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Generals' Revolt Threatens Obama Presidency

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By Dave Lindorff

If an article by Gareth Porter in run by InterPress is correct that CentCom Commander Gen. David Petraeus and Iraq Commander Gen. Ray Odierno, backed by a group of lower-ranking generals, are planning to mount a public campaign to try and undermine President Obama’s plan for a withdrawal from Iraq in 16 months, Obama needs to act fast and nip this dangerous act of insubordination in the bud.

It was a similar act of insubordination on the part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that effectively destroyed the Clinton administration almost from day one. Recall that one of President Clinton’s first acts following his inauguration was to make good on a campaign promise to end discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military. His initial order was to simply end the ban on homosexuality in the military. But the Joint Chiefs publicly rebelled, and Clinton caved, coming up with the ridiculous and unworkable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, under which gays and lesbians could serve in the military, but had to hide their sexual orientation or face ouster.

When Clinton, as commander in chief of the armed forces, allowed his generals to defy his orders, and, instead of sacking them all for insubordination and stripping off their stars, left them in their offices and surrendered to their objections, he didn’t just cave in to the military. He also alerted the Republican opposition that he was a political pushover.

Obama, on a much more serious issue—the conduct of and termination of a war—is now apparently being more or less openly defied by his top generals, who after all get their glory and power by having troops in battle, and who are also worried that a collapse of the puppet regime in Iraq could leave them looking like losers. They are thus opposing a pullout from Iraq (and a hardly precipitous one at that!) out of self-interest and self-preservation.

If Commander in Chief Obama allows this insubordination and political opposition to exist among his senior generals, his presidency is toast. He will be a prisoner to a militarist policy in Iraq and Afghanistan that will drag down his presidency in the same way that Lyndon Johnson’s presidency was destroyed by the generals running the Vietnam War. Furthermore, just as Republicans in Congress saw Clinton’s weakness in his dealings with the Joint Chiefs and began dogging his every move, they, and Obama’s opponents among the Blue Dog Democrats in Congress, will see weakness and move against him.

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There is only one answer to this challenge to presidential authority: President Obama must sack both Petraeus and Odierno, and any other general who tries—openly or behind the scenes--to move politically against his military strategy and orders. The model for this action is President Harry Truman—widely viewed, whatever his faults, as a forceful leader—who fired the popular Gen. Douglas McArthur when McArthur went behind his back to Republicans in Congress to push for a wider war in Korea.

This is not just a matter of salvaging an Obama presidency. It is also a profound constitutional issue. There is no greater threat to democratic freedom than a military that refuses to accept, or that actively works to undermine civilian authority. Generals and admirals certainly have a right to object to the decisions made by their commander in chief, but they cannot act in defiance or those decisions while in uniform. Admiral William Fallon took the right course of action. Opposed to Bush/Cheney administration plans to attack Iran, he chose to resign his post as CentCom Commander and to resign from the military. If Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Odierno oppose Obama’s plan for a pullout from Iraq, they should do the same and then speak out if they wish.

For the past eight years, the biggest threat to American democracy was that a president and vice president attempted to convert the office of president into a military dictatorship, with the position of commander in chief subsuming and replacing the position of president. Now the danger is that the nation’s top generals are trying to eliminate or emasculate the president’s role as commander in chief, making the generals the leaders of the nation’s military. Both dangers are equally threatening to constitutional government.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the (more...)

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didn't cave, he'd be toast, because t... by Richard Mynick on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 12:39:14 PM
JFK was shot because he threatened the "Fed&q... by Dennis Kaiser on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 11:28:34 AM
JFK was shot because he threatened the "Fed&q... by Dennis Kaiser on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 1:06:19 PM
Whether Obama is just the latest tool of our rulin... by kato krause on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 2:09:36 PM
Obama should appeal to his grassroots constituency... by Walter L. Bradley Jr. on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 2:27:48 PM
I agree, that if Obama exercised the power he now ... by Bob F on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 4:16:04 PM
Having  military dictate, blatantly, to ... by Nick van Nes on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 3:02:24 PM
I have often seen governors pick rank and file sta... by Dick Hudson on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 3:13:56 PM
Dave Lindorff has it right; Generals Petraeus (or ... by eileen kuch on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 3:17:30 PM
Someday the history of this Era will sound like Di... by Bia Winter on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 5:24:39 PM
I am not sure there is a problem yet. Gates, et... by William White on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 3:38:36 PM
If this isn't the challenge to the new preside... by Bob F on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 4:10:44 PM
Is what Obama would do if he had a spine that didn... by Ed Encho on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 5:09:54 PM
Good article by Lindorf.  Some good comments,... by Jere Hough on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 6:31:39 PM
President Bush and his cabal of co-conspirators re... by William Cormier on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 9:29:01 PM
Editor: 'Bush loyalists' may undermine, th... by William Cormier on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 9:35:51 PM
While there is unlikely to be an overt revolt of t... by William White on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 5:13:24 AM
I MOST RESPECTFULLY DISAGREE With every post here.... by William Whitten on Tuesday, Feb 3, 2009 at 11:43:32 PM
"When Clinton, as commander in chief of the a... by Perry Logan on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 5:14:46 AM
How could the statement be "documented".... by William Whitten on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 7:12:10 AM
won't fire his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel fo... by jersey girl on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 5:25:15 AM
How very very true.... by richard on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 7:27:16 AM
fact shows the lands of the Native tribes weren... by shadow dancer on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 6:50:13 AM
  “Life is good.  What an exp... by richard on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 7:25:07 AM
Jesus is the one who got us into this whole mess... by Nick van Nes on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 11:10:51 AM
 You can thank George W. Bush for the mess th... by John Lorenz on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 7:30:39 AM
Civillain control of the military is the alternati... by Frosted Flake on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 9:57:17 AM
I would bet Obama has thrown his share of elbows o... by virginius "gin" arnold on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 11:09:31 AM
a Commander in Chief..General McArthur is but one ... by Susan Nelsen on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 11:49:19 AM
was suppose to do and appoint his own DOD who is n... by pepper on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 1:31:03 PM
Too many people who are otherwise well read have N... by jersey girl on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 3:21:25 PM
The answer is absolutely. That is why he was picke... by Al Ulmer on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 2:02:44 PM
please let the rest of us know who "they"... by virginius "gin" arnold on Wednesday, Feb 4, 2009 at 4:24:19 PM
The CFR, Trilateral Commission and the Bilderberge... by William Whitten on Thursday, Feb 5, 2009 at 9:17:47 AM