Saturday, January 7, 2012
Here's the deal. I came across this article on the Post whilst scanning the interwebs this afternoon. Headlined "In Creating New Defense Strategy, Obama Attempts to Outflank Congress." The thesis of the piece is that by gaining the military's "buy in" at senior levels during the development of the strategy, Obama now faces the Congress with proxies of the Joint Chiefs in his pocket. The article is largely a hagiography of our learned, professorial President who has finally brought order and logic to the national security planning process, which has apparently suffered for decades in not having an inexperienced constitutional academic driving it. The truth? This piece could only have been written by reporters who don't have a clue about the way things work, unquestioningly lapping up the manipulative statements of those seeking to be seen as influential.
First of all, this notion of a free-wheeling, inclusive process among the Chiefs and Combatant Commanders may very well have existed; but the plain truth of the matter is that the President had already struck a bargain with the Congress that reduced the Pentagon's budget by $487B. They had NO CHOICE but to come up with some method of applying military power in support of national security, because the old way was unaffordable given the new budget target. That the National Security Staff, the Secretary of Defense and the uniformed leaders of the military were able to put together a process that appears to have been collegial, inclusive and collaborative is a credit to those men and women, and their professionalism. Uniformed leaders take orders from civilians--when the President says make due with half a trillion dollars less, you can either quit or make it work--and making it work is what uniforms do.
Much is made in the article about the President coming to the Pentagon to announce it and having the Chiefs standing behind him. Are we supposed to believe this means the Chiefs are happy with the outcome, that they support defense getting hit for half a trillion? Of course not. They did the best they could, they played the hands they were dealt. They were standing there because that is their job, and because he is the Commander in Chief. This sense that somehow the President was buoyed by all this, and that Congress will be cowed by the optic of the President and all those uniforms is naive. The Congress is full of big boys and girls, and they have a say in budgets too.
Additionally, any senior DoD civilian in the last decade, and any senior uniformed leader in the same period--should be incensed by the incredibly self serving view of those involved in THIS process who helped the reporters form this view of previous strategy efforts: "Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought to ram his change agenda through the Pentagon’s bureaucracy with mixed results. His successor, Robert M. Gates, often relied on a group of trusted aides as he developed policy." This is simple hogwash. Both of those secretaries relied on smart people throughout the bureaucracy to help frame strategy to match requirements, and their processes were NO LESS inclusive or collaborative than those held up for such high praise here.
Folks, this article rightly praises the President and his senior team for a smart, focused approach to considering difficult national security questions. Good for them. But the suggestion that somehow the Obama/Donilon team stumbled into new territory here is misplaced, and the President's team at the Pentagon during the Gates years (especially) should be pissed at the extent to which their hard work was dismissed.
Posted by The Conservative Wahoo at 1/07/2012