When, even in a political context, is it fair game to criticize a President in a time of war in his role as CINC? Is this a good thing? Is this a healthy thing? Does the CINC own the war he wages, or does his nation?

As for the middle two questions above, the answer is both yes and no; it all depends on the context. In a Representative Republic such as ours, criticism of public officials is an essential cleansing agent and self-correcting mechanism. It ensures flawed policies are discovered and mistakes corrected, and it assists weak policies to be strengthened.

There is a problem with criticism when the motivation for criticism is not to point out areas for improvement, but to destroy one domestic political entity strictly to strengthen another.

When a nation is involved in war, when non-value added criticism divides a nation against itself for political advantage, then the whole national enterprise’s effort is weakened. We have that problem now in Afghanistan, and it is getting worse – both parties are to blame.

During the previous administration, the political and media classes of this nation re-started a bad political play for a nation at war: the integration of party politics and the political personalization.

President George Washington did not like party politics – and for good reason. Though perhaps a necessary evil, in his farewell address – among other warnings – came this.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

Of course this isn’t new. The election of 1864 makes what we do now look tame, but does not excuse our behavior. At recent example of today’s version of what Washington warned us about can be found in the infamous Rockefeller Memo. Sadly, on both sides of the political aisle – this cancerous activity did not end when the Democrats took the White House in 2008.

From the start of this present conflict, I did not like the personalization of this conflict in the person of the President; pro or con. I still refer to this as The Long War. It will last multiple Presidents for many decades. We cannot wage this war on election cycles and expect to win.

After his victory in 2008’s election, President Obama had an opportunity to mitigate the interplay between national security and domestic politics. You can never get rid of it, but it needed to be decreased after the disgraceful overheating from 2003-2008. Our nation would be better for it. The foundation was there, and in many ways I think the instinct was as well; SECDEF Gates was kept on from President Bush’s administration. Old habits die hard though, and that did not happen. No, instead we got “the Obama surge in Afghanistan.”

Let’s review some fundamentals on the plan being executed in AFG now. The strategy, though revised as all plans are, predates President Obama and General McChrystal. Fact.

The pedigree is clear; the shortcomings identified by General McNeill in “NewWar” (smaller, lighter forces laden with caveat-encumbered allied forces leavened with wishful thinking and Tiffany Theories) combined with the lessons of Iraq – resulted in General McKiernan’s “Shape-Clear-Hold-Build” COIN strategy and the uplift of USA forces in AFG starting in mid-08. The concept development of Uncle Sam taking back the keys from NATO – the latest chapter being the creation of Regional Command Southwest – can be traced back to late 2007. Even “AfPak” predated the present administration.

I grudgingly accepted the new administration’s desire to “get their stink” on the plan in early 2009 – after all they needed to remove all the political mud thrown at the enduring AFG challenge, often by their own party, during the rule of the previous administration – but on balance, like the SECDEF, the plan is fundamentally unchanged.

In the last year, we have seen from both sides of the aisle a repeat of the “AFG is Obama‘s War” mantra. No, it is American’s War. It is the West’s War.

Because the political parties decided to continue the personalization of our Nation’s war, the inevitable has happened. As President Obama’s domestic political standing starts to wobble and he starts to show significant weakness, politicians are doing what they have a habit of doing – looking for any weapon to attack him. From the Left and the Right, they see the Obama Stamp on an item, and they grab it and attack it. The Left want him to leave now; the Right wants him to move the knob to 11.

Sadly, the AFG campaign now has an Obama sticker on it. The Obama Administration is not blameless in this – any fair minded person has to admit that they are at least 51% responsible for the personalization of AFG, and it didn‘t have to be that way. Remember the previous Administration‘s mantra? “I will follow the best advice from my Commanders on the Ground?” They should have picked that up, but they haven’t. As a matter of fact – with their immature “Smarter” spin, they are even more entwined with it. They could have turned a de-personlization of the conflict to political advantage, but they blew it to their detriment and ours.

Infuriating, we now have this;

Downbeat news reports and second-guessing in Congress about the course of the war in Afghanistan have touched a nerve in the Pentagon, where some worry the negativity is undercutting public sentiment before President Barack Obama’s strategy even has a chance to work.Defense Secretary Robert Gates is among those to privately voice concerns about a wave of pessimism that they believe stems partly from embedding journalists solely with military units in Afghanistan’s south, where fighting is fiercest. Some officials talk of changes to make embeds go elsewhere too.

