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  • Obama vs. the Generals

    After a spate of news stories this summer citing tensions between President Barack Obama and his top military commanders over the possibility of U.S. intervention in Syria, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough hastened to assure the Washington Post that everything was, in fact, copacetic: The president “appreciates” candid military advice “above all else,” McDonough insisted, and has “close, and in some instances warm, relationships with his military chiefs,” as the Post put it. During my own time at the Pentagon, where I worked as an Obama appointee from the spring of 2009 until mid-2011, few seemed to hold this view. I recall asking one general, recently back from Afghanistan, if he’d shared his experiences and insights with the president. Rolling his eyes, he told me grimly that the White House preferred the military to be seen but not heard.

    Curious about whether things had changed since then, I asked a dozen serving and recently retired senior military officers with high-level White House access, many of whom were not comfortable speaking on the record, if they knew of any military leaders with whom the president had a close and warm personal relationship. In every case, the initial response was a long silence. “That’s a great question,” said one retired senior officer, after a lengthy pause. “Good question. I don’t know,” said a second. “I don’t think he’s close to anyone,” commented a third. He just doesn’t seem to have any interest in “getting to know” the military, a retired general concluded.

    Of course, there’s no law that requires the president to invite his top generals for pajama parties or rounds of golf, and being “close” to military leaders is no guarantee of sound decision-making. But all of this raises an increasingly relevant question: How has the president—the man who promised to “finish the job” in Afghanistan, close the door on the unpopular Iraq War and “end the mind-set that got us into the war in the first place”—managed a military he often seems to regard with mistrust and unease?

    ***

    “Americans are deeply ambivalent about war,” Obama told a National Defense University audience in May. He might have been speaking about himself. Despite his campaign promises, Obama has been embroiled in a series of military adventures, some of his own making. Although the last U.S. troops finally withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, there are today almost twice as many American troops in Afghanistan as when Obama was first elected. Obama also presided over a seven-month air campaign in Libya and has accelerated a covert drone war that has so far killed an estimated 4,000 people in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Through all this, the president has continued to express his dismay over the nation’s militarized foreign policy: “We cannot use force everywhere,” he insisted in May. “Perpetual war … will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.”

    After more than a decade of combat, many military leaders share Obama’s concern about the costs of perpetual war. But most of those interviewed for this article—an array of current and former Pentagon brass who have collectively had charge of many of the wars on Obama’s watch—also expressed the fear that the president’s ambivalence about military force has morphed into ambivalence about the military itself.
    The generals told me they believe this double ambivalence has contributed to a series of strategically incoherent White House decisions—and, despite McDonough’s reassurances, most of my sources said tensions between the White House and the military are running worryingly high.

    The latest cause of heartburn inside the Pentagon is undoubtedly Syria. On Aug. 21, according to the United States and its allies, the forces of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on a rebel-held area, crossing the “red line” Obama had drawn. Obama responded by declaring his intention to “send a message” to Assad via targeted military strikes.

    The timing was awkward. Only days before the chemical weapons attack, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had gone on record pooh-poohing the idea of U.S. military action in Syria, emphasizing the risk of escalation, the importance of being “realistic about the cost we incur in blood and treasure” and “the limits of military force.” Dempsey grew more circumspect in subsequent congressional testimony, but “his body language,” says retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, Dempsey still suggested he was thinking, “I can’t believe how dumb this is.”

    Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates was explicitly critical in a September speech: “I believe that to blow a bunch of stuff up over a couple days, to underscore or validate a point or a principle, is not a strategy.”

    According to most of those I interviewed, Gates’s scathing words reflect an unhappiness with the commander in chief that is widely shared in the military. “The military does not take kindly to people asking them to do things without thinking them through,” Eaton observes. “Military guys get kind of bemused when civilians tell them it’s OK to blow people to smithereens using bombs, as long as you don’t kill them with chemical weapons.”

    “No soldier in his right mind would guarantee ‘no boots on the ground,’” another retired senior commander told me in frustration, after the president had promised just that. “You can never make such guarantees. And we need to be careful how we draw moral lines and distinctions in this terribly complicated civil war. In 12 years of war, the U.S. has won everything tactically and nothing strategically. Let’s not bomb somebody just to bomb somebody.”

    The Syria episode reinforced the sense of a White House-Pentagon relationship in crisis, and media outlets eagerly stoked the controversy. “America’s Top Generals Are Mad as Hell, and They’re Not Taking It Anymore,” ran a headline in Foreign Policy. The Washington Post published a caustic op-ed by retired Army Maj. Gen. (and Fox News commentator) Robert Scales, who claimed that military personnel were “embarrassed to be associated with the amateurism of the Obama administration’s attempts to craft a plan that makes strategic sense.”

    Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the White House coordinator for defense policy, assured me in an emailed statement that the president “relies heavily” on his senior military leaders to provide “candid, direct advice with respect to when and how military force can be used to achieve our national security objectives.” In my interviews, however, many senior military leaders complained of feeling baffled and shut out by a White House National Security Staff that, in their view, combines an insistence on micromanaging minor issues with a near-total inability to articulate coherent strategic goals. “The NSS wants to run the show, day to day and minute to minute,” laments a former military official, “so they have no time—they’re almost incapable of strategic thinking.”

    Alluding to Carl von Clausewitz’s famous maxim, another recently retired senior general voiced similar frustration. “If war is ‘the continuation of policy,’ I’d like to know what that policy is—so I can avoid screwing it up, or wasting lives for no purpose.” But, he says, “I don’t understand the process by which the White House is making strategic or foreign-policy decisions. … There’s an appearance of consultation, but you know you won’t be listened to.”


