Streetwise Professor

October 5, 2010

With Defenders Like These

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:50 pm

I read Information Dissemination, a Navy blog, with some regularity.  It provides some very detailed analysis of important issues that don’t make the papers.  It is particularly good in discussing some of the shocking issues relating to procurement, and especially shipbuilding.  When it veers into politics and policy, it is pretty pro-Obama, but not to a KoolAid drinking extent.

A couple of days, ago, though, I was pretty dismayed at ID.  In discussing how the major players came off in Woodward’s book, this is what it had to say about Obama:

Barack Obama–The portrayal of the President is a generally positive one–I can’t recall having read a single devastatingly negative comment about the President in this book (other than Vice President Cheney’s “dithering” about the Afghanistan decision comment, which was made publicly)–which could be a sign that he did not warrant any, or it could be a sign of author bias.  The President seemed to demand a logical and thorough decision making process, and he appeared to be engaged, educated, and in charge.  He was however, operating moreso as a political figure in the NSC meetings than he was as Commander-in-Chief.  Careful not to reveal his political cards, it was clear that his frustrations with the options given were driven by electoral time-lines and their impact on other domestic legislation.  I don’t fault him for this–he’s a political figure with a number of policies and programs to balance.  I do however, strain to find any evidence in this book of a Presidential will to “win” this conflict, or even to see it in terms that can be described as “success oriented”.

If this is a positive portrayal, I’d hate to see a negative one.  The blogger, Bryan McGrath, basically concedes the entire bill of particulars that the president’s critics (neocons in particular) have advanced: he was driven by politics in his meetings with his National *Security* Team; his actions in Afghanistan are “driven by electoral time lines” and their domestic political implications; he has no will to win; and indeed has no real desire to achieve success.  Translation: Afghanistan is a distraction from his transformative domestic agenda and an annoyance that he wants to put behind him at any cost.

McGrath defends Obama by saying that the president is just a politician, and that’s what politicians do.

Sorry, Bryan, but that doesn’t come close to cutting it.  A President needs to recognize the grave responsibilities of being Commander-in-Chief.  Lives–American lives, Allied lives, Afghan lives–hang on his decisions.  He needs to recognize that the responsibility for the lives of American servicemen and women, and for the security of the nation, transcend partisan political goals.  (And the “policies and programs” and “domestic legislation” were clearly partisan endeavors, for which Obama is now reaping what he sowed.)  This is the most important part of the job, period, and if you don’t like it and don’t want those responsibilities, you should not take the job: Commander-in-Chief is Job 1 in Article II of the Constitution; you know, the part that says what the President is supposed to do.  We shouldn’t have a Commander-in-Chief that views national security and the lives of those under his command as a political inconvenience.

We’ve seen this movie before.  It starred Lyndon Baines Johnson.  If you don’t remember, it didn’t turn out well.

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  1. Ah, so it’s “will to win” you’re looking for, and not the careful termination of a war bungled by his predecessor, that you’re looking for, you’re upset that there’s no orders for mandated offensives to Wenck and Steiner.

    Get over it. Obama is being more faithful to our national interest by taking care in getting out of the war bungled by his predecessor than he would be if he tried to appease you.

    Comment by rkka — October 6, 2010 @ 10:06 am

  2. I’m more interested in a Commander-in-Chief willing to see where the limits of military might are and who tracks the mood of the public. You say, “we’ve seen this movie before,” referencing the Vietnam War but what you also fail to include (it’s included in Petraeus’ doctoral thesis) is that wars in America cannot really be won without the support of the public. It begins to become demoralizing otherwise.

    Comment by Daniel — October 6, 2010 @ 11:02 am

  3. Professor–Thanks for picking up my blogpost. Nothing like GoogleAlerts to let you know that someone on the interwebs has been talking about you! A couple of things for you:
    1. As you can see by my website, I’m a pretty conservative guy. I assure you, if Information Dissemination were “pretty pro-Obama”, I wouldn’t write for it. It’s actually pretty neutral–and I try to be more apolitical there.

    2. I didn’t say Woodward’s portrayal was “positive”. I said it was “generally positive”, and by that, I meant how he was portrayed BY WOODWARD. I think any fair reading of the book would lead one to believe that Woodward was generally positive about the President. My evidence was as stated–not a single sniping, insulting memorable comment about the President FROM ANYONE in this book.

    3. Of course I don’t fault Obama for making political calculations. He is a politician, he earned his job through the political process, and how war is conducted is as Clausewitz tells us–a political decision. Do I think Obama loves the Commander in Chief part of the job? No, I don’t. But do I think the job of the President is BIGGER than just the Commander-in Chief role? You bet. How the war would be conducted–would we go all in, would we fight along economy of force lines, were the American people still in favor of fighting the war–these are questions for the President and elected leaders–not the JOINT CHIEFS. The uniforms provide military advice, the White House Staff provides political advice and the President–as GWB reminded us–is “the Decider”. What the President did is EXACTLY what Presidents do, and should do. They weigh military objectives with national objectives and political realities. You may disagree with his decision (I did–I thought he should have gone with Biden’s Counterterrorism strategy), but faulting him for political considerations seems a bit naive.

    Cheers, mate.

    Comment by Bryan McGrath — October 6, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

  4. You know, if Mr. McGrath and some of his fellow sailors are reading this, I wonder what he thinks of the Bill Kristol and co op-eds in the WSJ (and a similar one in the WaPost if not by the same authors) telling Tea Partyers to not even think about cutting defense while Washington’s budget is hemorraging into money-printing. Seems like that went up like a lead balloon, according to Dan Drezner and co at Foreign Policy.

    To me, this is going to be the real fault line in the Tea Party movement, particularly once the hyperinflation begins in earnest and people start asking why the hell we need military bases in 120 countries to fight some guys sitting in caves and the people who sponsor them while pretending to be our allies (Saudi Arabia, Pakistan).

    The quote left by one of the commenters from Dwight D. Eisenhower who said unnecessary defense spending actually weakens the nation was appropo. Not perhaps an example of the ‘natural state’, but nice to see some recognition that ‘it (bloated military industrial/intelligence/homeland security complex ala the late USSR) can happen here’. Sure, they don’t need as many bodies. But even the WaPost said in Top Secret America that we have a huge number of spooks all duplicating each others work.

    Comment by Mr. X — October 8, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

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