Annals of Obama & national security: Nailing a whistleblower while torturers go free, and what happens when Lute goes?
- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I never would have expected that the Obama Administration’s Justice Department would prosecute a National Security Agency whistleblower but decline to investigate cases in which people died while being interrogated by U.S. officials. The case against the NSA official fell apart like a cheap suit, by the way. Viewing things as I do through the prism of national security, I think that of the entire administration, Eric Holder and his Justice Department have been this administration’s least valuable player.
I still consider myself an Obama supporter, but mainly for non-national security reasons. In that arena, my worries grow. I hear Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute is leaving the White House soon. You may not have heard of him, but his departure may prove significant, because from what I hear, he is one of the few generals who has felt not only heard but understood by this White House. And he was a carryover from the previous administration, which may indicate that this team has not on its own found anyone in the military with which to have candid exchanges. This crop of White House officials may or may not be politically astute (I am not a good judge of that) but in the area I know, I fear they are in the D range in their handling of policy deliberations with the military. That’s LBJ territory. So far this hasn’t caused any major problems, but it could: In a sustained crisis, their failure to build relationships of trust and understanding with today’s four star officers will hurt us all, but especially those out at the sharp end of the spear. And it may be later than you think: By August 1965, the American phase of the Vietnam War was just months old, but Johnson had made the two negative decisions that would lose the war and break the Army — to not pursue the enemy into his cross-border sanctuaries, and to not activate 100,000 reservists or extend the enlistments of active-duty forces.
What especially worries me is that I fear the Libyan intervention may be the wave of the future: A small, messy operation in which the United States is a minority partner, providing unique capabilities such as ISR and refueling, but not leading the action or dominating multilateral discussions of the way forward. Yet so far I have to meet a single person in the military who thinks intervening in Libya was the right thing to do. Again, this is a recipe for trouble down the road.
Here’s one short-term test: Will Lute be replaced at the White House by another general? If so, who will it be?