We’ve been unimpressed with the senior leadership appointed to four star rank by Obama, virtually without exception.
But civilian control of our military is one of the bedrock principles of our nation. As it should be. Senior officers get their orders, and execute them to the best of their ability.
But one other role, by custom and law, is for the senior leadership to provide to the Secretary of Defense and the Commander in Chief their best advice on how operations should be conducted.
Having given that advice to the CinC, and seeing it rejected, the generals are getting a might touchy. They have a vested interest in keeping the military going strong, both as a budget issue, and as an esteemed institution in the nation.
And so they’re pushing back against the White House.
Even as the President is telling anyone and everyone that there will be “no boots on the ground”* in our fight against ISIS, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, GEN Martin Dempsey, testified before Congress that he thought it should be a viable option. Such a clear break in policy positions between the White House and the CJCS is rare. And there’s not a lot that Obama can do about it. His options are either downplay the pushback (which is what he’s doing now), or fire Dempsey.
But Dempsey is hardly the only one that’s letting the rest of the government, and the people, know how the military feels about being tasked with a mission, but no reasonable means to accomplish it.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said Friday that ground forces remain an option for military planners.
“I did not say we need U.S. divisions and brigades on the ground to do this,” he said. But “if sometime, someday, that means U.S. forces [and] we think that’s the right thing, it might be something we recommend.”
So, that’s the two top guys in Army Blue.
He also acknowledged that Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander for the Middle East, had already recommended doing so in the case of at least one battle in Iraq, but was overruled.
Make that the three top guys in Army Blue.
That doesn’t even touch on GEN James Mattis’ testimony Thursday.
Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who served under Obama until last year, became the latest high-profile skeptic on Thursday, telling the House Intelligence Committee that a blanket prohibition on ground combat was tying the military’s hands. “Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility,” he said. “We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.”
Mattis is probably one of the most respected general officers around, even if he is retired.
Another recently retired senior leader, ADM James Stavridis weighed in:
“Without question we will see our young men and women engaged in combat. I don’t think they’ll be given a primary, direct, combat assignment initially, but I think it’s entirely possible that as events change and morph, the situation may ultimately require that,” said former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Adm. James Stavridis.
“If we’re going to be honest, we ought to start by saying we’ll send in troops and they’re going to advise, train, ,mentor, and they’ll stiffen the Iraqi security forces and they’ll stiffen the Peshmerga in the north, and we’ll do the bombing in the west and initially no combat mission,” he said.
Stavridis might not enjoy the personal popularity of Mattis, but he’s a deeply respected strategic thinker. Obama isn’t.
Coupled with Congressional skepticism over Obama’s response to ISIS, I don’t know how much, if any, effect this will have on policy going forward. I tend to think Obama’s “no boots” promise is like every other promise of his. It comes with an expiration date.
But to my recollection, this is the loudest disagreement with a President that the uniform leadership has shown in a generation.