The Thinker: Rich Galen


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Coalition-Building 101

Rich Galen

Thursday September 18, 2014


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  • First things first. I was on CNN the other day with Donna Brazil and Prof. Larry Sabato. The host wanted to start a fight about whether President Barack Obama had flip-flopped on his committing U.S. military forces in Iraq.

  • I said that this business of Googling everything anyone has said (or posted) since they were in 7th grade and then demanding to know why they were "Pulling a John Kerry" ("I was for it before I was against it") is, at best, very foolish and, at worst, very dangerous.


    Before you hit the <SEND> key I know that the exact Kerry quote is: "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

    There is a link to the background on the Secret Decoder Ring page.


  • I said I would much rather have someone in charge - as the President of the nation, the chairman of a company, or the head coach of an NFL team who was able to change his or her strategy based on evolving events than to have one so wedded to a position they were willing to see great losses rather than be accused of a flip-flop.

  • Ok, now you can hit the <SEND> key.

  • As you know the President has vowed we will not send U.S. combat forces to do battle with ISIS/ISIL/IS.

  • It has become an article of faith - however incorrect - that U.S. airpower is so sophisticated that it can aim a bomb at the second floor bathroom of a house and not wreck the soufflé baking in the first floor kitchen.

  • But, I understand the President's dilemma.

  • Whether or not he truly believes airpower alone will accomplish the "degrading and ultimate destruction" of ISIL, the odd-coupling of the anti-war Left and the isolationist Right against another drawn out military engagement in the region makes committing to - or even suggesting - the use of ground forces politically impossible.

  • As recently as yesterday, the President told service members at CENTCOM headquarters in Tampa that "I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq."

  • This came about 24 hours after the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, according to, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "it was possible that U.S. troops advising and assisting Iraq's military could be deployed to fight."

  • "To be clear," Gen. Dempsey said, "if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the President."

  • That was immediately reported as a break between the White House and the military but I leave it to you to decide whether or not you read it that way.

  • The bigger question for the President is: Whose boots does he think should be on the ground? It is generally agreed that the Iraqi army is not much better now than it was when we went through it like a hot knife through Jello in 2003.

  • The Saudis have offered to participate in the training of whomever is going to have their feet in those boots on the ground, so long as the feet don't belong to Saudi Arabians.

  • According to the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said, after meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry that Saudi Arabia has:
    "always taken initiatives with regard to a firm position towards terrorists and against them. So there is no limit to what the Kingdom can provide in this regard."

  • What the Saudis can provide and what they will provide is, apparently, still to be worked out.

  • The U.S. does not want to include Iran in the coalition but, as the Washington Post's Anne Gearan wrote over the weekend:
    "The notion that the United States might find its concerns shared by foes Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is startling, as is the emerging partnership between Saudi Arabia, the spiritual center of Sunni Islam, and Shiite-led Iraq."

  • Kerry insisted that neither Iran nor Syria be invited to the coalition meeting in France on Monday which led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in an interview with NBC's Ann Curry to brand the U.S.-led coalition against the terror group as "ridiculous."

  • All of which goes to show that going to war is not as good, as bad, as clean, nor as easy as it might look from a desk on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING included above.

    Also, an amusing Mullfoto of a rather clueless bar in Boston.

    -- END --

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