Commentary Magazine


Wanted: A Commander in Chief

Even the New York Times can’t ignore it: Obama’s prolonged agonizing over Afghanistan is taking a toll on the U.S. military. This report explains:

After nearly a month of deliberations by Mr. Obama over whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan, frustrations and anxiety are on the rise within the military. A number of active duty and retired senior officers say there is concern that the president is moving too slowly, is revisiting a war strategy he announced in March and is unduly influenced by political advisers in the Situation Room.

It seems the military is wary that the decision made in March to pursue a robust counterinsurgency is being revisited, the “rug being pulled out from under us,” as one retired general put it. And it’s part of a pattern. This administration relies less upon and provides less access to military officers to shape policy than his predecessor (and than is wise), and has put the Pentagon on a budgetary diet while the rest of the government gorges.

But this is not an academic exercise in jockeying for power and influence in Washington. We’re talking about the lives of American servicemen:

Another source of tension within the military is the view that a delay is endangering the 68,000 American troops now in Afghanistan. “McChrystal has troops out there who are risking their lives more than they need to, partly because we have not filled in the gaps and we have not created a safe zone in southern and eastern Afghanistan,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a national security expert at the Brookings Institution.

In war time we have a president who’s, essentially, just not that into the military. Lacking any national-security experience of his own, and with an overriding interest in his domestic agenda, the president has sent an unmistakable signal that the military comes last. He will rely on political fixers, not military experts, to guide his decisions. We see Rahm Emanuel, with apparently no heads-up to the military, go on the Sunday talk shows to undermine the Afghanistan government. As one former official laments to Bill Kristol: “It’s hard to think of another time when the White House chief of staff and politicos were making policy so independently of the national security team, in this case apparently excluding the SecDef, SecState, and the Chairman of the JCS.”

But it doesn’t end there. Obama is squeezing the military budget. He’s putting the F-22, missile-defense, and the entire defense budget, for that matter, on a diet while domestic spending continues to expand. And he’ll get around to setting a war strategy when he gets to it. From time to time he utters platitudes about his pride in acting as commander in chief, but his actions betray someone who does not take that part of the job very seriously.In ordinary times all this would be of grave concern. In a time of war, this is nothing short of scandalous.