Not Just a Team of Rivals
Victory lesson for Obama.


Mackubin Thomas Owens

There seems to be a general consensus regarding the success of the “surge” in Iraq. In addition, the security policies put in place by the Bush administration have kept the country safe for seven years. Contrary to the expectations of many observers, there have been no attacks on the U.S. homeland since 9/11 and recent reports indicate that U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) and the CIA have been relentlessly pursuing al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

During the campaign, President-Elect Obama criticized many of the Bush administration’s security policies and has indicated that he may reverse at least some of them. He was adamant that despite the undeniable success of the Iraq surge, he plans to withdraw U.S. troops from that country within 16 months. Although the reality on the ground may cause him to modify this plan, many believe the success in Iraq is in danger of being reversed if US forces are drawn down precipitously. This holds for many antiterrorist operations as well.

But George W. Bush is president until 20 January, 2009. If he believes the security of the United States may be threatened by the policies of his successor, what should he do? At a minimum, he should look to Abraham Lincoln who, in the summer of 1864, faced a similar problem. In fact, Lincoln believed that he would not be reelected in November, and that his successor, George McClellan, formerly the commanding general of the Army of the Potomac, would pursue some sort of a negotiated settlement with the Confederacy at the behest of the substantial “peace wing” of the Democratic Party — the so-called Copperheads.

In the summer of 1864, the likelihood of Union success in the ongoing War of the Rebellion seemed remote indeed. Despite Union successes in both the Eastern and Western theaters-the repulse of Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg and the fall of Vicksburg and Chattanooga in 1863 and the spring-summer 1864 Virginia campaign that had forced Lee into a defensive position around Petersburg — the Northern people were weary of the war and appalled by its human cost.

The Virginia Campaign of May-June 1864 reflected the military philosophy of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, whom President Abraham Lincoln had appointed Grant as General in Chief of the Armies of the United States on March 10, 1864. “The art of war,” Grant maintained, “is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on.”

Thus for forty days in May and June, Major General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac, accompanied by Grant, was locked in an unprecedented death struggle with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, beginning with the hell that was the Wilderness, and continuing through the bloodletting at Spotsylvania, North Ana, and Cold Harbor. While Lee, operating on interior lines, was able to parry each blow, he could never wrest the initiative from his adversary. Eventually Grant and Meade were able to sidestep Lee once more, cross the James River, and besiege Petersburg.