As I warned over at my homeblog – the timeline of JUL 11 and the resulting STRATCOM cross-messaging is a Strategic blunder on multiple levels.

The Pentagon’s growing sensitivities put a spotlight on what some see as increasingly shaky support for a six-month-old war strategy that hinges on surging U.S. forces into the restive south, heartland of the Taliban, before starting a gradual withdrawal in July 2011, conditions permitting.Asked in a Senate hearing on Tuesday whether he still supported beginning a withdrawal in July 2011 given recent setbacks in the south, General David Petraeus, who oversees the Afghan war as head of U.S. Central Command, said: “I support the policy of the president.”

But he added: “In a perfect world … we have to be very careful with timelines.”

Oh, and in case you were wondering – I am not this source – though I think we have the same background. Maybe this guy is a Salamander reader?

But some top military officials say they won’t really know whether the counterinsurgency strategy is working or not until next summer, around the time Obama hopes to begin a draw down.”It’s a war. It’s not a political campaign,” one military official said. “The negativity (in the press and in Congress) can go too far. There are parts of Afghanistan that aren’t going well. It’s a mixed bag.”

SECDEF gets it too.

Gates let his frustrations show last week after a meeting with NATO ministers in Brussels.”I, frankly, get a little impatient with some of the coverage because of the lack of historical context,” he told reporters, noting that the 30,000-troop surge ordered by Obama in December was only now beginning to be felt on the ground.

“So as far as I’m concerned, this endeavor began in full, and reasonably resourced, only a few months ago,” he said.

Strategic patience. That is what we need. What we also need is the Obama Administration and members of both parties in Congress to back off. De-personalize and de-politicize as much as practical. Stop saying that the 30,000 is Obama’s surge. It was planned by the military prior to Obama taking office. It is America’s surge. Give the military the time – the Strategic patience – it needs to finish the job. This can be done.

Oh, that is from one to three decades BTW. Will someone please beat that into the head of Geoff Morrell please? He isn’t helping anyone but the Taliban with talk like this. This isn’t a political campaign ….. and oh; don’t go into comments and quote Carl to me – read him in the original German if you want to know what he is talking about. Here is Geoff giving prima facie evidence that he needs a new job.

“While I understand the fact that there have been developments, such as the increase in casualties, that would cause concern, there also needs to be a recognition that we know and warned this fight was going to get harder before it got easier,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

“We do expect, by the end of the year, we’ll be able to show that they are making progress,” Morrell said. “Let’s at least allow them the next six months to prove that General McChrystal’s strategy will work.”

Six months? What is his Operational Planning training, Risk? Somehow, we need to get back to fundamentals. And yes, I am repeating myself – for a reason. Some things need repeating 2, 3, a thousand times.

Though not always true, this plan was developed and is being executed via the best military advice in response to the direction and guidance by the Commander in Chief. Though there have been modifications on the edges and a natural adjustment as we move forward – the fundamental plan in place has been with us through two administrations. It is a good plan and the right plan. Sure, there are some good points about how to perhaps better execute it in places – but that is an Operational and Tactical issue.

This plan will need to be in place for many more administrations, from both parties. It is in the interest of the military and this nation to back away from personalization and politicization. We endanger our own Center of Gravity – the support of the American People – if we do not.

Is there a place for criticism? Absolutely. Criticism and hard questions are essential to make sure the best plan is there. Where does it go to far? When it gets mindless in pursuit of partisan politics.

There are two places where the CINC is 100% fair game during a time of war; those appointments at the highest levels that he makes to run the conflict at the Strategic and Operational Levels, and his direct intervention in sound military policy.

His top appointment that are at the Operational and Strategic levels WRT AFG? Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Petraeus? ADM Stavridis? No complaints there.

Sound military policy? Well, LBJ’s micro-managing of the air war in Vietnam is one example of bad – and this “JUL 2011″ is another. If the CINC’s critics want a legitimate topic to attack the President’s conduct of the war – that is your target. That is fixable – as you hear SECDEF Gates and others trying to do as they look for a face-saving path for the CINC to back away from his comments.

The rest of the attacks on the conduct of the war in AFG? Shipmate – that ain’t President Obama; that is the military.




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  • Rick Wilmes

    “Is there a place for criticism? Absolutely.  Criticism and hard questions are essential to make sure the best plan is there. Where does it go to far? When it gets mindless in pursuit of partisan politics.”

