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May 09, 2012

Obama Still Doesn't Get the Military He Commands

Jennifer Rubin notes an interesting double standard from both the Left and Right when it comes to criticizing the Commander in Chief:

It’s not an easy task for a presidential candidate to decide when and how to criticize the incumbent on national security matters. No candidate wants to cede ground to the president, especially one with as troubling a record as this one. But neither should a challenger be excessive in ripping the commander in chief or refuse to acknowledge success.

Now some just want the president’s rival to shut up. President Obama rapped critics of his Iran policy for purportedly engaging in “loose war talk.” Last week, to the shock of some foreign policy hawks, Bill Kristol harshly scolded Mitt Romney for criticizing Obama’s handling of the Chen Guangcheng situation, which Romney had done in terms similar to most every conservative foreign policy guru who has spoken or written on the issue. (Dan Senor, the most prominent foreign policy surrogate, was also dispatched to critique the president’s performance.) Interestingly, on Friday, Chen’s lawyer remarked on the efficacy of public criticism of the president, “I knew Obama would sooner or later have to say something. How was he going to fight a campaign and respond to attacks by Romney? By sitting in silence?”

So what is a candidate like Romney to do?

We know what Candidate "Do as I say, not as I did" behaved when he was in the same situation

It's hard to make sense of President Obama's super secret trip to Afghanistan today without looking back to the 2008 election when President Bush was trying to negotiate a similar agreement with the government of Iraq. Back then, Candidate Obama did everything within his power to undermine the Strategic Framework agreement - up to and including personally interfering with ongoing negotiations between the Bush administration and the Iraqis and then bragging about it...

We also know what President Obama did once elected: continue the very policies he once furiously denounced as morally bankrupt and shameful. It is nothing short of bizarre to see this President claiming credit for having doubled down on Bush-era policy decisions:

President Obama campaigned on a scorched earth critique of the foreign policy he inherited from President Bush. He promised to undo all of it. Some of those promises (withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months) barely survived the first few days, while others (unconditional talks with Ahmadinejad or closing Gitmo) were only jettisoned after months of failed efforts. The correlation is almost perfect: the longer Obama hewed to his campaign critique, the less well it has gone in foreign-policy. And, by the way, the supposedly hyper-partisan Republican opposition actually has chalked up a record that compares very favorably with the recent past: where Obama has pursued a genuinely bipartisan policy, he has enjoyed strong bipartisan support.

But when it comes to this President and his performance as Commander in Chief, grading on a steep curve seems to be the new normal. In a stunning display of post hoc apologetics, David Ignatius inadvertently highlights Obama's incoherent and oddly passive performance as Commander in Chief:

President Obama finally seemed to reach his comfort level as commander in chief during his visit to Kabul yesterday — and it probably wasn’t a coincidence that he was signing an Obamesque document that at once mandates the withdrawal of most U.S. combat troops — and also allows the continued presence of a counterterrorism force to kill al-Qaeda terrorists.

This is the outcome that Obama probably wanted all along, which was favored back in 2009 by Vice President Biden and other political advisers. The president let himself be talked into a more ambitious counterinsurgency strategy, and a surge of 30,000 troops, but he never seemed happy with it. Indeed, he undercut the surge strategy from the outset by announcing that he would begin withdrawing the surge troops in July 2011 — practically inviting the Taliban to wait him out.

Obama has sometimes seemed a distant, passionless commander, much more comfortable making decisions in secret about covert action than in the flag-waving public role of leading the troops. But that didn’t seem true yesterday, especially during his unscripted, shirt-sleeve speech to troops at Bagram Air Base. He sounded like the military’s advocate and leader, looking fit and youthful as he strode striding the stage. Surely this comfort level was a reflection of the fact that he was outlining a strategy he finally believes in.

Here the Editorial Staff will pause to allow the assembled villainry to pick their jaws up off the floor. Let's walk through what Ignatius just told us:

1. Obama "allowed himself to be talked into" sending 30,000 young men and women into a battle he didn't believe in?

2. Having stepped up the war effort against his better judgment, our Commander in Chief proceeded to support the men and women he had sent into harm's way by "undercut[ting] the surge strategy from the outset"?

Stop and think about that one for just a moment. Think about the American lives - and American families - who paid the price for a change their leader didn't believe in:


Of course, David Ignatius isn't the only Obama admirer whose moral compass points in all directions at once. In an even more inexplicable column, another David (Maraniss, this time) proudly trumpets "Obama's Military Connection":

Obama is the first president to whom Vietnam is ancient history. He carries none of the psychological baggage of that war, for better or worse. Every young man in the baby-boom generation of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had to deal with Vietnam somehow, but by the time Obama came of age, the war and the draft were over. His liberal mother felt at home in the peace movement, and he took many characteristics from her, but he also chafed at her idealistic naivete, which he viewed as a relic of the ’60s. From an early age he wanted to be harder and cooler than his mother, less Pollyannaish, more pragmatic. His use of the military option in his foreign policy reflects that dual sensibility. Clinton grew up wanting to be JFK, but Obama thinks more like him.

