Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Obama Outflanks Congress" (and the Joint Chiefs) Fawns WaPost

I'm writing this post here on this site because it is largely political in nature, though it does touch broadly upon national security strategy and the kinds of things I usually write about on the other site (Information Dissemination).  I am posting this one here because it is abidingly political, and I fear I may wear out my welcome over there with my biased views.

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.


NavyAustin said...

Well said - you can't say you "drove" the strategy when you already had one defined end state (cut X dollars). They defined strategy to fit budget.

That said, in an evil genius way, I think Obama outflanked the Republicans by striking a debt ceiling deal with a "poison pill" budget bomb. Slashing defense is EXACTLY what he wanted to do, and the cuts were so big the GOP thought it would never happen.

Now, the President gets his spending cuts, and the Bush tax cuts expire simultaneously. And the economy should be cycling up around that time. So he will appear to have succeeded in trading guns for butter.

I think funding student loans (which serve mostly to drive up the cost of school, not make education affordable) is a worse use of $$$ than defense, but the average American is weary of war and the "bigger than the next 13 adversaries" argument makes a lot of sense to them.

The Conservative Wahoo said...

....and our economy is larger than 6 of the next 8 combined. Should we shackle it too?

NavyAustin said...

I agree. But the services need to make that case for defense.

I'm sure you've read this, but for the benefit of the CW readership:

He talks about the crisis the Navy faced after WWII - 5000 ships prowling the quiet seas unopposed, and a war-weary and broke nation with other priorities.

Some excerpts:
"To secure these resources it is necessary for society to forego the alternative uses to which these resources might be put and to acquiesce in their allocation to the military service. Thus, the resources which a service is able to obtain in a democratic society are a function of the public support of that service.

The service has the responsibility to develop this necessary support, and it can only do this if it possesses a strategic concept which clearly formulates its relationship to the national security.

It was thus a crisis which confronted the Navy with the ultimate question: What function do you perform which obligates society to assume responsibility for your maintenance?

The crisis existed because the Navy’s accustomed answer to this question-the strategic concept which the Navy had been expressing and the public had been accepting for well over half a century- was no longer meaningful to the Navy nor convincing to the public."

"The Hammer" said...

I'm not schooled enough on defense issues to comment, but I will say this. These "savings" aren't savings at all. They are funds taken from the legitimate Constitutionally mandated task of defending this country to the sordid, ugly, politically expedient job of getting Barack Hussein Obama ass re-elected.

"The Hammer" said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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