    The only questions I have for our leaders are the following,

    1. Have you watched the movie “Bridges on the River Kwai” recently?

    2. Why can’t our leaders recognize the Iraq strategy and AFG strategy is worse than building bridges for our enemies?

  • Derrick

    There will always be criticism of any policy…comes with democracy.

    The best way to defeat this criticism is with fact.

    Is there a website the US military maintains that posts interesting stats like the number of insurgents captured/killed? Or the number of attacks launched by insurgents every month? I think stats like that will help the public see the progress of the operation in Afghanistan…

    A very off-topic question, but what is the exact definition of “war”? What is the difference between a “war” and a “military operation”?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Is there a website the US military maintains that posts interesting stats like the number of insurgents captured/killed? Or the number of attacks launched by insurgents every month? I think stats like that will help the public see the progress of the operation in Afghanistan…”

    Derrick, I am afraid it won’t. Counterinsurgency is an effort of power and subtleties. Those things that “move the charts to the right” on the PPT slides may or may not have the slightest bearing to success on the ground. There were very subtle indicators in Iraq as far back as late-summer 2004 that the bad guys had poisoned the well. But they were not for public digestion, and even if they had been published, would have not been recognized for what they were or their importance.

    And, sometimes that criticism isn’t to be defeated, but to be listened to, examined for validity, and heeded, as appropriate.

  • Rick Wilmes

    The following article may shed some light on the failed progress in Iraq.  The main issue our leaders from both parties and our military have failed to recognize is the fact that we have allowed Iraq and Afghanistan to install governments based on the Koran and Islamic law.  This fact violates the principle of separation of church and state.   

    George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams understood that factions within the government would attempt to seize control of the government given enough time.  This is what is happening in Iraq and AFG and because there is no separation of church and state the factions will continue to fight and kill over their own interpretation of the Koran.  That is the politics we face in Iraq and AFG and continue to evade.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/17/AR2010061703775.html

    “BAGHDAD — A Sunni fighter who had turned on al-Qaeda in Iraq was killed at his home outside Fallujah early Thursday in the latest of a string of attacks targeting members of a U.S.-backed Sunni militia group.

    Mudhar Hamad al-Essawi, 42, his wife and his three young sons, including a baby, were slain as they slept, said Shaker al-Essawi, the mayor of the suburb of Fallujah, in Anbar province, where the attack occurred.

    At least 47 members of the Awakening, or Sahwa, also known as the Sons of Iraq, and their family members have been killed across the country in the past 45 days, according to a Washington Post count.

    Many, like Essawi, were former insurgents who had turned against the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq. Most were being paid a salary by the U.S. military. At one point, there were more than 100,000 men on the U.S. payroll before the Iraqi government took over and promised to absorb most of them into the security forces or the civil service.”

  • YNSN

    Winning here is going to be like winning the drug war down in Columbia if we’re not careful. The violence is just going to migrate. The name’s we’re going after are changing, as they have changed over the last eight years. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is targeting Indian Nationals over here. LeT was directly supported by the ISI for a long time (my money is that they still are).

    Long war? Yup. I’ll spend my career on this one, I am sure.

  • http://www.coatneyhistory.com Lou Coatney

    Actually, this is a fundamental question:

    “A very off-topic question, but what is the exact definition of “war”? What is the difference between a “war” and a “military operation”?”

    If Congress hasn’t formally declared war, politicians, the press, and the public have every right and indeed a duty to openly question and even attack what is happening in a prolonged, costly, and apparently unwinnable military operation, as hard as that is for guys in the field to understand and take.

    This is even more true in the case of atrocities, which are covered up over here but well known to the people over there. These videos coming out, against orders, showing them are shaking up Americans about what we are doing over there and whether we should be there.

    When we wrongfully/illegally invaded Iraq, we lost. We have since alienated the Afghan people too, and we should be cutting our losses and getting out. These statistics claiming we are winning are just like what we have heard from Iraq, as things have steadily gotten worse.

    Our Southwest Asian wars are proving to be exactly what I predicted our invasion/occupation of Iraq would be: a slow-burn Stalingrad.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “When we wrongfully/illegally invaded Iraq, we lost. We have since alienated the Afghan people too, and we should be cutting our losses and getting out. These statistics claiming we are winning are just like what we have heard from Iraq, as things have steadily gotten worse.”

    Is that based on all of your time in Iraq or AFG, or just a long history of honorable service to your country elsewhere?

    I doubt people walking around Ramadi today would agree with your politically-motivated and self-serving “assessment”. I know those of us who fought there wouldn’t agree either. But what would we know?

