By Melvin A. Goodman â€¨July 8, 2010
Editor's Note: This is Part III of a series by former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman addressing the presidency and the Pentagon.
Part I examined what President Dwight Eisenhower knew about the military as a retired five-star general and what he tried to impart to his successors. Part II looked at President Obama's challenges. Part III focuses on how Obama has failed to meet those tests:
President Barack Obama inherited a difficult national security situation -- wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; an exaggerated and counterproductive war on terror; debilitating deficits and rising debt; an obstructionist Congress; and a corporate media that has abandoned its watchdog ethos.
Unfortunately, President Obama did not have the experience to manage this daunting challenge. He had scant background in foreign policy, military policy or defense expenditures. Nor did he have muchknowledge about the major players in these fields.
As a result of these shortcomings, the President assembled a team for most of the wrong reasons. He made his two major national security appointments for domestic political reasons.
Hillary Clinton was made secretary of state to build bridges to her wing of the Democratic Party following a nasty political campaign and to head off any Clinton reprisals. George W. Bush's Defense Secretary Robert Gates was retained as a sop to "bipartisanship" and to conservative Republicans.
The Gates appointment was particularly damaging because it demonstrated deference to the Pentagon's power structure and acceptance of Gates's continued authority. When Obama wanted to place the reform-minded Richard Danzig in as deputy defense secretary, Gates blocked the move, showing his continued clout and dashing hopes of some Democrats that he would serve only as a temporary bridge from the Bush administration.
Instead, Gates and another Bush favorite, General David Petraeus, have emerged as the leading voices on national security policy. Their strength is magnified by the weakness and disunity of other senior officials on Obama's national security team.
For instance, Official Washington and the corporate media have hailed Obama's choice of Petraeus to replace General Stanley McChrystal as commander in charge of the Afghan War. Yet, this move also has increased the power of the Pentagon to override any deadline for troop withdrawal from the nation's longest war.
Neither Petraeus nor his bosses (Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen) have accepted Obama's notion of a deadline to begin significant withdrawals of U.S. troops next summer. McChrystal's contemptuous remarks in Rolling Stone exposed an even deeper strain of resistance to the civilian government at the highest levels of the uniformed military.
This insubordination should have been addressed in October 2009 when McChrystal challenged Afghan policy while a decision on additional troops was still being debated at the White House. Now, given the messy circumstances of McChrystal's firing, Petraeus is virtually untouchable.
To make matters worse, President Obama has exempted the military budget from the fiscal restraint being applied to other parts of the federal government. The $708 billion defense budget for 2011 is higher than at any point in post-World War II history, says Gordon Adams of American University.
No End in Sight
The new emphasis on counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and so-called "stability operations," which the corporate media terms a "reform," will create opportunities for new military deployments overseas. There is no end in sight to this spending, unless the Obama administration finds a new toughness to freeze the defense budget, stop force expansion, and set genuine procurement priorities.
Instead of the needed firmness, President Obama has contributed to the militarization of overall national security policy by appointing general officers to key positions that should have been in the hands of civilians. These appointments include the national security adviser; the intelligence tsar (first a retired admiral and, more recently, a retired general); ambassadors to such key states as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia; and a mediator for Sudan.
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