Best Defense

Rosa Brooks on Obama vs. his generals: This is some scary, lamentable stuff

Rosa Brooks on Obama vs. his generals: This is some scary, lamentable stuff

Rosa Brooks, a smart former Pentagon official, has a terrific piece in the debut issue of Politico Magazine on the frosty relationship between the Pentagon and the Obama White House. She writes:

In my interviews, however, many senior military leaders complained of feeling baffled and shut out by a White House National Security Staff that, in their view, combines an insistence on micromanaging minor issues with a near-total inability to articulate coherent strategic goals. "The NSS wants to run the show, day to day and minute to minute," laments a former military official, "so they have no time — they’re almost incapable of strategic thinking."

…. There was the White House staffer who called me up and asked me to have CENTCOM move a U.S. drone to Kyrgyzstan, for instance, in an effort to track an alarming outbreak of ethnic violence. When I told him why I couldn’t — the chain of command just doesn’t work that way, and in any case no formal planning or risk assessments had taken place — he quickly grew exasperated.

"You guys" — the Pentagon — "are always stonewalling us on everything. I’m calling you from the White House. The president wants to prevent genocide in Kyrgyzstan. Whatever happened to civilian control of the military?"

"You," I had to tell him, "are the wrong civilian."

As if to emphasize the culture clash, after episodes like this one, the response from some of my Obama administration colleagues in the White House was bitter: Had I "gone over to the other side?" one asked.

Tom again: That certainly rings true to me. There is a tendency in many of Obama’s officials, I think, to see the military as a political interest group, and to treat honest dissent as a form of disloyalty — not recognizing that top generals are required to give their personal views when asked to do so by Congress. Slapping down generals for honesty was a deleterious tendency of Lyndon Johnson.

(Among the potential conflicts of interest in this item: I am working with Rosa on a project at the New America Foundation, and she used to date a good friend of mine. Plus Susan Glasser, the editor of Politico Magazine, used to be my boss at Foreign Policy magazine, and before that at the Washington Post. I am sure I will think of more. Oh yeah, Rosa also has a weekly column in Foreign Policy. Also, I talked to her about this article when she was writing it.)