  • Redeye80

    “This is even more true in the case of atrocities, which are covered up over here but well known to the people over there. These videos coming out, against orders, showing them are shaking up Americans about what we are doing over there and whether we should be there.”

    So, you have evidence of a crime? Then do the right thing and bring forth the evidence. Put up or shut up! Do your duty, if you know what that term is.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Redeye,

    Don’t worry, Mister Lou Coatney can accuse US troops of committing atrocities with no proof other than thoroughly discredited radical left sources, and then claim he is not criticizing the honor or courage of American servicemen.

  • http://aw1tim.wordpress.com AW1 Tim

    Part of the problem that Americans have when trying to understand the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, is that those actions are not being properly defined. The entire body of Western Civilization is under attack by Islam, and has been for some 14 centuries.

    Islam has been attacking and attempting to conquer everything not named Islam since the religion was founded. It is a world war in every sense of that definition, and Afghanistan and Iraq, like the Philippines, the Balkans, Chechnya and other places are simply theaters in this long war.

    Only when the west realizes that Islam is the antagonist, when it accepts that it is a world-war between two opposite cultures, one based on the enlightened individual, versus the religious slave, only when that single, fundamental truth is accepted, can we begin to address the core issue of this long war, and take the strategic steps required to end this threat to liberty and humanity.

    Islam recognizes and embraces this single mission: To dominate the world under Sharia Law. That is it’s singular goal, it’s primary purpose. Until the west understands that, and moves to deal with it, we will be engaged in some country or another for centuries to come.

  • http://www.redwhiteandboom.blogspot.com Salty Gator

    URR, AW1 Tim, as always I stand with you fine gentlemen.

    URR is right: a counterinsurgent battle can only be won when the civilian population is convinced that they can back you with a reasonable expectation of both longevity and success.

    AW1 Tim is right: having read the Koran cover to cover, I can tell you that Islam is a religion of domination and violence. That’s not throwing stones, that’s truth. Misrepresentation, lying, backstabbing are all acceptable if the outcome is the Islamisation of a people and or country. Muhammad was a warlord. He started off as a raider between Mecca and Medina. He was not a man of peace who said “if you are struck across the face turn the other cheek.” He was the man who said Jihad is the duty of every Muslim.

    And Jihad is as holy as the WestBoro Baptist Church members protesting dead Marines funerals, regardless of what the current administration and its “counterterrorism chief” proclaim.

  • Chuck Hill

    “Islam recognizes and embraces this single mission: To dominate the world under Sharia Law. That is it’s singular goal, it’s primary purpose. Until the west understands that, and moves to deal with it, we will be engaged in some country or another for centuries to come.”

    Fact is, most Muslims have no intention of conquering the world and just want to live their lives in peace. But like other religions there are many ways to twist the meaning and men whose only real motivation is greed and power can get the disaffected to work for them for free by exploiting their own interpretation.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    ‘Twas ever thus, Chuck.

  • http://aw1tim.wordpress.com AW1 Tim

    I disagree, Chuck. At this point in history, with all the mass media and instant media access available, with cell phones and satellite TV available in the most remote of locations, there is no excuse for the absence of “moderate Muslims”. We must surmise that they either actively support the actions taken by terrorists and Islamists in the name of their religion, or they passively support these actions by willful ignorance or malaise. Certainly they cannot NOT know what is being done.

    Today, I would argue, and consider it absolutely correct, that there are NO moderate Muslims, anymore than there were innocent Germans in 1945. All bear a collective guilt.

    I adamantly reject the concept of moral relativism, because the actions of Islamists, on behalf of Islam, and supported by Muslims around the world, prove the fallacy of such a concept.

    This war will continue, likely for generations, if not for centuries, until either freedom or slavery becomes the worldwide state of humanity. One or the other MUST win.

    Respects,

  • http://www.coatneyhistory.com Lou Coatney

    You do realize you are swinging a VERY two-edged sword there, Tim:

    “Today, I would argue, and consider it absolutely correct, that there are NO moderate Muslims, anymore than there were innocent Germans in 1945. All bear a collective guilt.”

  • http://aw1tim.wordpress.com AW1 Tim

    Yes I do. However, this is not 1945, regardless of the continuing connections between the Germans of that era and today’s Islamists.

  • http://www.coatneyhistory.com Lou Coatney

    No, you’re apparently oblivious to our own guilt, individual and collective.

