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Posts Tagged ‘Civil Military Relations’

I was perusing the Washington Post’s excerpts of Bob Woodward’s new book on Obama’s decision temporarily to add 30,000 troops to the Afghanistan campaign.  A few things are rather striking to me, and they reveal Obama’s defects as a leader.

First, Obama is completely ambivalent about the mission and the troop increase in Afghanistan.  This is the case in spite of his campaigning as this being more important than Iraq and his announcement in early 2009 of a recommitment to Afghanistan.  Obama seems unaware how his flippancy can degrade the mission and morale.

Two, he is completely vague about his goals, other than the goal of getting our troops home. The September 2009 deliberations are rather strange to me, because there seems little collective recognition that in April of 2009 Obama announced an ambitious recommitment of resources to Afghanistan with a goal of destroying the Taliban, protecting the population, and increasing the skills and reality of the Afghan government and its security forces.  Having stated this goal, Obama now asks for wildly varying “options,” even though he seems unaware that certain goals, having already been stated, exclude certain tactical options.  But he’s used to options, because he’s used to low stakes legislative and public relations decision-making; he doesn’t realize that in more practical tasks, from building a car to defeating an enemy, you can’t tell someone to take a satellite to the moon and also demand that he gives you an option that doesn’t involve a rocket.  Incidentally, Don Rumsfeld’s obsession with troop levels in Iraq had much in common with Obama in this respect; he too wanted the military to do the impossible on the cheap.

Three, the military is at times borderline insubordinate, but a certain amount of push-back is to be expected, particularly when you’re being told (a) accomplish the impossible but (b) told to use fewer troops than you have already said are necessary to accomplish part “a” of this mission.  It would be nice if once in a while we’d actually see someone resign in public protest of these impossible orders.  Indeed, the military’s original timeline went out to 2016, which suggests quite a bit about how little will be accomplished by 2011 when the drawdown is supposed to begin.

Finally, Obama also seems to have a real problem with dissent.  He wants everyone to “sign off” on the plan, but it’s clear some disagreed before, during, and after its formulation.  These things happen, and this need not be a major problem.  The President’s the decision-maker.  But manufacturing false consensus where one is absent is not the mark of a mature leader, but rather of an insecure one who wants “yes men.”

Obama is not serious about the Afghan war.  He has split the difference with the military and given them contradictory mission guidance. Woodward’s expose of his decision-making shows to me that far from the problem being the existence of various factions–a normal feature of every major strategic decision–the commander in chief himself is the problem.  Specifically, Obama is incoherent, unserious, and inexperienced in how the world works, particularly on military matters.  The conflicts among his subordinates and his own impatience with them originate in his own incoherent leadership.  He doesn’t see this and mistakes his pig-headedness and stupidity for steadfastness and enlightenment.

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