It was no accident that, during his surprise visit to Afghanistan a few days ago, the president referred to the military men and women there as the new “greatest generation,” skipping over Vietnam again. Obama feels more affinity toward his grandfather’s generation (Stan Dunham fought in Europe during World War II) than to his mother’s, or he at least finds it more culturally appealing. He is an avid viewer of the television show “Mad Men” and told me that some of the characters remind him of his grandparents, with whom he lived as a teenager.

The cultural geography of those formative years also shaped his perspective. Obama was in Honolulu then, surrounded by military installations. Hickam Air Force Base, Schofield Barracks, Fort Shafter, Pearl Harbor Naval Station and Hawaii Marine Corps Base were all part of his adolescent environment. He grew up comfortable with the military culture, not alienated from it. Some friends came from military families. One of his buddies dated an admiral’s daughter, and they would borrow the old man’s car to tool around the island.

"Some of his best friends were military". Now where have we heard that one before? During the Bush years, serving in the National Guard was viewed as insufficient experience for a Commander in Chief. Fast forward to 2012 and a man who may have known some military juniors in high school - who couldn't find the time to meet with his senior commander in Afghanistan - is being lauded for his deep understanding and comfort level with all things military. Of course to him, Vietnam is ancient history. Tens of thousands of Americans died there, but that need not be mentioned (much less remembered). Certainly not praised.

Back in 2009 when her husband was serving in Afghanistan, this Marine wife argued that Obama doesn't get the military he commands:

...where was our Commander in Chief when his top commander in Afghanistan was being viciously attacked? Did he step in and defend his subordinate for doing the job he was ordered to do? Of course he didn't. Harry Truman was obviously no community organizer: the brouhaha over McChrystal ensured that the buck wouldn't stop in the Oval Office this time. The McChrystal leak was followed by the revelation that our stalwart Commander in Chief had only met with his top commander in Afghanistan once. Stung by the implication that his "war of necessity" was very much on the back burner, Obama scrambled to find a mere 20 minutes to spare as he idled on a runway in northern Europe. He spent more time than that conducting a beer summit.

Now the Army's largest base has suffered a devastating attack by a deranged Islamist. And how does our Commander in Chief respond? He gives a "shout out" to Joe Medicine Crow, that noted Congressional Medal of Honor winner.

Tell me something: in a moment of national tragedy is it really too much to expect the President of the United States to forego the "shout outs"? Is it too much ask that he learn the difference between the Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Medal of Honor? What we require from our leaders at times like this is not much, really. No one expects them to actually care. What we want is precisely the kind of thing that comes so effortlessly to Barack Obama: honeyed words and a reassuring show of compassion from a man who thinks that quality is the most important attribute a Supreme Court judge can possess. A public acknowledgment that something grave has happened. But for some reason, asking the Commander in Chief of our armed forces to give even the appearance of empathy was a bridge too far.

We lost one of our own in the attack on Fort Hood: Lieutenant Colonel Juanita Warman. That connection can never be severed. The sense of loss can never be forgotten.

I wish I were convinced that our Commander in Chief - or even pundits like David Ignatius - understood one tenth of the pride military families feel in our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. How can anyone praise the "Commander in Chief" for sending 30,000 of America's finest to war for a cause he not only doesn't support but actively tries to sabotage?

Easy. They are, after all, expendable to him (if not to us). They should not be.

Posted by Cassandra at May 9, 2012 08:56 AM

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Now, Cass... You had me singing along from the same hymnal right up until the words "They are, after all, expendable to him (if not to us)." Yes, your argument frames a dichotomy that would seem to require exactly such a conclusion, but I can't go that far. I am prepared to say that Mr. Obama is an incompetent, narcissistic, backstabbing lying weasel. But I am not ready to say that President Obama is a heartless murdering bastard. He may not "get" the military as you say, but I truly doubt that means he cares less for them as human beings than the rest of us.

I could be wrong. They say that happened once.
I denied it, of course.

Posted by: spd rdr at May 9, 2012 11:38 AM

I hope you know me well enough to know that I don't say things like that lightly.

How can anyone send 30,000 troops into a fight you don't think is a good idea (Why - because you don't think you can win? Because you have no intention of staying the course? Because... what???) without understanding the implications of that decision?

