Not since LBJ’s operation of the Vietnam War has the executive branch so botched management of a war. Consider:
1. The strategy makes no sense, and is predictably failing. The Post reports, “More than 1,000 foreign fighters are streaming into Syria each month, a rate that has so far been unchanged by airstrikes against the Islamic State and efforts by other countries to stem the flow of departures, according to U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials. The magnitude of the ongoing migration suggests that the U.S.-led air campaign has neither deterred significant numbers of militants from traveling to the region nor triggered such outrage that even more are flocking to the fight because of American intervention.” Naturally, ex-officials and current ones are anxious for people to know they opposed this. Even Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has his cover story in the form of a memo. One report explains:
The memo was sent last week to President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, a defense official said Thursday, confirming a New York Times report.
The memo was cited in the Times article by Hagel’s aides as an example of how the Pentagon chief is more assertive behind the scenes than his reserved public performance might suggest.
Hagel warned that the Syria policy was “in danger of unraveling” due to confusion over the US stance toward Assad, the paper wrote.
2. Our relations with countries like Turkey that are supposed to be contributing to the effort are abysmal. (The Post reports: “The increasingly hostile divergence of views between Turkey and the United States over Syria is testing the durability of their 60-year alliance, to the point where some are starting to question whether the two countries still can be considered allies at all.”)
3. The executive branch know-nothings who came up with the strategy over the objections of the military are now micromanaging the war. The Daily Beast reports:
The Pentagon brass placed in charge of implementing Obama’s war against ISIS are getting fed up with the short leash the White House put them on. . . . As the American-led battle against ISIS stretches into its fourth month, the generals and Pentagon officials leading the air campaign and preparing to train Syrian rebels are working under strict White House orders to keep the war contained within policy limits. The National Security Council has given precise instructions on which rebels can be engaged, who can be trained, and what exactly those fighters will do when they return to Syria. Most of the rebels to be trained by the U.S. will never be sent to fight against ISIS.
Making matters worse, military officers and civilian Pentagon leaders tell The Daily Beast, is the ISIS war’s decision-making process, run by National Security Adviser Susan Rice. It’s been manic and obsessed with the tiniest of details. Officials talk of sudden and frequent meetings of the National Security Council and the so-called Principals Committee of top defense, intelligence, and foreign policy officials (an NSC and three PCs in one week this month); a barrage of questions from the NSC to the agencies that create mountains of paperwork for overworked staffers; and NSC insistence on deciding minor issues even at the operational level.
4. The public thinks we are losing the war.
5. Rather than a display of resolve, it advertises to the Iranians and others that we are feckless and unwilling to sacrifice for vital national security interests.
The president has a super-human capacity to ignore reality and dismiss criticism as partisanship. I therefore don’t expect much to change. But like Hagel and the military, Congress had better make perfectly clear what they think of the war operation and what they think needs to change. In this case, silence is assent.