By Melvin A. Goodman "šJuly 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.