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The Wars of the Reluctant
The Bad, The Worse, and the Lousy

Reluctant warriors like Woodrow Wilson, LBJ, and President Obama make special kinds of mistakes. We will see how those mistakes develop this time around.

Published on: September 23, 2014
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  • Arkeygeezer

    The President does have one better option; CONTAIN the conflict to the middle east. It appears to me that containment is the de facto outcome of his current strategy. An air campaign may not wipe out ISIS, but it will keep them busy in Syria and Iraq for a while, and will prevent them from attacking countries outside the middle east.

    We know who has traveled to the Middle East to fight with ISIS. We can put them on a “no-fly” list to keep them there, until we decide what we want to do with them. It’s better than supporting them in Guantanamo.

    Once you start a ground war, you are responsible for the territory you have taken. If you conduct an air war with a coalition of Moslem countries, you can get out without ownership. Let the Moslem countries take care of the real estate, whether Sunni or Sh’ite, and the responsibility for the populations thereon.

    I’m getting to like the current strategy. It contains the crazies with a minimum of risk to our soldiers and sailors.

    • qet

      I’m not sure I understand what you mean, particularly, by “contain.”

    • Anthony

      Your containment proffer implies America’s strategic advantages in current Middle East contretemps lie in reducing our military and geopolitical footprints by avoiding ground forces (naval power and air power suffices given vital U.S. interest – safeguarding free flow of Persian Gulf oil) and letting Middle East solve its paramount crisis. It’s definitely a real world approach and sensible.

      • Kent R Crawford

        You and Arkeygeezer are quite wrong. As Napoleon I purportedly said, “Ask me for anything but time.” And the concept of ‘containment’ gives them just that gift.

        Consider the case of Bolshevism in the 1918 – 1921 period, when the surviving Great Powers sought to ‘contain’ its spread in Russia. They supported the ‘White’ forces. They occupied large swathes of territory. They had overwhelming military superiority. But in the end they failed as they could not overcome the ‘hope and change’ message of the ‘Reds,’ and were ultimately forced to withdraw rather than be caught up in an endless, and ultimately winnable, war.

        Odumbo has already given ISIS the gift of time, and his strategy prescription provides still more. We could bomb the ‘crazies’ back to the 7th century, and it would make no difference. We cannot stop their ‘message’ from getting out. We cannot stop their financial support from getting in. And we cannot win a ‘messaging war’ in a part of the world already sympathetic to their call.

        Only rapid and resolute action could have been effective, and that did not happen. So with each passing week, Odumbo’s dithering has made a resolution of the problem less likely and less possible. Obama’s War will be with us for a generation.

        • Anthony

          I think Arkeygeezer would agree that war on terror will be with us for some time to come (although I think he is quite capable of making his point) and was not advocating containment option as means to end. I inferred he considered option viable relative to U.S. blood and treasure and from that consideration his statement makes sense. Now as far as providing ISIS a “gift” (an idea on these web pages), that assumes no burden sharing by Middle East parties as U.S. engages security for region.

    • brianOO7

      Containment via bombing just attracts more jihadists to the cause, who then go out into (our) world to spread their message of bombs and hatred. You are correct that any solution must involve the neighbours, though betting on them is, to say the least, problematic. The issue is, this is a clash of civilizations, the Jihad Islam vs the Rest. Don’t forget, containment brought us 9/11. We are at war because the enemy declared war on us and is willing and able to bring the struggle into our heartlands. Pretending we can contain it in the Middle East means betting that it will fester for awhile and then burn out. Maybe, but I doubt it. Jihad Islam was festering for many centuries. Now it has identified its enemy, and its enemy is us.

      • Arkeygeezer

        Containment by bombing may not be the perfect solution to ISIS, but it is better than sending in U.S. ground troops to die in a fight they cannot win. So far none of our people in Iraq have been killed by the troops they are training.
        Ultimately, ISIS is a middle eastern problem and has to be resolved by the Middle East Moslem nations to restore the peace.

        • brianOO7

          Except, jihad Islam extends well beyond the Middle East, and that is the issue, not simply ISIS.