Here's where I probably differ from a lot of people. This may make people mad, but as someone who grew up in the military and then spent 3 decades married to an active duty Marine, I actually do believe the armed forces are expendable in the sense that we are willing to place them in danger - to sacrifice their lives - in service of some larger goal.

What was the larger goal here?

Killing Bin Laden?

Defeating the Taliban?

Making Afghanistan secure?

What was Obama's desired end state here? His supporters seem to believe it was a speedy withdrawal of the majority of our forces, at a defined date not tied to any definable end state.

I probably don't attach the same emotional significance to saying that people in the military are (in a sense) "expendable": after all, that is the understanding my husband served under for 30 years. It is the understanding my Dad and father in law served under.

The question is, what policy end is being served?

Posted by: Batmobile!!! at May 9, 2012 11:53 AM

I am prepared to say that Mr. Obama is an incompetent, narcissistic, backstabbing lying weasel.

I vehemently disagree with you here. There's nothing at all incompetent about Obama. He knows exactly what he's doing.

That's what makes what he's doing so reprehensible.


How can anyone send 30,000 troops into a fight you don't think is a good idea....

I fully understand such a move, and it can be legitimate. He's advised by his staff that it's a good idea, and he believes, and believes in, his staff. If he can't, why are they his staff? This doesn't mean that a competent leader always rubber stamps his staff, but it does mean that sometimes he accedes to their advice over his own judgment. Either way, the decision and its outcome are his responsibility, not theirs.

What's important, what gives or denies the legitimacy to his against-his-own-better-judgment decision, is what he does after. An honorable man, a man who is not a narcissistic, backstabbing lying weasel, will do his utmost to ensure the success of that decision, to facilitate his staff's, and those actually doing the execution, ability to succeed. Only a narcissistic, backstabbing lying weasel would then actively sabotage the decision.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 9, 2012 12:10 PM

I fully understand such a move, and it can be legitimate. He's advised by his staff that it's a good idea, and he believes, and believes in, his staff. If he can't, why are they his staff? This doesn't mean that a competent leader always rubber stamps his staff, but it does mean that sometimes he accedes to their advice over his own judgment. Either way, the decision and its outcome are his responsibility, not theirs.

What's important, what gives or denies the legitimacy to his against-his-own-better-judgment decision, is what he does after.

I could understand his being persuaded (though Obama campaigned on the premise that Afghanistan was always the only legitimate war - he said during the campaign that he was planning to send more troops).

From a 2009 article on the strategic reviews:


In June, McChrystal noted, he had arrived in Afghanistan and set about fulfilling his assignment. His lean face, hovering on the screen at the end of the table, was replaced by a mission statement on a slide: "Defeat the Taliban. Secure the Population."

"Is that really what you think your mission is?" one of those in the Situation Room asked.

On the face of it, it was impossible -- the Taliban were part of the fabric of the Pashtun belt of southern Afghanistan, culturally if not ideologically supported by a significant part of the population. "We don't need to do that," Gates said, according to a participant. "That's an open-ended, forever commitment."

But that was precisely his mission, McChrystal responded, and it was enshrined in the Strategic Implementation Plan -- the execution orders for the March strategy, written by the NSC staff.

"I wouldn't say there was quite a 'whoa' moment," a senior defense official said of the reaction around the table. "It was just sort of a recognition that, 'Duh, that's what, in effect, the commander understands he's been told to do.' Everybody said, 'He's right.' "

"It was clear that Stan took a very literal interpretation of the intent" of the NSC document, said Jones, who had signed the orders himself. "I'm not sure that in his position I wouldn't have done the same thing, as a military commander." But what McChrystal created in his assessment "was obviously something much bigger and more longer-lasting . . . than we had intended."

Whatever the administration might have said in March, officials explained to McChrystal, it now wanted something less absolute: to reverse the Taliban's momentum, deter it and try to persuade a significant number of its members to switch sides. "We certainly want them not to be able to overthrow the government," Jones said.

On Oct. 9, after awaking to the news that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama listened to McChrystal's presentation. The "mission" slide included the same words: "Defeat the Taliban." But a red box had been added beside it saying that the mission was being redefined, Jones said. Another participant recalled that the word "degrade" had been proposed to replace "defeat."

Already briefed on the previous day's discussion, the president "looked at it and said: 'To be fair, this is what we told the commander to do. Now, the question is, have we directed him to do more than what is realistic?

Posted by: Batmobile!!! at May 9, 2012 12:32 PM

I have to wonder where the Commander's Intent statement (at this level, emanating from Obama) was.

