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“The President Decides”: The Difference Between Military Commanders And The Commander In Chief

The Washington Post reported overnight that when it comes to U.S. efforts to combat Islamic State terrorists, President Obama and military leaders aren’t necessarily on the same page.

Flashes of disagreement over how to fight the Islamic State are mounting between President Obama and U.S. military leaders, the latest sign of strain in what often has been an awkward and uneasy relationship.

Even as the administration has received congressional backing for its strategy, with the Senate voting Thursday to approve a plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, a series of military leaders have criticized the president’s approach against the Islamic State militant group.

It’s hard to say with confidence just how widespread the disagreements really are. For that matter, even among those military leaders voicing disagreement, there’s a variety of opinions.

For his part, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday that Pentagon leaders are in “full alignment” and in “complete agreement with every component of the president’s strategy.”

And that’s fine, but let’s not forget that it’s not really their call. Pentagon leaders don’t actually have to be in “complete agreement with every component of the president’s strategy.”

NBC’s First Read noted yesterday, “Remember the battle cry of some Democrats during some of the darkest days of the Iraq war – that Bush and Cheney were not listening to the commanders? Well, given where all the military leadership is on this strategy, it is now Obama, the Democrat, who is open to criticism that he is not listening to his commanders.”

But there’s no reason to necessarily see that as “criticism.”

I understand the political dynamic. In theory, many may like the idea of military decisions being made by military leaders with military expertise.

But the American system is designed a specific way for a reason. As NBC’s First Read went on to say, “Of course, again, it is Obama that is commander-in-chief. Not anyone at the Pentagon.”

That’s exactly right. The fact that the president and some military leaders disagree is fine. The fact that elements of this debate are unfolding in public is healthy in a democracy. The fact that Congress has heard different positions from various officials within the executive branch is valuable as part of a broader debate.

All of this should be seen as a feature, not a bug, of a nation exploring the possibility of war. Military leaders can bring the president options, and in response, the president will give those leaders orders. When our system is working well and as intended, the scope of those orders will be shaped in part by Congress, which is supposed to be directly involved in authorizing the use of military force.

The fact that some military leaders may disagree with Obama is not a sign that Obama is wrong – or right. The president in this case may not be listening to his commanders, but in our system, they’re required to listen to him.

As Rachel explained on Tuesday’s show, “The military makes military recommendations to the president and the president decides whether to accept them or not. That is not a scandal. If they recommend something to him and he says no to that, that’s not a scandal. That’s actually a America. That is our system of government. It’s one of the best things about it. That’s sort of a whole civilian-control-of-the-military thing and how that works…. This is like first day of What’s America Class.”

It’s a fair point to say Democrats were critical of the Bush/Cheney White House for failing to listen to commanders during the height of the crises in Iraq, but it seems to me those criticisms were based on (a) the fact that some of these military were giving the White House good advice that wasn’t being followed; and (b) the fact that Bush said he was listening to his commanders, even when he wasn’t.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 19, 2014

September 20, 2014 Posted by | Commander In Chief, Pentagon | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Threat Multipliers”: Republicans Always Listen to the Pentagon—Except When It Says Climate Change Is Real

Faced with mounting scientific evidence that humans are causing climate change, Republicans are having an increasingly hard time denying the facts. Those denials became even more laughable Tuesday, when one of the party’s favorite agencies, the Department of Defense, told Congress that climate change is hurting military operations.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, a Department of Defense representative laid out how climate change is exposing its infrastructure in coastal and Arctic regions to rising sea levels and extreme weather, and that it’s even impacting decisions like which types of weapons the Pentagon buys. This is only the latest in a series of recent warnings from the military, which raised the issue as far back as George W. Bush’s second term. In March, the Pentagon warned, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, that the effects of climate change “are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensionsconditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.” In other words, increased drought and water shortages are likely to trigger fighting over limited resources. The military has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas footprint 34 percent by 2020and it’s already well on its way to that goal.

When the DOD says it needs something, Republicans usually listen. Perhaps the military can convince conservatives that climate change is real enough to obstruct national security?

So far, the GOP remains unconvinced. When the House of Representatives passed the Pentagon’s budget in June, it included an amendment, passed mostly along partly lines, barring the department from implementing its climate change initiatives. On Monday, The Hill reported that Republican Senator John Barasso called the military’s efforts to combat climate change “wasteful and irresponsible at best, especially as our friends and allies struggle with violent, deadly crises that have real implications for our security.”