          • Arkeygeezer

            True, but how do you fight jihad Islam? One group at a time, and right now the group is ISIS. What is your strategy?

    • irwincur

      If you left your country to go fight for ISIS, forget the no fly list, they should drop you with a bullet before letting you on the plane. These people are traitors, plain and simple. We have to quit handling them with kid gloves, how did they handle traitors and turn coats 200 years ago? But I’m sure there is some feel good progressive lawyer out there itching for a government contract to represent these people.

  • Brian Stahl

    “Turn their worldly life into fear and fire.”

    Did they use the word “allamani” which means worldly, or the sometimes re-vocalized “illmani,” which means vaguely “hostile to religion in favor of science” or “irreligious”? I’d be surprised, especially given the context, that they used “allamani.”

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I have to disagree with the part of this analysis that gives ISIS such great power, as I believe ISIS power is vastly overblown. This is a land locked power with captured equipment, and enemies sitting on all it’s supply lines. Modern warfare uses up material at an awesome rate, where is ISIS going to get more ammo, weapons, even the basic needs of food? How are they going to pay for it when it all has to be smuggled into their area of control? How long before they start squabbling among themselves over scarce goods, and their force begins to melt away with desertions? America should have done nothing, let the Jihadists focus all their resources on killing the other Jihadists and vice a versa. The innocents of the west will be much safer as long as the Jihadists can be kept focused on each other, and this strategy of “Divide and Conquer” is extremely low cost for us.

    • qet

      24×7 Western Media coverage is a force multiplier the likes of which could not have been foreseen even by Napoleon.

    • irwincur

      Yup, pretty much slowly strangle them and they will fall apart. Do they really think their nation in the middle of a totally unproductive desert will get them the supplies they need. Even with their oil, just embargo and go after the black market, they will never make enough to support a real state.

  • Corlyss

    “I do not envy our airmen, sailors and soldiers who must and will do their best under such circumstances.”

    No kidding! Decades demonstrate that we do not support them in their peril, we criticize them while they do their work, and then we fatuously prosecute them when they get home for failures to abide by ROEs, all of which are designed to ensure that a very expensively highly-trained asset is destroyed before some questionable civilian gets so much as a paper cut. We need a draft so every mother’s son and daughter is liable to this kind of treatment. Before we can change the idiotic culture so ambivalent about the military that protects it, we have to have more service personnel more widely distributed among the population. We “care” disproportionately about others and scorn our own.

    • God is loved and the soldier adored
      In time of war and not before.
      When danger is past and all things are righted
      God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.

  • Anthony

    “America’s war on terror now risks becoming a permanent war against an expanding list of enemies – often inadvertently created by it own policies.” America’s Never Ending War: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/brahma-chellaney-says-that-us-policy-toward-the-islamic-state-reflects-an-inability-to-learn-from-past-mistakes

    • brianOO7

      Perhaps because it truly is a war of civilizations, and one declared by the other guys who show no signs of giving up. So what should America do? Declare victory and go home to more suicide bombers and ‘workplace violence’.

      • rene591

        your lack of understanding of our 800 billion dollar defense budget is disturbing

      • Anthony

        No Hobson choice (and war of civilizations…). The Middle East (terrorism/ISIS/ISIL/etc.) reveals no simple solutions to complex regional dynamics – Shia/Sunni, Iran/Saudi Arabia, Israel/Palestine, etc. etc. etc. United States has to recognize that sectarian conflict is becoming entrenched in region while facilitating terrorist networks. Further, Islam’s schism compounds difficulty U.S. has in executing a geostrategic impact that both addresses potential terrorism against U.S. interests and possibility of “never ending war”.

    • Corlyss

      “often inadvertently created by it own policies.”
      A trendy left fiction. It’s just more crap from the left’s crap mill. Don’t believe it. The left insisted that the cold war was the result of America’s belligerence and its ownership of the bomb. Just balderdash.

      • Anthony

        As you know, I try not to get caught up in right/left dialectics. Thanks for heads up.

