Is Obama a militarist, a peacenik, or a political waffler and difference-splitter?

Distrust of the President, and of the government in general, divides our society, emboldens our enemies, and diminishes the effectiveness of our Armed Forces. We owe our elected leaders more respect than that.

President Obama’s Afghanistan drawdown announcement has drawn fire from the left and from the right. He was pilloried on Fox News, on MSNBC, and on CNN, and even ridiculed on The Daily Show after he announced that the U.S. would withdraw 10,000 troops by the end of 2011, another 23,000 by “next summer,” with continuing reductions through 2014.

To the right, the President is recklessly ignoring the advice of his military professionals who know what’s needed. To the left, he’s mindlessly sticking to a hopeless and pointless strategy. To both sides he’s sacrificed principle for politics.

But has he? Is there any chance that his decision was based on what he thought best? If we Americans trusted him we’d give him that much. But we don’t, at least not much: the latest Gallup poll says that just 35% of Americans say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the Presidency; 36% have very little confidence or none at all.

But we do trust the military: 78% of us say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence. I’d guess the numbers are even higher on the right. But what happens when the military supports the President? Ah, then it’s a different story. They must be under his thumb, afraid to speak out.

The day after the President’s announcement Congress summoned top military leaders to testify. At the hearings both Gen. Petraeus, the commander of forces in Afghanistan, and Adm. Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they’d have preferred a more gradual drawdown, but the military would still be able to carry out its mission effectively. The drawdown will leave 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by the end of next summer, still a larger force than when Obama took office.

Some may argue that the two military leaders were muzzled. But by law they’re required to give their personal opinion when asked; neither said his personal opinion was other than support of the President’s decision.

Petraeus told the Senate Intelligence Committee,

“The ultimate decision was a more aggressive formulation, if you will, in terms of the timeline than what we had recommended. The fact is, there has never been a military commander in history who has had all the forces that he would like to have, for all the time, with all the money, all the authorities, and nowadays all the bandwidth as well.”

And Admiral Mullen testified to the House Armed Services Committee,

“The president’s decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept. More force for more time is, without doubt, the safer course. But that does not necessarily make it the best course. Only the president, in the end, can really determine the acceptable level of risk we must take. I believe he has done so.”

I don’t know whether America’s strategy in Afghanistan is the right one. After reading Bob Woodward’s excellent chronicle of the Administration’s decision making, Obama’s Wars, I’m certain that no one knows for sure, including the President. But Americans owe him and our military leaders the presumption of honesty, diligence and dedication to our national security, at least until we have good reason to doubt it. So far, all the evidence is that he—and our Nation—deserve that presumption.

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2 Responses to “Is Obama a militarist, a peacenik, or a political waffler and difference-splitter?”

  1. Jack Marshall Says:

    I’m philosophically inclined to agree with you, Bob. I also believe the President, any President, deserves the benefit of the doubt.

    But after three years, I see a leader who has no idea how to lead, whose priorities are governed by polls, and whose natural instinct when faced with a tough decision is to procrastinate, then split the difference.

    I wish it were not so. To me, however, all the symptoms are there of an academic who is comfortable talking about problems but incapable of taking the risk and initiatives that strong and effective leaders assume to solve them. I don’t distrust the President because I think his sincerity or motives are suspect—I distrust him because he doesn’t have the skills for the job, and as I have written several times, does not seem to have the temperment or inclination to develop them. I wish it were otherwise.

  2. Ethics Bob Says:

    I respect your position, Jack, but don’t agree. he certainly didn’t split the difference over Bin Laden, when a less daring and less decisive leader easily could have. Nor with the piracy episode.

    We’re analyzing him from afar, but from his writings I’ve concluded that he believes in compromise as a matter of principle, and from Woodward’s book I’m convinced that he’s got a terrier’s characteristic to grab an issue in his teeth and shake it until he’s satisfied. He sure didn’t split the difference over the Afghan surge.

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