For the sake of avoiding Congressional oversight of military operations, the president of the United States is “commander-in-chief” of the military, and calls the shots on America’s assorted wars. Calling those shots, however, steps on some other toes.
President Obama’s previous two defense secretaries, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, both blasted him this week at the Reagan National Defense Forum, complaining that he was directly discussing matters of war with four-star generals, and ordering National Security Council members to do the same.
“It was micromanagement that drove me crazy,” insisted Gates, who said he told JSOC to tell the White House to “go to hell and call me” if they called again. He accused Obama of being “political” in trying to assert control over the military commanders.
Leon Panetta, Gates’ successor, concurred, and also faulted President Obama for ruling out a new ground war in Iraq and Syria. The two both likened Obama to Lyndon Johnson in his desire to pick specific targets to attack during wars.
One would assume, with the pretense of “commander-in-chief” looming so large in political dialogue (or at least in the efforts to avoid dialogue), direct communication with the commanders on the ground would be a given. Instead, it seems to be wildly controversial among Defense Department brass.
White House officials complained about the criticism, not on the grounds that anything said was inaccurate, but on the grounds that they’re in the middle of a war and feel they should be exempt from criticism of how the war is run, saying that’s something for historians to deal with after Obama’s term in office ends.