Sunday, August 29, 2010

Obama as a War President

Former roomie Peter Baker has a good story on the challenges facing Obama as a leader of the US military and how folks come to his relationship with the military with contrasting perspectives.  People are confused and uncertain in large part because Obama has a nuanced dynamic with the armed forces.  He takes seriously their perspectives but will not buy into their recommendations on their say so.  Obama frustrates his base by being a pragmatist, and this happens as well with the military.  He will not give them every thing they want, and his SecDef certainly buys into the notion that the civilians should control the military while taking seriously their advice. 

Perhaps this quote puts it best:
Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sometimes advises Mr. Obama, said the president was grappling with harsh reality. “He came into office with a very sound strategic vision,” Mr. Reed said, “and what has happened in the intervening months is, as with every president, he is beginning to understand how difficult it is to translate a strategic vision into operational reality.”
What is very clear in this story is that Obama prioritizes and the wars he inherited are not quite as important to him as the economy.  Plus he believes that the commanders should be running the wars, not him.  The temptation to use the old 7000 mile screwdriver is always there, but Obama does not see it as his role to push the pieces around on the maps.  And for that the military should be thankful.  And if he sees that the military is not representing the best values, for instance by forcing cadets to lie about their sexuality, he will seek some changes in a deliberate fashion.

The funny thing is that Baker ends his piece by comparing Bush and Obama in their relationships with Petraeus--both finding this one general to be key to their wars.  Yes, there are similarities.  But I am pretty sure that Obama will not be the fanboy that Bush was with his weekly video teleconferences, but rather give Petraeus the support he needs without micro-managing (as Rumsfeld did) but with some oversight.

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