Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Quick Hits - September 17, 2012

There are certain points in time and history where the events that take place have ramifications far greater than people might realize at the time that they happened.  The United States was at one of these inflection points 150 years ago today.

Four days after Union Army infantrymen found a few cigars wrapped in a handwritten document, read that document, and forwarded up the Army chain of command, Confederate Robert E. Lee, near the Maryland town of Sharpsburg, and between the Antietam Creek and the Potomac River, took up defensive positions when Union General George McClellan, leading nearly 75,000 Union soldiers prepared to attack the Confederates.

The document that the Union infantrymen found by chance in the field was a copy of General Robert E. Lee's Special Order No. 191 - the detailed plans for the Army of Northern Virginia's invasion of the north.

In the West, the Civil War was not going well for the Confederates.  The Union, with the exception of the area around Vicksburg, Mississippi, had control of the Mississippi River.  In the East, things were looking better.  The Confederates had just driven back the Union Army from the gates of Richmond, and defeated the Union Army once again at the Second Battle of Manassas (Second Bull Run).  Lee believed that the best course for his Army would be to invade the North, win a decisive battle there, and not only demoralize the  northern population, but provide the example needed to get Britain and France to diplomatically recognize the Confederacy.

With knowledge of Lee's plans, McClellan was able to bring his Army to engagement with Lee possessing a strong numerical advantage.

Despite his advantages, McClellan failed to win a decisive victory in what would be the single bloodiest single-day battle in US history.  He launched uncoordinated attacks on the Confederate lines which permitted Lee to re-position troops using his interior defensive lines to the areas under attack, negating much of the Union's numerical advantages in these tactical fights.  Ultimately, the battle came to be a bloody draw as nearly 6,000 lay dead on the battlefield, and approximately 19,000 were wounded.

The next day, the 18th, McClellan's battered army permitted Lee's equally battered army to withdraw from Maryland, across the Potomac, and return to Virginia.

The Confederate invasion of the north had been halted, but neither commander was able to deliver the decisive victory they each believed was needed to fully turn the tide in the war.  But, by stopping the Confederate invasion and forcing the Army of Northern Virginia to retire south across the Potomac, this was enough of a victory to turn the tide - even though the Civil War would continue until the spring of 1865.

On September 22, President Abraham Lincoln would issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on the basis of the victory achieved at Antietam.  This gave the Confederacy 100 days to submit to the Union or face the prospect of the immediate emancipation of the southern slaves.  In addition to making the stand against slavery upfront and center - sending a strong message to Britain and France - this also represented a fundamental change in the character of the war as defined by the President.

In the President's own words he said, 'the character of the war will be changed.  It will be one of subjugation and extermination.'  In other words, the Civil War would now be war fought as total war - militarily and economically by any and all means.  From this point forward, there would be no possibility of a negotiated end to the hostilities - one would either win the war, or one would lose the war.

This was the turning point which, I contend, caused Britain and France to stay disengaged - to not recognize the Confederate States of America.  It also reminded the population of the north what the war was really about and what would be needed to win the war and restore the Union.  While the Confederacy at this point was at or very near their maximum effort towards the war in terms of manpower and their economy, the Union was far from achieving a total effort.  Now the North was set on the path to make that total effort.  While the North could still lose the war in 1863, if it did not, the end would be inevitable for the Confederacy.

The depth of this 1862 turning point was impossible for all to see at the time.  Clarity only came after several years and the advantages of hindsight - seeing the other connected actions play out. Some at the time felt that an opportunity was at hand for a turning point - and in the case of Abraham Lincoln, he saw enough come from the carnage at Antietam to permit him to take that next step with the Emancipation Proclamation.  The timing was critical - done either sooner or later and it would not have had the impact that it did.  But it was a risk nonetheless.

When we look at the events that are happening around us today, we could very well be at inflection or turning points every bit as critical that took place in Maryland fields 150 years ago today.  Are our leaders, or we as a people looking at these events happening, not only here in the US, but around the world, and really looking at the strategic picture as opposed to the tactical picture?  Are we really considering the implications of our choices and decisions, particularly with what history has already taught us?

Last week, President Obama faced a test of his leadership on 9/11/12.  When the call came into Washington regarding an Islamic mob sacking the US Embassy in Cairo where were the priorities of the President?  When the call came in later regarding an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya where armed terrorists murdered the US Ambassador to Libya, a State Department officer, and two American contractors, where were the priorities of the President regarding these technical acts of war?

President Obama's priority was his reelection.  Specifically, it was a fundraiser in Las Vegas.  The messages from the Administration has been, against all common sense and other sources, including US intelligence sources, that these acts were not planned, were spontaneous, and the result of a obscure 14 minute trailer of a movie posted three months ago on You Tube which Salafist clerics in Egypt deemed 'an insult' to Islam.

