Was there a single moment when Obama’s relationship with the military began to sour? Most observers point to the bruising 2009 debates about troop numbers in Afghanistan. – Rosa Brooks
THE MILITARY isn’t pleased with their commander in chief, with the collision President Obama had with the Pentagon over Syria seemingly the final break of silence, as revealed by a fascinating article by Rosa Brooks in Politico, the magazine. Anyone having watched the hearings on Syria undoubtedly saw General Martin Dempsey squirm through the hearings, as President Obama dismantled his strategy in public, which made many on the left happy, but left a wide feeling among foreign policy experts that no one had a clue what they were doing.
The Pentagon military industrial complex isn’t going to like any president who back pedals on military action, but the “red line” lurch and retraction on Syria policy became a real issue with the generals, which began with Afghanistan.
The interesting fact that President Bush has continued much of Bush-Cheney policies on national security hasn’t helped President Obama with the military generals and the others sources for the revealing article by Rosa Brooks.
Politico’s article in their new magazine, by Rosa Brooks, a leading expert on military matters, is an important read.
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.
[“¦] 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.”
President Obama was out of a different generation and mold, so he was bound to collide with the Pentagon.
With Americans no longer interested in having our military perform their traditional role around the world, one wonders where the next conversation will be as the next presidential election comes into focus. The Obama model hasn’t made the Pentagon happy, but the old traditional model clearly no longer apples.
“Civilians are the principals, the military are specialized employees. The military can advise, but they must do what the boss says in the way the boss wants, no more and no less.” But, Dubik says, “most people in the military still favor the traditional separate-spheres model, while most people in the White House tend to think in terms of the employer-employee model. That’s a recipe for unhappiness.” [Rosa Brooks for Politico]
This poses an interesting question for Hillary Clinton, who is seen as a militarist by progressives, while her progressive view of women’s roles in a country’s stability, as well as the power of private and public economic partnerships and “smart power,” could rewrite the rules.