    • Corlyss

      So? What’s you’re point?

      • Anthony

        Move on!

  • DougPage171
  • Like it or not, the problem is islam. And like it or not, islam will have to be forcibly yanked into modernity – or annihilated – to end this global terror BY islam. Islam is pre-modern and regressing. THAT is what requires a solution.

    • Black_Saint

      Islam is a disease and needs to be treated like a disease by quarantining and elimination. Instead we are spreading the disease far and wide in our own Nation by allowing immigration of Muslims.

      Europe is beyond hope and and the USA is fast becoming that way.

      Islam and Sharia law is incompatible with our values and Constitution. There are no moderate Muslims all support Sharia law and many if not most support Jihad against none Islam people. Anyone not of the Islam faith is a Infidel and the choice is simple convert or die.

      It is a clash of civilizations and if the western world does not realize that the world will face the choice soon….Convert or Die!

      • brianOO7

        Actually, there are moderate Muslims who work toward reforming Islam, a task they apparently believe is theologically possible though I have my doubts. But they are few in number and generally despised by the Left in America and Europe. I’ll leave it to you to understand why.

        • Whether or not moderation can or does exist within islam is immaterial (& Erdogan finds the idea of it offensive). The fact is that IF any moderate muslims exist, they are as irrelevant as non-NAZI Germans who allowed the rise of Hitler and then fought or supported, or didn’t overthrow him.

    • Black_Saint

      They’re not happy in Gaza ..

      They’re not happy in Egypt ..

      They’re not happy in Libya ..

      They’re not happy in Morocco ..

      They’re not happy in Iran ..

      They’re not happy in Iraq ..

      They’re not happy in Yemen …

      They’re not happy in Afghanistan …

      They’re not happy in Pakistan ..

      They’re not happy in Syria ..

      They’re not happy in Lebanon …


      They’re happy in Australia ..

      They’re happy in Canada ..

      They’re happy in England ..

      They’re happy in France ..

      They’re happy in Italy ..

      They’re happy in Germany ..

      They’re happy in Sweden ..

      They’re happy in the USA ..

      They’re happy in Norway ..

      They’re happy in Holland ..

      They’re happy in Denmark ..


      they’re happy in every country that is not Muslim and unhappy in every country

      that is!AND WHO DO THEY BLAME?

      Not Islam.

      Not their leadership.

      Not themselves.


      AND THEN – They want to change those countries to be like,


      Excuse me, but I can’t help wondering…How damned dumb can you get?

      Everyone seems to be wondering why Muslim Terrorists are so quick to commit suicide.

      Let’s have a look at the evidence:

      – No Christmas

      – No television

      – No n..de women

      – No football

      – No pork chops

      – No hot dogs

      – No burgers

      – No beer

      – No bacon

      – Rags for clothes

      – Towels for hats

      – Constant wailing from some idiot in a tower

      – More than one wife

      – More than one mother-in-law

      – You can’t shave

      – Your wife can’t shave

      – You can’t wash off the smell of donkeys

      – You cook over burning camel sh.t

      – Your wife is picked by someone else for you

      – and your wife smells worse than your donkey

      Then they tell them that “when they die, it all gets better”???

      It’s not like it could get much worse!

      • The Greatest freedom

        Lol.. The wife can’t shave.. And so can’t 4 mother in laws.. I would definitely blow my head of

  • adk

    “And last for now, the strikes will persuade a lot of people in the region that the United States is secretly allied with the Shi’a. Secretary Kerry has been publicly talking about how all countries in the region need to help out in the anti-ISIS campaign…”

    This is from the Iran’s Supreme Leader:
    During the past two, three days, I had a source of entertainment which was listening to the statements of the Americans on the issue of DAESH [ISIS] and fighting against it. They made absurd, hollow and biased statements. One of the issues which was really a source of amusement for me was that the American secretary of state and the girl who stands there and talks, openly said, “We will not invite Iran to the coalition against DAESH”. First, what honor is greater than the fact that America is disappointed with us and does not want us to participate in a wrong collective task. This is a source of pride for us, not a source of regret.

