The Obama Presidency: no relief for US Commanders

September 12th, 2010

The Obama presidency brings with it increased oversight and involvement in US military operations and policies, and with it relief of two successive commanders of US troops in Afghanistan: General David McKiernan in May of 2009 and General Stanley McChrystal in June of 2010.
One might think the Bush administration would have been more involved in our military’s business, given that it oversaw the commitment of US troops to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of 9/11. But the Bush administration’s approach was “hands off” compared to what we see today. Bush assured the people of his trust and confidence in their military, and let them know he left America’s military strategy to America’s Generals.
The Obama administration sends a different message: he lacks confidence in his commanders. Although the circumstances surrounding these successive resignations are quite different, the message sent to America’s military is the same – you have lost the trust of the President, and this administration will be more involved in military affairs.
One might argue that more Presidential oversight of the military is better, especially during times of war – but when Presidents involve themselves too closely, it brings an element of politics to the equation that can disrupt strategic momentum and unity of purpose. Direct Presidential involvement and politicization of the Vietnam War is often cited as a primary cause of America’s failure to accomplish its objectives there.
The Obama Presidency is no relief for US commanders. With it comes the realization that political decisions outweigh strategic ones – often tied to polls and pundits – paid for with the loss of strategic momentum and even greater loss of life.