As the Commander in Chief Deliberates, Frustration Builds Within the Ranks

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by drjekyllus, Oct 20, 2009.


    WASHINGTON — Only nine months ago, the Pentagon pronounced itself reassured by the early steps of a new commander in chief. President Obama was moving slowly on an American withdrawal from Iraq, had retained former President George W. Bush’s defense secretary and, in a gesture much noticed, had executed his first military salute with crisp precision.

    A number of active duty and retired senior officers say there is concern that the president is moving too slowly, is revisiting a war strategy he announced in March and is unduly influenced by political advisers in the Situation Room.

    “The thunderstorm is there and it’s kind of brewing and it’s unstable and the lightning hasn’t struck, and hopefully it won’t,” said Nathaniel C. Fick, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who briefed Mr. Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign and is now the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a military research institution in Washington. “I think it can probably be contained and avoided, but people are aware of the volatile brew.”

    Last week the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., gave voice to the concerns of those in the military when he issued a terse statement criticizing Mr. Obama’s review of Afghan war strategy.

    “The extremists are sensing weakness and indecision within the U.S. government, which plays into their hands,” said Mr. Tradewell’s statement on behalf of his group, which represents 1.5 million former soldiers.

    Last August, in a speech to the V.F.W., Mr. Obama defended his strategy, saying, “This is not only a war worth fighting; this is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

    A retired general who served in Iraq said that the military had listened, “perhaps naïvely,” to Mr. Obama’s campaign promises that the Afghan war was critical. “What’s changed, and are we having the rug pulled out from under us?” he asked. Like many of those interviewed for this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals from the military’s civilian leadership and the White House.

    Mr. Obama’s civilian advisers on national security say the president is appropriately reviewing his policy options from all sides. They said it would be reckless to rush a decision on whether to send as many as 40,000 more American men and women to war, particularly when the unresolved Afghan election had left the United States without a clear partner in Kabul.

    Although the tensions do not break entirely on classic civilian-military lines — some senior military officers have doubts about sending more troops to Afghanistan and some of Mr. Obama’s top civilian advisers do not — the strains reflect the military’s awareness in recent months that life has changed under the new White House.

    After years of rising military budgets under the Bush administration, the new administration has tried to rein in Pentagon spending, and has signaled other changes as well, including reopening debate on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy governing military service by gay men and lesbians.

    The administration has made clear that Mr. Obama will not necessarily follow the advice of his generals in the same way Mr. Bush did, notably in the former president’s deference to Gen. David H. Petraeus, now the head of the Central Command, and that it does not want military leaders publicly pressing the commander in chief as they give their advice.

    Two weeks ago, after Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, rejected calls for the Afghan war to be scaled back during a question-and-answer session in a speech in London, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned not only General McChrystal, but also the military as a whole, to keep quiet in public as the debate progressed.

    “It is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations — civilian and military alike — provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately,” Mr. Gates told the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army, a private support group, in Washington.

    Andrew M. Exum, a former Army officer in Afghanistan, an adviser to General McChrystal and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said that the change in style from one administration to the next had led to some of the military’s discontent. “The Bush administration would settle on a strategy and stick to it, and you could argue often to ill effect,” he said, referring to the president’s decision not to send more troops to Iraq until 2007, after years of rising violence.

    The Obama administration, he said, is not afraid to go back and question assumptions. “There’s a value in that,” Mr. Exum said, “but that can be incredibly frustrating for those trying to operationalize the strategy.”

    Part of the strain comes from lessons learned from the generals who acquiesced to former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s demands for a small invasion force in Iraq, then faced criticism that they had not spoken up for more troops to secure the country during the occupation.

    The retired general who served in Iraq said that today’s senior officers had decided, “I won’t be so quiet, I won’t be a lap dog.”

    Another source of tension within the military is the view that a delay is endangering the 68,000 American troops now in Afghanistan. “McChrystal has troops out there who are risking their lives more than they need to, partly because we have not filled in the gaps and we have not created a safe zone in southern and eastern Afghanistan,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a national security expert at the Brookings Institution.

    A military policy analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing senior Pentagon leaders, said that “the military lives in a very rarefied environment,” and that “they are not out there every day having to meet citizens who say, ‘What the hell are we doing?’ ”

    Senior military officers, the analyst said, “are smart guys, but they do not have the daily pulse of the American public in their face. They tend to interpret politicians who give voice to it as being weak, but none of this works if the public gives up on it.”
  2. Obama: "will not necessarily follow the advice of his Generals."

    Watch out, Woodstock and their offspring are in charge.
  3. Generals, Afghan?...don't worry about that crap, Obama is a superstar!

  4. maxpi


    but the sombich got all over that Marijuana policy though, only nine months in office and we have "change we can believe in".. that's what I'm talkin' 'bout baby... where's that card, the one the doctor gave me in that place over behind the gas station... shoot, I've gotta get organized here some day... gets on the phone: hey baby, I'm out of smoke, what you got goin' over dere???
  5. Hilary, during priamry campaigning (about Obama):

    And all we have, is a speech...