The answer is three when they happen to be among the best individuals ever to wear stars on their shoulders. In a trifecta of withering critiques, former Army Deputy Chief of Staff, General Jack Keane, former commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Corps General James Mattis, and the recently retired head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, pronounced the Obama Administration’s strategy for defeating what it calls Islamic extremism an utter failure. During their testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, both Keane and Mattis declared that when it came to a strategy for defeating Islamic extremists, however defined, the emperor had no clothes. As General Keane observed, “Is it possible to look at the map and claim that U.S. policy and strategy is working or that ‘AQ is on the run.’ It is unmistakable that our policies have failed and the unequivocal explanation is U.S. policy has focused on disengaging from the Middle East.”
What is most important, all three generals clearly identified the most significant threat not as terrorism, which is a tactic, but as radical Islam, a geo-political movement centered on an ideology as dangerous as Nazism and Soviet Communism. The driving force behind this movement is an interpretation of the Islamic creed that not only delegitimizes all other religions and political systems but legitimizes and encourages the use of violence against all non-believers, including other Muslims. Ironically, both the Shia and Sunni variants of Islam have produced radical, violent movements that share both a desire to see their versions of Islamic theology made supreme across a large fraction of the world and an absolute hatred of the West and its civilization.
Lieutenant General Flynn, in a speech before intelligence professionals, basically called the President a liar for claiming that the United States was winning the war against Islamic extremists. He focused in particular on the administration’s inability or unwillingness to address the ideological component of the Islamist threat. General Flynn quoted French President Hollande that “our fight is with Islamic extremists using terrorism as their means to fight” adding that “although that movement has a lot of variation, it is fueled by a vision for worldwide domination achieved through violence and bloodshed. They want to silence all opposition. They hate our ideals and our way of life.” As evidenced by statements made by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough just this weekend on the Sunday interview programs, this is not how the administration views the problem. General Flynn delivered probably the best line of the day. “You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists.”
All three generals called on the United States to recognize the need to develop a comprehensive, long-range strategy with which to address the growing array of threats posed by both non-state actors and increasingly aggressive and capable nation states. General Mattis went even further, declaring “the need for America to adapt to changing circumstances, to come out now from its reactive crouch and to take a firm strategic stance in defense of our values. While we recognize that we owe future generations the same freedoms we enjoy, the challenge lies in how to carry out our responsibility. For certain we have lived too long now in a strategy‐free mode.”
The tsunami of criticism this administration has endured for more than a year from former central figures in its national security establishment, both civilian and military, led non-partisan defense critic and former Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks to observe:
“It is striking to me how many security officials have gone public against this administration after leaving. This is not a normal pattern, and by this point amounts to a non-partisan indictment of how Obama’s White House has dealt with a variety of national security issues. Among other things, it makes me appreciate the restraint that the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army General, must be exercising on a daily basis.”
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