The Pentagon’s first task in convincing the GOP to care may be debunking the idea that the U.S. must wait for perfect science before taking action (particularly when the scientific certainty on human-caused climate change is equal to the certainty that cigarettes harm health). And as the editors at Bloomberg View recently pointed out, the military doesn’t wait for perfect certainty before assessing a threat. Waiting, generally, is a poor strategy.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, July 23, 2014

July 24, 2014 Posted by | Climate Science, Greenhouse Gases, Pentagon, Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paul Lunges For The Reagan Mantle”: His Government-Shrinking Visions Just Might Be A Problem

Yesterday I wrote skeptically about Ross Douthat’s “spitballing” scenario whereby the two parties could undergo a role reversal on foreign policy in 2016 with “interventionist” Hillary Clinton pushing GOPers towards “non-interventionist” Rand Paul. Today we have Paul’s own effort to use the Iraq crisis to re-frame the partisan debate over foreign policy, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

It’s pretty audacious: according to Paul there’s the Bush Republicans who got Iraq wrong before 2009, the Obama Democrats who got Iraq wrong after 2009, and then his own self, right all along, as the sole disciple of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy.

Saying the mess in Iraq is President Obama’s fault ignores what President Bush did wrong. Saying it is President Bush’s fault is to ignore all the horrible foreign policy decisions in Syria, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere under President Obama, many of which may have contributed to the current crisis in Iraq. For former Bush officials to blame President Obama or for Democrats to blame President Bush only serves as a reminder that both sides continue to get foreign policy wrong. We need a new approach, one that emulates Reagan’s policies, puts America first, seeks peace, faces war reluctantly, and when necessary acts fully and decisively.

Paul defends this hypothesis with lengthy exegesis of a famous 1984 Cap Weinberger speech laying out criteria for military action. It was, in fact, extended by the so-called “Powell Doctrine” often touted as the justification of the limited-war nature of the First Gulf War, but that made Powell’s stamp of approval on the 2003 Iraq War so important.

So Paul’s attempt to appropriate the Reagan mantle in foreign policy will be sharply contested by “Bush Republicans” of all varieties. Beyond that, there’s one problem with Paul quoting Weinberger worth pondering. Cap was less famous for his “doctrine” than for his persistence in securing the highest level of defense spending imaginable. In his endlessly fascinating account of the budget wars of Reagan’s first term, The Triumph of Politics, David Stockman all but calls Weinberger a traitor for his mendacious and successful efforts to trick Ronald Reagan into double-loading defense increases into his seminal 1981 budget proposal. This is one part of the Reagan-Weinberger legacy Paul will probably not want to emulate. And it matters: the most obvious way to convince reflexively belligerent Republicans that he’s kosher despite opposing various past, present and future military engagements would be to insist on arming America to the teeth. But Paul’s government-shrinking visions would make that sort of gambit very difficult. And try as he might, it will be very difficult for Paul to make a credible claim Ronald Reagan stood tall for taming the Pentagon.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 20, 2014

June 21, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Pentagon, Rand Paul | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Committing To A New Birth Of Freedom: It’s Time To Leave 9/11 Behind

After we honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we need to leave the day behind. As a nation we have looked back for too long. We learned lessons from the attacks, but so many of them were wrong. The last decade was a detour that left our nation weaker, more divided and less certain of itself.

Reflections on the meaning of the horror and the years that followed are inevitably inflected by our own political or philosophical leanings. It’s a critique that no doubt applies to my thoughts as well. We see what we choose to see and use the event as we want to use it.

This does nothing to honor those who died and those who sacrificed to prevent even more suffering. In the future, the anniversary will best be reserved as a simple day of remembrance in which all of us humbly offer our respect for the anguish and the heroism of those individuals and their families.

But if we continue to place 9/11 at the center of our national consciousness, we will keep making the same mistakes. Our nation’s future depended on far more than the outcome of a vaguely defined “war on terrorism,” and it still does. Al-Qaeda is a dangerous enemy.

But our country and the world were never threatened by the caliphate of its mad fantasies.

We asked for great sacrifice over the past decade from the very small portion of our population who wear the country’s uniform, particularly the men and women of the Army and the Marine Corps. We should honor them, too. And, yes, we should pay tribute to those in the intelligence services, the FBI and our police forces who have done such painstaking work to thwart another attack.

It was often said that terrorism could not be dealt with through “police work,” as if the difficult and unheralded labor involved was not grand or bold enough to satisfy our longing for clarity in what was largely a struggle in the shadows.

Forgive me, but I find it hard to forget former president George W. Bush’s 2004 response to Sen. John Kerry’s comment that “the war on terror is less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement operation.”

Bush retorted: “I disagree — strongly disagree. . . . After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got.” What The Washington Post called “an era of endless war” is what we got, too.