Or perhaps it was as weasel-worded, and so useless, as the Panetta MFR that's being bruited about as giving Obama cover to blame another should the UBL raid have gone bad. (And given that a helo crashed on ingress, I wonder what the phone call was like back to the President with this new risk factor appearing).

But the waffling on the mission.... Anything less than "defeat" of the other is to accept defeat of ourselves.

As an aside, I have another theory about the Panetta UBL MFR, given that it was hand-written. I don't think it was to give Obama cover; I think it was written nearly on the spur of the moment to give Panetta cover against Obama.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 9, 2012 01:01 PM

Locally, there was a constant group of 10-15 guys and gals downtown every Saturday, noisily holding signs and denouncing the war in Iraq.

They cranked up before OIF began and never-ever went home.

I didn't agree with them [1] but I thought their dedication was admirable.

Since 2008 they've been conspicuously absent from their corner.

Wrote an email last year, asking when they'd be back. Never got any replies.

[1] It's complicated. Didn't think we should have invaded, but once in I wanted the job finished.

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at May 9, 2012 02:38 PM

"Defeat the Taliban. Secure the Population."


"Whatever the administration might have said in March, officials explained to McChrystal, it now wanted something less absolute: to reverse the Taliban's momentum, deter it and try to persuade a significant number of its members to switch sides."

To borrow a Yogiism, It's déjà vu all over again.

All these decades later, the Best and Brightest™ names have changed, but the song remains the same.

M'lady, for a person on injured reserve duty you have, as usual, kicked the proverbial booty.

Posted by: bthun at May 9, 2012 05:04 PM

His desired end result (which I don't want) was to be re-elected.

Posted by: htom at May 9, 2012 06:48 PM

Upon further reflection,I think that my portrayal of Mr. Obama as a "backstabbing lying weasel" may have been a tad harsh. I have no evidence of any instance of any direct "backstabbing" by Mr. Obama (his staff handles such things). Consequently, I would like to amend my criticism of Mr. Obama to read "incompetent, narcissistic, duplicitous lying weasel."

Your point about all servicemen and women being, at some level, "expendable," however, is well taken. I have never had the honor of commanding troops in the field, so I cannot pretend that I will ever truly understand the loneliness that attends that privilege. But I do, or at least think I do, understand the calculus of command - the cold scaling of objectives gained vs. losses accepted - and I do agree that President Obama lacks the instinct - and dare I say empathy? - required for command.
Command involves accepting risks far greater than any possible reward for the attainment of a goal, and then driving all of the force available to you towards that goal. Obama's "leadership" style, is not "Command" but rather 'persuasion.' Rather than setting objectives and committing forces to attain those objectives, Obama offers possibilities, and then employs an odd mix of flattery and opprobrium to persuade/shame others to commit themselves towards the fulfillment of the possibilities being offered.
It all sounds very nice, persuasion, so long as the "possibilities" being discussed aren't guarded by men with automatic weapons. True, a person can be persuaded to share great sacrifice, provided however, that person has first been persuaded as to the nobility or righteousness of the cause for which he sacrifices.* But although persuasion's power is great, it's power is greatest on a grand scale. As the size of the target audience decreases, so does the effectiveness of persuasion as an instrument of leadership. For example: A nation can be persuaded that a war is righteous, and necessary, and just, and to willingly accept the sacrifice of that war. A soldier, however, cannot be persuaded to willingly leave the safety of his foxhole and charge the enemy, and rightly so. It's an irrational act directly against his own self-interest which no amount of reasoning can overcome. It is a curious turn of the human intellect then that should the same soldier be ordered out of his foxhole by his Commander, it is likely that the soldier will comply without the necessity of any further explanation. And now I gotta go home. Orders. If anyone figures out what it was that I started out trying to say, please don't tell me. I prefer the possibilities to the realities.

*(History is, of course scarred with the memory of causes neither noble nor righteous that likewise garnered, and then squandered, the shared sacrifice of their adherents. Such is the power of persuasion.)

Posted by: spd rdr at May 9, 2012 08:06 PM

spd rdr -- I suspect you're going to be getting a nasty letter from the chief of the weasels, objecting to the comparison. Probably happen if you compared to the excrement under the pond scum, too. Oh, and congratulations on the daughter's achievement!

Posted by: htom at May 9, 2012 09:23 PM

There is a certain element of sadness that we are even having this conversation but have it, we must.

For my part, it's difficult to put into words my disgust for the President's military policies. Well, pretty much all of his policies (now that I think about it.)

