean (and Jacobean) struggle to save the world.
If anything, it sounds as though Gates might have had misgivings of his own about the missions in which his "soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines" were dying for nothing.
A bereft Gates tells of "evening sessions" during which he'd write condolence letters "to the families of service members killed in action." There "probably wasn't a single evening in nearly 4 1/2 years when I didn't — when I didn't weep," he confessed. Gates relates how focused he became "on the strain on our troops and on their families." After all, "they'd been at war for 10 years." "My highest priority," he averred
in an interview with NPR, was "trying to avoid new conflict ... in terms of recommending against intervention in Libya," and expressing "concerns about going to war in Syria, much less in Iran."
It just seemed to me that some of the areas where we were looking at potential conflict were more in the category of wars of choice. And it was those that I was trying to protect the troops from.
Having fought for the survival of his people—and never to democratize or "save" another—Ariel Sharon was far less of a study in contradictions than poor Mr. Gates. The former Israeli prime minister died on Jan. 11, after languishing in a vegetative state for 8 years.
Seared in my mind as a child growing up in Israel is a 1973 image of the late Ariel Sharon.
He is on the western bank of the Suez Canal in Egypt, head bandaged because of an injury sustained in combat. What is he doing? Winning. Sharon was beating back an enemy that came close to vanquishing Israel. Ariel Sharon led his men into battle and won the 1973 Yom Kippur War in which the Israeli government and the intelligence failed miserably. He himself had said
that "his greatest military success came during that war, during which he surrounded Egypt's Third Army and, defying orders, led 200 tanks and 5,000 men over the Suez Canal, a turning point."
Had Sharon himself
not performed military miracles, who knows if Israelis, myself included, would have survived? How many Americans can point to a leader who had actually saved their lives, rather than send other men to die in foreign lands, and then propagandize his countrymen about having fought for their freedoms?
As a Special-Forces commander, Sharon was on the front—and in front of his men—performing daring assaults that saved Israel in both the 1967 and 1973 wars.
Pugnacious and tenacious, "Arik" Sharon was nothing if not controversial. Hated though he was abroad, Sharon was, nevertheless, a soldier in the style of "Stonewall" Jackson
, not Dubya the Deserter, to whom he and the Likudniks
were often compared.
Agree or disagree with the methods and politics of this titanic personality—it is unarguable that Sharon's overriding concern was with the survival and security of the Jewish state: he saw himself as bearing a "historic responsibility" for "the fate of the Jewish people." By contrast, Bush's Wilsonian, global missionary movement to rid the world of "evildoers" related not even tangentially to the future and safety of the American people.
Unlike George Bush the internationalist
, "Arik" Sharon was a fierce nationalist,
who put his
country and its
As with so many of our military men—cast adrift by the policies of Rome-on-the-Potomac—Mr. Gates would be less of a mess had he, too, been able to lead his men into wars of necessity
, instead of charging headlong into unjust "wars of choice."