    Second, I witnessed that all of them are lying. Since the first days that the issue of DAESH arose, the Americans asked our ambassador in Iraq – through their ambassador – to organize a meeting and reach an agreement on the issue of DAESH. Our ambassador relayed this inside the country and some of our officials were not against it. But I was against it and said, “On this issue, we will not cooperate with America particularly because their hands are dirty.


  • subframer
  • rene591

    get a clue. this nation is officially non interventionist and the media war drum beating will only go on so long. and Congress is a disgrace. should come back immediately and vote

    • smeyer0513

      The House voted. It is Reid’s Senate that did not vote — at the request of Obama

      • rene591

        wrong . both houses voted on continuing resolution (500 million) and more debt and headed for the hills. show me or post a vote total for the separate vote in the house

  • Wendell Jones

    Not meaning to nit-pick, but American foreign policy “cluelessness” does not go back two administrations. It goes back three at least. One could argue the last time we had foreign policy expertise in the White House was when Henry Kissinger was calling the shots. But, I will stay with three administrations of cluelessness for now.

  • mike siroky

    No one can predict how this war or any war will turn out. However, The article makes a good point about reluctant warriors usually screwing things up. Certainly Roosevelt was not reluctant to face the AXIS and neither was Truman. On the other extreme you have enthusiastic warriors like Hitler and Mussolini and Tojo, who still lost. I believe the best policy is go all in or don’t go in at all. Maximum force or no force. Graduated force is a fiction, usually sold as “smart diplomacy”.

    • irish19

      Kill them until the survivors sue for peace.

      • brianOO7

        Exactly. You need to annihilate them in order to discredit their driving ideology, because it is really the ideology of jihad Islam that needs to be annihilated, not just the foot soldiers but the survivors.

    • Corlyss

      “No one can predict how this war or any war will turn out.”
      That depends on the relative equality of the forces. The more equal the less certain. The US could defeat any of these annoying ankle-biting organizations that scamper about in the desert in black robes and goose-step their drills except for one thing: the ROEs imposed by UN/AI/HRW and the idiotic left guarantee that the US will not be able to employ its assets to win. Thru the “proportionality” doctrine so fashionable among people and states that don’t fight wars any more and can’t identify with existential fights, the NGOs insure that the US will be able to fight but with both arms tied behind it and only until the voters get tired of seeing their sons killed in wars under such ridiculous rules.

      • mike siroky

        Totally agree.

  • Black_Saint

    The Democrat plan for the invasion, colonization, conquest and one party rule of this Nation is proceeding ahead of schedule and has exceeded all expectations in fundamentally transforming this Nation!

    Amnesty for the 12 to 30 million criminals and uneducated invading Illegal Aliens. That with chain Immigration for the ones still left in Mexico and Latin American will assure all Red States are turned blue and a Democrat majority forever with a Spanish speaking Third World Slum here of Crime, Corruption, Poverty, Diseases and Misery modeled on Mexico and controlled by the Socialist/Democrat party of Northern Mexico!

    Leaving the border open for more uneducated Democrat welfare voters to invade this Nation is much more important to Obama and the Democrats than closing the border to protect American citizens from terrorist!

    It is all about Power, Control and the Democrat party and how to use false compassion for the invaders, lies, poverty and government dependency to install the Democrat party as absolute all powerful dictatorship to enslave a free people and a great Nation!

  • Mark

    Given your choice of examples, better title would be democratic warriors make …. You seem to have forgotten our most eager warrior president, Bush/Cheney, and all the glory they brought with excellent decisions

    • Steve Rodriguez

      It was reluctant warriors, of which Bush/Cheney were not (reluctant).

      In any event, removing Saddam (regime change) was the bi-partisan official policy of the United States government under Bill Clinton, primarily due to the hundreds of Gulf War I cease fire violations, the act of war assassination attempt of the first President Bush, and the attempts at genocide of the Kurds. It was the bi-partisan policy of the US government and the American political consensus to remove regimes which did, OR COULD, sponsor terrorists. Saddam at the time of the 03 invasion was the primary financial backer of Islamic Jihad, a big player before Bin Laden, and probably a top 5 terror group.