At a time when leadership was needed, the Administration that defined it's style as 'leading from behind' not only still is leading from behind, but for a large extent has abdicated its responsibility to lead.  Despite the lessons from history about projecting weakness, from promoting appeasement as a policy to dissuade a threat, that is the very course President Obama is taking us.  The threats are encouraged not discouraged by this approach.  Because of this, the threats will increase not decrease.

The Israeli Prime Minister is warning us that Iran is 6 to 8 months away from achieving the 90% uranium enrichment level that is needed to produce nuclear weapons.  He believes that they are committed to building nuclear weapons.  The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has uncovered evidence that Iran has been using computer simulators for determining yield levels of nuclear weapons over the past three years and is disturbed by this finding.  It would only be done if one is planning / actively engaged in the effort to build nuclear weapons.

Yet, the US President is more interested in attending fundraisers or appearing on the David Letterman show than he is with meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister.  Barack Obama contends that the current level of sanctions against Iran are more than sufficient - while also saying that without physical proof of an Iranian nuclear weapon, we cannot know for certain what the intentions of the Iranian regime are.  Rather than assume the worst and be prepared, he prefers to assume the best.

The challenge we face is that its hard to match the rhetoric from the Iranian regime to the concept of not developing nuclear weapons - or a peaceful intent.  They know weakness when they see it.  They know that courtesy of their allies, Iraq, Russia, and China, they can avoid most if not all of the sanctions.

How different is their approach today to that of Nazi Germany under Hitler in the 1930's when faced with the naive appeasement from Britain and France?

In 1862, an American leader took a decisive step in leadership and set his country towards victory and reunification.

In the 1930's British and French leaders declined to take decisive steps, sought appeasement and negotiation, and facilitated a bloody global conflict.

Which path is Barack Obama taking us?

General Motors has decided that it no longer wants to be known as Government Motors.  Executives of the company are saying that the linkage is hurting the company and they are offering to buy out 200 million of the 500 million shares in GM held by the US government as part of the $85 billion bailout given to GM and Chrysler in late 2008 and early 2009.  Then, the US government can sell its remaining holdings in a public stock offering.

The problem for the US government, and in particular Barack Obama's reelection campaign, is that this deal will cost the American taxpayer about $15 billion in losses just on the 200 million shares.  How much more will the taxpayer lose in a public offering giving GM shares are down about 35% since its IPO last year?

One of the other challenges here is that the executives of GM are seeking to blame their new challenges on the consumer's perception against the company based on the ownership stake taken by the US government during the Obama engineered restructure.  The problem with this is that many of the problems of GM are self-inflicted - and similar to the problems that put GM in the position to be begging for a bailout in late 2008.

It is making a car that it loses $49,000 on every single car produced and purchased by a consumer.  This is the same car that still costs, after a $7,500 federal tax credit, that costs twice as much as a Toyota Prius which is larger, more reliable, and more fuel efficient.  It's a car that the consumer is not buying - which has been placed on month long production hiatus twice this year, but remains seen as one of the keys of the future of the company?  

Perhaps that is where the government influence is damaging GM.  The Obama Administration has so much invested in the progressive green energy boondoggle that they will not let GM stop making the Chevy Volt.

Another example of Presidential leadership?

This Day in History

1862 - The Battle of Antietam.

1939 - The Soviet Union invades eastern Poland as part of their agreement with Nazi Germany.

1944 - The Allies launch 'Operation Market Garden'.  This is a plan developed by British Field Marshall Montgomery to drop three airborne divisions behind German lines in Holland to seize critical bridges as the British XXX Corps attacks up a single highway / axis in an effort to reach and cross the Rhine into northern Germany.  The offensive ran into major challenges from logistics, poor intelligence, and far stronger German resistance than expected around both the armored breakthrough and the airborne landings / attempts to seize the bridges.  The British 1st Airborne Division, dropped near the Dutch city of Arnhem, had the mission to take and hold the bridge crossing the Rhine.  Only one element of the Division was able to make it from the drop zones into town and seize one side of the bridge.  German forces encircled and nearly wiped out the division as the battle raged over 8 days.  Of the 10,600 men from the 1st Airborne dropped into Holland, 1,485 were killed and 6,414 were captured.  

The offensive failed - and it would take the Allies until March 1945 to force a crossing over the Rhine River.  

The offensive is detailed in an excellent book by historian Cornelius Ryan titled 'A Bridge Too Far'.  In 1976, an excellent movie was made with the same title - telling the story not only from the Allied side, but that of the Germans and Dutch.

1998 - The United States announced a plan to compensate the victims of the August 7th terror bombings by al-Qaeda of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

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