Congressional Republican condemnations of President Obama’s foreign policy are as common as the sunrise. Congressional Republicans urging active-duty U.S. generals to resign, during a war, to protest President Obama’s foreign policy is something else entirely.
As U.S.-led airstrikes continue Friday near the Syrian border with Iraq, it’s hard to imagine what would make the situation worse than the military suddenly losing all its generals.
But that is exactly what Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) told a group of voters he wants to see happen, the Colorado Independent reported.
“A lot of us are talking to the generals behind the scenes, saying, ‘Hey, if you disagree with the policy that the White House has given you, let’s have a resignation,’” Lamborn said Tuesday, adding that if generals resigned en masse in protest of President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, they would “go out in a blaze of glory.”
Look, I don’t expect much from Lamborn, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. After eight years in Congress, arguably his most notable legislative accomplishment is championing a House-approved measure to cut off funding for NPR.
For that matter, maybe the far-right Coloradan was just flapping his gums a bit, telling tall tales in the hopes of making himself look like a big shot in front of a group of local voters, but never actually doing what he claims to have done.
But if Lamborn was serious, and a member of the House Armed Services Committee actually met “behind the scenes” with U.S. military generals, suggesting they should resign in order to undermine U.S. foreign policy during a war, that’s … a little crazy.
It’s not exactly clear from local reports what it is about Obama’s foreign policy that Lamborn doesn’t like, but under the circumstances, it doesn’t much matter. If a member of Congress has concerns about a president’s approach to international affairs, he or she has a variety of options, including introducing legislation limiting the scope of the administration’s policy.
The options do not include – or more to the point, the options aren’t supposed to include – meeting privately with generals, during a war, to urge them to “go out in a blaze of glory.”
As it turns out, Lamborn is running for re-election against retired Air Force Gen. Irv Halter (D), who told the Colorado Independent, “Our elected officials should not be encouraging our military leaders to resign when they have a disagreement over policy. Congressman Lamborn’s statement shows his immaturity and lack of understanding of the American armed forces. Someone who serves on the House Armed Services Committee should know better.”
That’s putting it mildly.
This is one of those rare instances in which it would be good news if a congressman was lying while boasting to voters.
Update: My colleague Kate Osborn talked to Corey Hutchins, Rocky Mountain correspondent for CJR’s United States Project, who originally recorded Lamborn’s remarks. Here’s the transcript of the exchange:
VOTER: Please work with your other congressmen on both sides of the aisles and support the generals and the troops in this country despite the fact that there is no leadership from the Muslim Brotherhood in the White House. [applause] It was not necessarily a question but [unintelligible].
LAMBORN: You know what, I can’t really add anything to that, but do let me reassure you on this. A lot of us are talking to the generals behind the scenes, saying, ‘Hey, if you disagree with the policy that the White House has given you, let’s have a resignation. You know, let’s have a public resignation, and state your protest, and go out in a blaze of glory.” And I haven’t seen that very much, in fact I haven’t seen that at all in years.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 26, 2014
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
“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 tensions—conditions 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 2020—and 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
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
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