      So without a Bin Laden connection, and without a WMD connection, there was sufficient policy reasons and political reasons to remove Saddam from power. The post-war disaster is directly on Bush, but the media’s painting of him as a bad actor, “Bush lied, people died,” and Cheney as Darth Vader, without providing a balanced review of the policy decisions at the time, does a grave disservice to our political and policy making process today. The stupidity of the American people to not reckon the media bias is a greater threat to our country’s future – we are making decisions and voting on people based upon the biased reporting of the national MSM.

      Having said that, there are legitimate reasons to have opposed the invasion of Iraq, primarily because Bin Laden and Afghanistan should have been the priority right after 9/11. Those are legitimate debates. But the legal predeicate existed for war with Iraq, any argument otherwise is simply wrong.

    • irwincur

      Even with the post war ‘disaster’, Iraq accounts for perhaps the most successful military operation in the modern world. Argue it if you want, but please understand, Iraq had the fourth largest standing army in the world. The only thing that really went wrong with the war was when the yellow journalist media got sick of war footage and started to beg their progressive useful idiots to try to turn it into a Vietnam.

    • Robert Speirs

      It was the eight years of “No-fly zones” under Clinton that led inevitably to 9/11 because the psychopaths of Islam perceived our weakness. Bush had no other recourse – was he supposed to try Clinton’s failed containment for another eight years and do nothing about a massive attack on our soil? And the Democrats fell right in line when they saw the same evidence Bush did. Bush’s only mistake was not to use full force immediately. And he waited 20 months to get all his ducks in a row only to be viciously attacked for a “rush to war”!!

  • Black_Saint

    Trust in Obama in congress and in the world is Zero..He has proven to be Lazy, Incompetent a Pathological liar and willing to throw anyone and everyone under the bus if it benefit him politically. I am surprised our military has not refused to serve with him as C.i.C. He is slowly but surely destroying this Nation and cares about and serves no one But Obama!

  • Tomas Pajaros

    heyyyy heyyyy calm down man. As long as we keep a lid on anti-Islamic videos, it’s all cool man.

    Keep your eyes on the prize: we are striking Syrian targets because “ISIS attacks in the U.S. were imminent” and striking them in Syria, is exactly the prevention needed. We are all safer tonight, now that the oil fields of Syria are burning.

  • mistermcfrugal

    This is what Americans deserve for electing a “messiah,” and even re-electing him after everyone knew he was worthless. No sympathy for the American people.

  • Marco64

    Great article by Adam Garfinkle. And may I say I love the work he and Paul Simon did together.

  • rlhailssrpe

    If we keep screwing up war, we are going to be dead, or slaves.

    Millions of people voted for a peacemaker, a man who would get us out of war. I voted against him twice because I judged him incompetent. Some think he is many things, traitor, liar, socialist, commie, etc. It is immaterial. If you go to war, and lose, it really does not matter. His supporters hate George Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, so they voted for Obama. Others voted for his race. Every American should consider their loved ones being slaughtered in war, or reduced to slavery, which is common world wide. Because that is where we are heading.

    Obama gave again, with great oratory, or good oratory, a brain dead speech. He has personally declared war against a sovereign nation (again) without firm Congressional support. His lawyers say it is legal for a Democrat but lawyers do not die in combat. People who salute warriors with a cup of coffee are not grown up; he could not coach a Pee Wee football team. Our current problem is that the coach pulled our entire team, at the end of the third quarter, when we were ahead by just three points. After 12 years, trillions of dollars, thousands of body bags, tens of thousands of amputees, and trauma cases, he just quit, sent the team to the lockers and left the enemy on the field, with our equipment and bribe money. Mission Accomplished, again. Who could have guessed the result? He has just addressed a hall full of killers and dictators and asked them to be nice and sacrifice with us. Did it occur to him that no huge Muslim army has marched with us since he was elected?