Posted by: Carrie at May 10, 2012 07:45 AM

Because I remember so vividly the non-stop criticism and second guessing Bush had to put up with wrt the war, I have really tried to keep my mouth shut about Afghanistan even though I never thought a Surge made as much sense there as it did in Iraq.

In Iraq, 80% of the violence was occurring within a few concentrated areas. So Surging made perfect sense - we didn't have to blanket the country and our forces could be concentrated where they could do the most good. The Dems said casualties would go up, yet they went DOWN once the Surge troops were in place ...and so did the violence.

Afghanistan is almost the exact opposite - even if you started with the same number of troops we had in Iraq, you'd have to spread them out thinly. And then there are the logistical problems. So surging doesn't have the same concentrated effect. Still, we did manage to do some good.. at the cost of vastly increased casualties, though.

Unlike the Iraq surge where casualties went down, the casualty rate went through the roof in Afghanistan. That alone tells you it was a different situation.

What bothers me here is that his proposed "smart power" consisted of doing something that worked quite well in Iraq (and that he opposed and wouldn't admit it worked, which makes it rather odd for him to suddenly seize on the same strategy for Afghanistan). But it wasn't suited to this fight, he didn't give McChrystal all the forces e needed, and then he undercut Karzai every chance he got and didn't bother to develop a relationship with his commanders in the field.

Obama's policy was completely misaligned with his stated objectives.

Posted by: Batmobile!!! at May 10, 2012 10:49 AM

"They are, after all, expendable to him (if not to us)."

They're nothing more than pawns to be used by Xerxes', I Won!, Lord of the Lies in his neverending quest to be da King.

Happy Military Spouse Appreciation Day, Cass, Carrie and all who love their soldier, sailor, Coastie or Marine.

Posted by: DL Sly at May 11, 2012 08:26 AM

I hope you are feeling better, and are able to rest.

Posted by: tomg51 at May 11, 2012 08:30 AM

I am feeling a bit better :) Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. Long week!

Posted by: Cass at May 11, 2012 09:50 AM

But that didn’t seem true yesterday, especially during his unscripted, shirt-sleeve speech to troops at Bagram Air Base.

It was scripted. He arrived early and gave his chat at 2205 (10:05pm in Normal People time) -- well before the witching hour -- nattering about "the pre-dawn darkness." He was in shirtsleeves because it snowed the night before, and the hangar rats cranked the heat up to "parboil" take the chill off the air.

He sounded like the military’s advocate and leader...

...even though he refused the PAO's request for a five-farkin'-minute photo-op with the troops.

One of my aviation bubbas said he looked scared to death after the cameras stopped rolling...

Posted by: BillT at May 15, 2012 05:55 AM

"But that didn’t seem true yesterday, especially during his unscripted, shirt-sleeve speech to troops at Bagram Air Base."


..."even though he refused the PAO's request for a five-farkin'-minute photo-op with the troops.

One of my aviation bubbas said he looked scared to death after the cameras stopped rolling..."

He might have been having a flashback, a recollection of the speech he had drafted for Ike, both the D-Day speech and the one, just in case the events of 06-Jun-44 did not go well.

“Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is <strike>mine alone</strike> G.W. Bush's fault alone, or will be...”

Or it might have been the flush of remembering having to kick Patton in the posterior to get him rolling towards Bastogne in December of '44...

Posted by: J. Edgar Hubris at May 15, 2012 03:27 PM

Wait 'til the "Obie narrowly escaped death in the 1 May bombing in Kabul!" rubric starts floating around later during the campaign.

For the record, Obie spent the night in the Presidential palace in the center of Kabul. KAIA is a dozen miles north of the palace, and our compound is on the north side of the airfield -- both the VBIED and diversionary IED went off east of our front gate.

If the bombs had been 10kt tactical nukes, he'd still have been safe...

Posted by: BillT at May 15, 2012 05:33 PM

At this point, nothing from this guy would surprise me any more.

I keep trying to summon up the right amount of outrage at his antics, but shamelessness seems to have something of an innoculating effect.


Posted by: Cassandra at May 15, 2012 05:49 PM

"shamelessness seems to have something of an inoculating effect."

Yup. Pointing and laughing at the man is a diminishing return when tallied in the ever expanding O-hubris column of our 44th POTUS.

This joker of a POTUS and his <EXPLETIVES DELETED> Administration have killed any humor that could have been gleaned from this unfortunate chapter in U.S. history, were he simply conceited, or boastful, or egocentric, or malicious, or inept, or incompetent, or indolent... But all of the above!?

Even gallows humor is somehow inadequate in this circumstance.

174 days and a wake up. Be there... The dead and those not entitled to be casting ballots in the U.S. will be.

Posted by: bthun at May 15, 2012 06:17 PM