    More at Link
    May we raise children who love the unloved things - the dandelion, the worm, the spiderlings.
    Children who sense the rose needs the thorn and run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun...
    And when they're grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice,
    may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things and be the one.

  • #2
    Odd that Congress isn't mentioned.
    "There are four lights!"

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Billy Jingo View Post
      Odd that Congress isn't mentioned.
      Obama vs Congress?
      May we raise children who love the unloved things - the dandelion, the worm, the spiderlings.
      Children who sense the rose needs the thorn and run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun...
      And when they're grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice,
      may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things and be the one.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Michele View Post
        Obama vs Congress?
        There were complaints about funding. Maybe I'm old school but such complaints seem to me to be more of a Legislative Branch gripe than an Executive gripe.

        Also, there is the issue of civilian political will but ... well ... I am really not sure what this piece is about except maybe just some military bitching; which is a time honored tradition.
        "There are four lights!"

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Billy Jingo View Post
          There were complaints about funding. Maybe I'm old school but such complaints seem to me to be more of a Legislative Branch gripe than an Executive gripe.

          Also, there is the issue of civilian political will but ... well ... I am really not sure what this piece is about except maybe just some military bitching; which is a time honored tradition.
          That's what you came away with after reading this article?
          May we raise children who love the unloved things - the dandelion, the worm, the spiderlings.
          Children who sense the rose needs the thorn and run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun...
          And when they're grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice,
          may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things and be the one.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Michele View Post
            That's what you came away with after reading this article?
            That was part of it. A rather important part, actually.

            As the cadence goes, "Boots cost money, you big dummy."
            "There are four lights!"

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Billy Jingo View Post
              That was part of it. A rather important part, actually.

              As the cadence goes, "Boots cost money, you big dummy."
              Funding, for which you obviously have a need to concentrate on because you believe it lets you bring the congress into this article and take the spotlight off of Obama, is a side issue compared to the main focus of Obama vs Generals. Try re-reading it again. If you still can't figure out the main theme, I'll give you a hint.
              May we raise children who love the unloved things - the dandelion, the worm, the spiderlings.
              Children who sense the rose needs the thorn and run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun...
              And when they're grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice,
              may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things and be the one.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Michele View Post
                Funding, for which you obviously have a need to concentrate on because you believe it lets you bring the congress into this article and take the spotlight off of Obama, is a side issue compared to the main focus of Obama vs Generals. Try re-reading it again. If you still can't figure out the main theme, I'll give you a hint.
                That would be great. Thanks.
                "There are four lights!"

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Billy Jingo View Post
                  That would be great. Thanks.
                  You know what, Bok? If you don't want to be an adult and post about what the article is focusing on, feel free to pass it up, instead of reaching down low for something you think is worthy of deflection. While you must think you're being oh so clever with your nonsense, you're not.

                  This is a 3-page article about Obama and his relationship with the military and it's written by someone who was an Obama appointee to the Defense Dept for three years. As an adult who tries as hard as you do to convince people that you're a moderate/centrist, it might help your cause to actually show up as one sometime.
                  May we raise children who love the unloved things - the dandelion, the worm, the spiderlings.
                  Children who sense the rose needs the thorn and run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun...
                  And when they're grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice,
                  may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things and be the one.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Michele View Post
                    You know what, Bok? If you don't want to be an adult and post about what the article is focusing on, feel free to pass it up, instead of reaching down low for something you think is worthy of deflection. While you must think you're being oh so clever with your nonsense, you're not.

                    This is a 3-page article about Obama and his relationship with the military and it's written by someone who was an Obama appointee to the Defense Dept for three years. As an adult who tries as hard as you do to convince people that you're a moderate/centrist, it might help your cause to actually show up as one sometime.
                    The article was transparent and obvious. Next time I promise to not be subtle in pointing that out.

                    As far as being a centrist, meh. I learned a long time ago that for some, everyone north of I10 is a Yankee.
                    "There are four lights!"

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Billy Jingo View Post
                      The article was transparent and obvious. Next time I promise to not be subtle in pointing that out.

                      As far as being a centrist, meh. I learned a long time ago that for some, everyone north of I10 is a Yankee.
                      Whatever
                      May we raise children who love the unloved things - the dandelion, the worm, the spiderlings.
                      Children who sense the rose needs the thorn and run into rainswept days the same way they turn towards the sun...
                      And when they're grown and someone has to speak for those who have no voice,
                      may they draw upon that wilder bond, those days of tending tender things and be the one.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Michele View Post
                        Whatever
                        You have met the enigma that is TheBok.....

                        For over 5 years he has no input.
                        Nada
                        Zip

                        He cannot admit he voted twice for 'The First Negro' president... just because...
                        Robert Francis O'Rourke, Democrat, White guy, spent ~78 million to defeat, Ted Cruz, Republican immigrant Dark guy …
                        and lost …
                        But the Republicans are racist.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Gramps View Post
                          'The First Negro' president...
                          You really need to get past that.
                          "There are four lights!"

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Billy Jingo View Post
                            You really need to get past that.
                            “I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
                            I aim with my eye.

                            "I do not shoot with my hand; he who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
                            I shoot with my mind.

                            "I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
                            I kill with my heart.”

                            The Gunslinger Creed, Stephen King, The Dark Tower

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by daveman View Post
                              Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
                              "There are four lights!"

                              Comment

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