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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

The Time-Line Of The Mission To Kill Osama bin Laden

The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was years in the making, but began in earnest last fall with the discovery of a suspicious compound near Islamabad, and culminated with a helicopter based raid in the early morning hours in Pakistan Sunday.

“Last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground,” President Obama told the nation in a speech Sunday night.

“Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body,” he said.

Sitting in a row of chairs beside the podium were National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Vice President Joe Biden. White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Press Secretary Jay Carney stood in the back with about a dozen White House staffers.

Since last August, Obama convened at least 9 meetings with national security principals about this operation and the principals met 5 times without the president, a senior administration official said. Their deputies met 7 times formally amid a flurry of other interagency communications and consultations.

ABC News reportedthat the principals’ meetings were held on March 14, March 29, April 12, April 19 and April 28.

Last week Obama finally had enough intelligence last to take action. The final decision to go forward with the operation was made at 8:20 AM on Friday, April 29 in the White House’s Diplomatic Room. In the room at the time were Donilon, his deputy Denis McDonough, and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan. Donilon prepared the formal orders.

On Sunday, Obama went to play golf in the morning at Andrews Air Force Base. He played 9 holes in chilly, rainy weather and spent a little time on the driving range, as well. Meanwhile, the principals were assembling in the situation room at the White House. They were there from 1:00 PM and stayed put for the rest of the day.

At 2:00, Obama met with the principals back at the White House. At 3:32 he went to the situation room for another briefing. At 3:50 he was told that bin Laden was “tentatively identified.” At 7:01 Obama was told there was a “high probability” the high value target at the compound was bin Laden. At 8:30 Obama got the final briefing.

Before speaking to the nation, Obama called former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Three senior administration officials briefed reporters late Sunday night on the surveillance, intelligence, and military operations that ended with bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. operatives.

“The operation was the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work,” a senior administration official said.

The stream of information that led to Sunday’s raid began over four years ago, when U.S. intelligence personnel were alerted about two couriers who were working with al Qaeda and had deep connections to top al Qaeda officials. Prisoners in U.S. custody flagged these two couriers as individuals who might have been helping bin Laden, one official said

“One courier in particular had our constant attention,” the official said. He declined to give that courier’s name but said he was a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a “trusted assistant” of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a former senior al Qaeda officer who was captured in 2005.

“Detainees also identified this man as one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden,” the official said. The U.S. intelligence community uncovered the identity of this courier four years ago, and two years ago, the U.S. discovered the area of Pakistan this courier and his brother were working in.

In August 2010, the intelligence agencies found the exact compound where this courier was living, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The neighborhood is affluent and many retired Pakistani military officials live there.

“When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw,” one official said.

The compound was 8 times larger than the other homes around it. It was built in 2005 in an area that was secluded at that time. There were extraordinary security measures at the compound, including 12 to 18 foot walls topped with barbed wire.

There were other suspicious indicators at the compound. Internal sections were walled off from the rest of the compound. There were two security gates. The residents burned their trash. The main building had few windows.

The compound, despite being worth over $1 million, had no telephone or internet service. There’s no way the courier and his brother could have afforded it, the official said.

“Intelligence officials concluded that this compound was custom built to hide someone of significance,” the official said, adding that the size and makeup of one of the families living there matched the suspected makeup of bin Laden’s entourage.

The intelligence community had high confidence that the compound had a high value target, and the analysts concluded there was high probability that target was bin Laden, one official said.

When the small team of U.S. operatives raided the compound in the early morning hours Sunday Pakistan time, they encountered resistance and killed three men besides bin Laden and one woman. The three men were the two couriers and one of bin Laden’s sons. The woman was being used as a human shield, one official said. Two other women were injured.

One U.S. helicopter was downed due to unspecified “maintenance” issues, one official said. The U.S. personnel blew up the helicopter before leaving the area. The team was on the ground for only 40 minutes.

A senior defense official told CNN that US Navy SEALs were involved in the mission.

No other governments were briefed on the operation before it occurred, including the host government Pakistan.

