The critical decisions about drawing down troops — with 32,000 departing by the end of September 2012 — were apparently made by political aides in the White House without consulting General Petraeus in Afghanistan or other generals or, until the very end, Secretary of Defense Gates and Secretary of State Clinton.
This is breathtaking. Commanders on the ground and senior officials at the Department of Defense are not always right, and their recommendations do not always have to be followed by a president. But the commander-in-chief at least has an obligation to solicit their views and take them into careful consideration. Apparently Obama didn’t do that because he wanted to avoid the leaks that attended his previous decision-making process on Afghanistan in the fall of 2009. So he decided to end the surge in September 2012, which [New York Times reporter David] Sanger erroneously describes as “after the summer fighting season” (the fighting season actually lasts until late October or early November) and accurately describes as “before the election.” Meaning, of course, our presidential election.
This confirms the worst suspicions of Obama’s critics — namely that he was never committed to victory in Afghanistan and was instead committed to bringing troops home early so as to position himself advantageously for his own reelection.
It is not a matter of the president’s authority or obligation to make decisions regarding war strategy; That’s his constitutional mandate. But it is nevertheless revealing that he doesn’t care what the military has to say.
A conservative national security guru tells me that if the New York Times story is accurate then “it’s not a case of Obama listening to the commanders on the ground and then making a decision that rightfully belongs to him as president, but his refusing to listen to them at all that is so telling.” It is telling, of course, and highly irresponsible.
No wonder Obama shuffled Gen. David Petraeus off to the CIA; Surely the president doesn’t want the man he brought in under false pretenses (i.e. Obama wanted to win) answering a bunch of questions from reporters.
It is, moreover, interesting how the Obama spin machine has been thrown into reverse. A Capitol Hill Republican reminds me how carefully Obama’s flacks early in his term tried to craft an aura of a FDR/Lincoln-style wartime leader. So much for that. Imagine FDR telling Gen. Dwight D.Eisenhower in 1944 that we had to wrap things up by Election Day that year. Can you conceive of Lincoln telling Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to end our military activities in time for the 1864 election? One couldn’t imagine such gross irresponsibility.
Afghanistan is not the only instance in which we know that the president disregarded the military in a critical decision. Eli Lake reports that Gen. James Mattis, the four-star Marine Corps general and Central Command leader “wanted to send a third aircraft-carrier group to the Persian Gulf earlier this year . . . in what would have been a massive show of force at a time when Iranian military commanders were publicly threatening to sink American ships in the Strait of Hormuz.” However, Obama told Mattis “a third carrier group was not available to be deployed to the Gulf.” Moreover, it seems Mattis is trying to tell inconvenient truths:
Mattis was worried that the president’s decision, announced in November, to fully withdraw from Iraq would leave the U.S. military without access to the country’s bases and with few options to project power in the region. The military had been negotiating with the Iraqi government for continued access to bases there for some intelligence, training, and counterterrorism missions until Obama announced his decision to the press in November. . . .
Those who have worked with Mattis say his views when it comes to Iran are more in line with those of America’s allies in the Persian Gulf and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than with his own government’s. At a recent charity event for Spirit of America, Mattis, known by admirers as the “warrior monk” and by detractors as “Mad Dog Mattis,” said his three top concerns in the Middle East were “Iran, Iran, and Iran.”
In sum, questions — when did Obama give up on Afghanistan, did he lock the military leaders out of the decision-making process, did he consider the implications on the ground of a fast pullout, is he ignoring military assessments concerning Iran and are key national security decisions being made for electoral reasons — are serious and deserve the attention of congressional oversight committees.
Throughout history, and as recently as President George W. Bush’s second term, presidents have been willing to put country over electoral success. Some were willing to take losses (personally or for the party) if needed to secure military success; others understood that whatever Americans’ temporary frustration with war, they are not going to reward a president who sacrifices national security for short term political gains. Is Obama the exception?