Bush, of course, understood the importance of “intelligence gathering” and “law enforcement.” His administration presided over a great deal of both, and his supporters spoke, with justice, of his success in staving off further acts of terror. Yet he could not resist the temptation to turn on Kerry’s statement of the obvious. Thus was an event that initially united the nation used, over and over, to aggravate our political disharmony. This is also why we must put it behind us.

In the flood of anniversary commentary, notice how often the term “the lost decade” has been invoked. We know now, as we should have known all along, that American strength always depends first on our strength at home — on a vibrant, innovative and sensibly regulated economy, on levelheaded fiscal policies, on the ability of our citizens to find useful work, on the justice of our social arrangements.

This is not “isolationism.” It is a common sense that was pushed aside by the talk of “glory” and “honor,” by utopian schemes to transform the world by abruptly reordering the Middle East — and by our fears. While we worried that we would be destroyed by terrorists, we ignored the larger danger of weakening ourselves by forgetting what made us great.

We have no alternative from now on but to look forward and not back. This does not dishonor the fallen heroes, and Lincoln explained why at Gettysburg. “We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground,” he said. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” The best we could do, Lincoln declared, was to commit ourselves to “a new birth of freedom.” This is still our calling.

By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2011

September 11, 2011 Posted by | Democracy, Disasters, Freedom, Government, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Liberty, Media, Middle East, Pentagon, Politics, Terrorism, War | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tom Coburn’s Cuts: Military’s Tricare Prime Health Care Program Targeted

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants to cut taxpayer funding for non-military elements of the Defense Department, starting with making retired, uninjured service members pay more for what he described as “extremely low-cost health care for life” for themselves, their wives and dependents under the Tricare Prime system.

For military retirees eligible for Medicare, he also wants to raise the co-payments that they are charged to be in Tricare for life, the second payer for health care after Medicare. In addition, he wants to increase low fees that Tricare beneficiaries pay for pharmaceuticals purchased at their local drugstores.

Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates proposed raising Tricare Prime enrollment fees for single retirees from $230 a year to $260 a year and fees for retiree families from $460 a year to $520 a year. Coburn wants the fees to be much higher and more in line with private-sector health plans.

Part of his concern is fairness, first for uninjured veterans who, for example, served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan but “leave the military without serving 20 years [and] are not entitled to any of these health-care benefits.” They represent some 70 percent of those serving, according to Pentagon officials.

Another comparison he makes is to other federal government workers whose plans are not as cheap. A medical doctor, Coburn told reporters last Monday: “Nobody in the country, as a single person working 20 years for the government, should be able to get health care for $250 a year. Nobody was ever promised that, and nobody should be able to do that.”

Instead, he wants to increase the enrollment fee for single retirees to “approximately $2,000 per year and $3,500 for a family.” At the same time he would limit out-of-pocket expenses at $7,500 for those retirees with families. He thinks these changes could save $11.5 billion a year.

His Tricare for life would require retirees to pay up to $550 for half the initial cost not covered by Medicare and then up to $3,025, after which all costs would be paid by Tricare. This change could save $4.3 billion a year.

Coburn wants to reduce the $8 billion annual government share of the cost of drugs that Tricare beneficiaries purchase from their local private retail pharmacies rather than buying them at lower cost by mail order or at military base facilities. Where the price is now $3 for a 30-day supply of a generic drug and $9 for a brand-name from private pharmacies, Coburn would raise that to$15 for generic and $25 for brand names and save some $2.6 billion a year.

Coburn told reporters he has no doubt about the reaction to his Tricare ideas.

“There’s no question,” he said, “. . . retired military, they won’t like what I’ve done. But the fact is is nobody’s going to like what we’ve done, because everybody gets a pinch — everybody. ”

Beyond health care, Coburn has several other proposals that will rattle the Pentagon. He wants to eliminate most of the $1.3 billion-a-year subsidy that supports the Defense Commissary system of 252 grocery stores on military bases worldwide. Prices at commissaries are much lower than at civilian supermarkets; they are listed at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge. That money goes to offset costs of new commissaries or to repair and maintain old ones. It does not pay for salaries and benefits of the roughly 18,000 people who work at the commissaries.

Coburn supports a Congressional Budget Office proposal that would reduce the taxpayer subsidy over five years and see a gradual raise in prices so commissaries could become self-sufficient. The increase in cost, according to the CBO, would amount to $400 per service family per year and save the government about $900 million annually.

He also wants to close down the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, which for more than 20 years has added around $200 million a year primarily for breast, lung and prostate cancer projects that have to be managed primarily by contractors. Coburn’s option is to “transfer funding for cancer research that affects the general population back to [the National Institutes of Health] and reduce the administrative costs of administering this research for savings.”

By: Walter Pincus, The Washington Post, July 24, 2011

July 25, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Health Care Costs, Lawmakers, Medicare, Pentagon, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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