  • http://aw1tim.wordpress.com AW1 Tim

    For what, prithee. What should we as a nation feel guilty for? For being the last, best hope for mankind? For trying to keep the light of liberty lit as an example to the rest of the world? For sacrificing untold amounts of blood & treasure to keep Western Civilization safe from the barbarians like the Nazis? Japanese? Islamists? Soviets?

    Should be distressed because we have spent untold billions, nay trillions in foreign aid around the world? that we are (foolishly) the largest contributor to the United Nations? That we lead the world in exports of food, of medicine? That we spend more on AIDS relief globally than all other nations combined?

    Pray tell, just what is it that any American should be ashamed of?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Chuck and Tim.

    I would offer that your two viewpoints are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one (Chuck’s statement about the twisting of the religion) often begets the other (Tim’s assertion that this is a battle between two mutually exclusive ends).

  • Jay

    “During the previous administration, the political and media classes of this nation re-started a bad political play for a nation at war: the integration of party politics and the political personalization”

    Re-started? I wasn’t aware that it had ever stopped (see Rep party criticism of Pres Clinton & Bosnia).

    Concur that criticism is healthy & necessary. The constructive stuff (especially if justified) does help. The chaff remains chaff.

  • Robert

    If what the author states is true, that the US needs to be in AFG another 30 years, then we need to leave yesterday. I shake my head at some of these milblogs — they don’t seem to realize that the USA is BROKE. Wake up, beltway!

  • http://cannoneerno4.wordpress.com Cannoneer No. 4

    De-personalize and de-politicize as much as practical.

    ‘Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.’

  • http://aw1tim.wordpress.com AW1 Tim

    Robert,

    It isn’t the military budget that’s the problem. It’s the trillions of dollars the current administration, along with their congressional enablers, have spent of statist programs that ARE NOT NEEDED.

    TARP? We could take care of most of our defense programs with the money that POTUS spent paying off his union buddies.

    ObamaCare? Please…. unconstitutional, unneeded. Hopefully it gets reversed by the new Congress or overturned in the courts.

    Buying off General Motors> Again, unneeded and illegal.

    That doesn’t even get to Freddy and Fannie and all the other craptacular crap that this president, and these democrats in congress have frittered away our grandchildren’s liberty and finances on.

  • Rick Wilmes

    “That doesn’t even get to Freddy and Fannie and all the other craptacular crap that this president, and these democrats in congress have frittered away our grandchildren’s liberty and finances on.”

    It is not just the Democrats that caused the financial problem.  It must be remembered that the Bush administration started the mess and the Obama administration has decided to make it ten times worse.

  • Robert

    AW1 Tim,

    Yes, the examples you provide are valid, and are emblematic of the corruption which pervades Wall Street and the Beltway. However, these examples do not justify multi-trillion dollar nation building exercises that are projected to span decades. Militaries in general are designed to kill people and break things — not engage in social work, or to build nations. Nor do the examples you provide excuse what amounts to excessive trough feeding behavior on part of the defense complex. Again, we are broke.

  • http://www.coatneyhistory.com Lou Coatney

    I addressed this other (in-flow) side of the budget problem under the cash-constrained Navy thread thusly:

    There are 2 basic problems which have caused the cutbacks now:

    1. Unwinnable, pointless, and bankrupting wars of attrition in Southwest Asia instigated by fanatics and special interests … which should be curtailed.

    2. The “outsourcing” of our manufacturing/tax/budget base by neocons and various other corrupt, disloyal elitists – political, academic, business, or otherwise.

    The really dangerous aspect of outsourcing is that much of our manufacturing we would need in a war against China is now IN China.

    Something Americans can do to try to restore the economic foundation of the Country is to consult the website http://www.StillMadeInUSA.com and exercise some “economic patriotism.” Example: I’m getting my next pairs of socks from Railroad Sox in Iowa.

    ***

    The only real answer to our economic/tax revenue problems is so obvious and simple that no one will address it.

  • Rick Wilmes

    “The only real answer to our economic/tax revenue problems is so obvious and simple that no one will address it.”

    Why should I be required to buy inferior products simply because they are American? A free market system or capitalism is what is needed.

    Lou are you pro capitalist or just antineocon.

    Also Adam Smith has addressed the fallacy of simply buying British or in our context simply buying American. Have you read “Wealth of Nations” or any other books on economics?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “The only real answer to our economic/tax revenue problems is so obvious and simple that no one will address it.”

    Lemme guess…. tax the living hell out of the people who earn the money, and give it to the people who don’t.

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