    Iran is going to acquire a bomb that can destroy Manhattan at some near date. We are now killing people in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan Pakistan, and probably other places.. These are acts of war. He is personally picking which out houses to bomb. Once again, an incompetent Commander-in-Chief is shackling our military, not to win, just bleed. When it comes to bleeding, all nations subcontract the agony to Americans. We have seen this before but that was with AK 47s, not nukes.

    If we keep screwing up, we are not going to make it.

  • JTinNC

    A ‘reluctant warrior’ is a leader that wants all options on the table and knows first hand about the costs of combat. He will not however choose to take half measures, pretend that he can through magic pursue a strategy without risks, or lie to himself or others about what will likely be needed for success. He will expect victory, and won’t be satisfied with temporary ‘optics’.

    This label does not fit President Obama, who is a ‘reluctant leader’, largely concerned with his image, elections, and his ideology, not with the lives affected or any real moral imperatives, as he has none outside his concern for his own self-image. As is his history, he prefers to merely vote ‘present’ but wants to be admired for his acumen and revered, but without the messy part (like actually standing for something and taking action). Calling him a reluctant warrior is a slap in the face of all true leaders who made the tough choices, did the right thing, and then stormed the ramparts leading from the front, not the behind.

    • Kent R Crawford

      Odumbo cannot even deal with 19th century Putin. What would cause anyone to think he can deal with 7th century Islam?

  • wildrover4

    I would only note this: So long as an existential threat exists right across their borders, our Sunni allies will have some very serious decisions to make. They have been playing both sides against the middle for decades. It is possible that not putting troops on the ground to clear out ISIS immediately could produce positive results in this area.

  • brianOO7

    The ‘worse’ option is inevitable (short of pulling out altogether, which would accomplish nothing). Why? Because jihad Islam needs to be confronted and destroyed. Anything short leaves us with the equivalent of a post-WWI world, where the enemy (the Germans) were easily persuaded that they had not actually been beaten but had been betrayed, first on the battlefield, then in the armistice negotiations, leaving their Prussian sense of superiority intact.

    What is needed is a WWII-style confrontation, complete with its unconditional surrender that forced an utterly defeated enemy to confront its homemade horrors. This is what ultimately destroyed nazism/fascism as well as Japanese hegemonism/imperialism as vital, attractive forces in their respective nations.

    And this battle must be joined with reform Muslim peoples and states who understand the writing on the wall. Either jihad Islam is destroyed now and forever (well, forever is a long time) or it will continue its hegemonic nightmares, in the Middle East and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the Left continues to willfully misunderstand the issues (supporting anti-Israel forces, coddling radical imams at home, calling Islam a religion of peace, etc. etc.) and the Right lost its chance after 9/11 because it, too, didn’t understand the issues at the time.

    • One question: Who was a better military, political and economic ally, and who freer, wealthier, better-educated than ever before, 25 years post-hostilities: Japan or Vietnam? Want to defeat islam at a low cost and ensure its descendants can live peaceful, productive lives? History shows the answer: Total war and utter defeat. Nukes. Now. Anything else is unserious.

  • irwincur

    Until we are less concerned with the politics of war we will never win another war. The days of calling for permission to fire back, being too careful with everything, they have to go, if we want to win, we have to fight total war.

  • rational38

    A non-reluctant warrior is another term for psychopath. Who goes into war enthusiastically?

  • Black_Saint

    This Nation has gotten tp Pc to fight wars to win. We are so PC we cannot defend our own borders or enforce our laws.

  • GeorgeHanshaw1

    We need to decide if we are in or out. Call congress together and get them to vote yes or no on a declaration of unconditional war. Then change the name of the Department of Defense BACK to the War Department, and tell them to go WIN. Boots on the ground, nukes, whatever it takes. Otherwise stay home.

  • rene591

    we are the preeminent power in the globe. we spend 50% of world wide defense expeditures which is equal to the next 14 nations combined. we can destroy things on a planetary scale . and have a defense budget of 820 billion(projected for next year). exactly what do we have to fear from?????

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