“That was for one reason and one reason alone. That was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel,” one official said. Only a “very small group of people” inside the U.S. government knew about the operation. Afterwards, calls were made to the Pakistani government and several other allied countries.

“Since 9/11 the United States has made it clear to Pakistan that we would pursue bin Laden wherever he might be,” one official said. “Pakistan has long understood we are at war with al Qaeda. The United States had a moral and legal obligation to act on the information it had.”

Americans abroad should stay indoors be aware of the increased threat of attacks following bin Laden’s killing, the State Department said in a new travel warning issued Sunday night. State also issued a specific travel warning for Pakistan.

“Al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers may try to respond violently to avenge bin Laden’s death and other terrorist leaders may try to accelerate their efforts to attack the United States,” one official said. “We have always understood that this fight would be a marathon and not a sprint.”

By: Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy-The Cable, May 2, 2011

May 2, 2011 Posted by | 911, Foreign Policy, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Islam, Justice, National Security, President Obama, Religion, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Y Article: The Pentagon’s Secret Plan To Slash It’s Own Budget

On Friday, April 8, as members of the U.S. Congress engaged in a last-minute game of chicken over the federal budget, the Pentagon quietly issued a report that received little initial attention: “A National Strategic Narrative.” The report was issued under the pseudonym of “Mr. Y,” a takeoff on George Kennan’s 1946 “Long Telegram” from Moscow (published under the name “X” the following year in Foreign Affairs) that helped set containment as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union.

 The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a “personal” capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen.

The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.

Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world. Instead of simply pumping more and more dollars into defense, the narrative argues:

By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans — the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow — we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth.

Yet, it is investments in America’s long-term human resources that have come under the fiercest attack in the current budget environment. As the United States tries to compete with China, India, and the European Union, does it make sense to have almost doubled the Pentagon budget in the last decade while slashing education budgets across the country?

The report places considerable emphasis on the importance of achieving a more sustainable approach to security, energy, agriculture, and the environment. Again, it is important to stress that this narrative was penned by senior military thinkers, not the Sierra Club. The simple fact is that any clear-eyed analysis pretty quickly comes to the same conclusion: The United States has established an incentive system that just doesn’t make any sense. It continues to pour tens of billions of dollars into agricultural and oil subsidies every single year even as these subsidies make the gravity of the environmental, health, and land-use problems the country faces in the future ever graver. As the report argues, America cannot truly practice the use of “smart power” until it practices “smart growth” at home. While some may be quick to argue that the Pentagon should not be considering issues like smart growth and investments in America’s youth, this goes to another key point from the authors: America won’t get its approach to policy right if it leaves foreign policy and domestic policy in tidy little silos that ignore the interconnection between the two.

The paper argues persuasively that the tendency of Americans to broadly label the rest of the world has been hugely counterproductive. The authors point out that the tendency over the last decade by some Americans to view all Muslims as terrorists has made it more difficult to marginalize genuine extremism, while alienating vast swaths of the global Muslim community. In a world where credibility is so central to America’s national interest and reach around the globe, the overheated domestic debate about the war on terror has never served it very well.

Lastly, the narrative makes a clarion call for America to look forward, not back, in today’s interconnected world:

And yet with globalization, we seem to have developed a strange apprehension about the efficacy of our ability to apply the innovation and hard work necessary to successfully compete in a complex security and economic environment. Further, we have misunderstood interdependence as a weakness rather than recognizing it as a strength. The key to sustaining our competitive edge, at home or on the world stage, is credibility — and credibility is a difficult capital to foster. It cannot be won through intimidation and threat, it cannot be sustained through protectionism or exclusion. Credibility requires engagement, strength, and reliability — imaginatively applied through the national tools of development, diplomacy, and defense.

The budget deal over the weekend lopped $8 billion off of funding for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Defense spending was left untouched. Congress doesn’t seem to have gotten the wake-up call.

By: John Norris, Foreign Policy, April 13, 2011

April 15, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Democracy, Education, Energy, Environment, Federal Budget, Foreign Governments, Foreign Policy, Freedom, Government, Health Care, Ideology, Military Intervention, National Security, Pentagon, Politics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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