Monday, August 30, 2010

The Military and the President

New York Times ran a fairly long analysis piece by Peter Baker on the relationship between Obama and the military:

While Mr. Obama took three sometimes maddening months to decide to send more forces to Afghanistan, other decisions as commander in chief have come with dizzying speed, far less study and little public attention.

He is the first president in four decades with a shooting war already raging the day he took office — two, in fact, plus subsidiaries — and his education as a commander in chief with no experience in uniform has been a steep learning curve. He has learned how to salute. He has surfed the Internet at night to look into the toll on troops. He has faced young soldiers maimed after carrying out his orders. And he is trying to manage a tense relationship with the military.

Now, my first thought here is "Judy Miller" or "reporter depending far too much on interested sources." For one thing, the entire article reflects an attitude, one clearly wholly absorbed by our author, that military decisions are technical decisions, not political ones. This is clearly false, and was shown to be so in Vietnam--we don't win wars when we don't have the political will to fight them. The military knew this well--that's why the military leadership was always so reluctant to have us commit to foreign wars: they wanted to make sure there was truly a will to ride the thing out to its end.

But it's amazing how quickly things change after 8 years of fighting. The people in charge in the military now seem take continual war as a given, the only question is how to conduct it. Well guess what? That's not the only question, and it's the President's job to see to it that the other questions get addressed. Even if the wait might be "agonizing" for you. We won't be fighting in Afghanistan forever, and we're going to leave whether we "win" or not. Military leaders ought to wrap their minds around that reality.

My second thought on reading this piece was the seemingly eternal nature of it. Didn't the military also have its problems with Bush? And Clinton? And Carter? And Nixon?

It would seem to me that the problematic side of this relationship is the military side--they can't quite seem to come to grips with the idea that they serve a democracy, that military considerations are secondary to the interests of the nation as a whole as interpreted by its political leaders. The problem here ISN'T that Barack Obama didn't have a firm grasp on military protocol when he was elected (who did? who cares?). The problem is our military has gotten a bit big for its britches. They seem to have forgotten that they exist to carry out politically determined policy. And that the nation doesn't exist to support them.

Perhaps it's time to draw back and restructure the military a bit (read: officer purge) and start taking a look at just how self-interested and self-serving the Pentagon has become.