Keep Your Fingers Crossed

Bill Neinast

“The President was, well, wonderful.  That’s kind of an over-the-top word, but an accurate one.  He understood what we were doing.  He had been briefed every day on the plan and how the conflict was going.  He had confidence in Mr. Cheney.  He and Mr. Cheney had confidence in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in General Schwarzkopf.  So we had no interference.”

This is how General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Operation Desert Storm (the “First Gulf War”) described the Commander-in-Chief, President George H. W. Bush, during an interview earlier this year with Tom Philpott, a contributing editor of the magazine Military Officer.

What a change between then and now under Commander-in-Chief Obama.  The stark differences were illustrated in the recent TV interview by Bret Baier of the three Former Secretaries of Defense under President Obama--Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, and Chuck Hegel.

Of the three, Gates was the most critical of Obama.  He described in detail the failure of the White House to understand the military intelligence and options provided by the Pentagon.

The situation got so bad that Gates had to personally review everything going from his domain to the White House and then found that members of the White House staff were going directly to field commanders for information.  This led to an order from Gates that no commander was to respond to a request from the White House except for calls directly from the President.

In another venue, Panetta was even more critical of Obama as Commander-in-Chief.


As CNN reporters Gloria Borger, Kevin Bohn and Brian Rooks summarize an interview with Panetta in 2014, “Panetta's comments are a stinging rebuke of Obama at a crucial point in his administration as the President battles multiple national security threats, including ISIS, a resurgent Russia and the spread of Ebola.

“His memoir, ‘Worthy Fights,’ describes a White House that did not use its ‘leverage’ to try to keep a residual force in Iraq.”

These observations and many more just like them document President Obama as a totally inept Commander-in-Chief.

Unfortunately, he is not the first. President Lyndon Johnson and his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, were just as bad or worse. The fiasco or disaster of waging the war in Vietnam is laid directly on the heads of Johnson, Manama, and his “Whiz Kids” in the book Dereliction of Duty by H. R. McMaster.

I can verify much of what is in this book by personal experience.  I saw major tactical moves on the battlefield having to be pre-approved by the Pentagon.  Many times the approval, modifications, or denials would could back on a joint DOD/State message two weeks after the submission.  These missives frequently reflected a total absence of understanding of military maneuvers.

The ability of the military to defend the interests of this country was seriously eroded under the two Commanders-in-Chief discussed here.

So here’s the perspective.

Section 2 of Article II of the Constitution provides: “The President shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the  several States when called into the actual Service of the United States.”   There is no description, however, of the duties of a Commander-in-Chief or how the undesignated duties are to be performed.

This is an important, essential part of the Constitution.  It may be the best and only protection against a military coup that is so prevalent in other countries.

When the Commander-in-Chief establishes the strategy and lets the generals and admirals implement the strategy, we win.  That is what FDR and Truman did in WWII and Korea and what George H. W. Bush did in Desert Storm.  There was total victory in all three.

When the Commander-in-Chief has a hesitant, muddled, frequently changing strategy and then tries to be a field commander, the result is disaster.  Witness, for example, Vietnam and the current war with ISIS.

Unfortunately there is no apparent way that the president can be limited to developing strategy and
leaving the implementation to military commanders.  We will just have to rely on voters to select Presidents who recognize their own limited combat knowledge and experience.

None of the current front runners for the Presidency are qualified in that respect.  So we are left with keeping our fingers crossed for four years. 


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