The Obama Foreign Policy

The recent news is that President Obama is trying to shut up General McChrystal, because McChrystal’s comments imply that our current troop levels in Afghanistan are insufficient.

This is reminiscent of President Bush silencing General Shinsheki. At the time the Democrats in Congress, acting opportunistically, criticized the President. This time, the Democrats in Congress, acting opportunistically, support the President.

Very well. But why is Secretary of Defense Robert Gates supporting the President?

On Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said “it is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations — civilian and military alike — provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately.” He did not mention McChrystal’s name.

Simple: Gates knows that Obama may not care about winning the Afghanistan War.

McChrystal knows his future depends on winning the Afghanistan War. Therefore, he is doing everything he can to get the troop levels needed to win it.

Obama does not care about the Afghanistan War. And not just because liberals think that the Afghanistan War is the bad war. Rather, Obama believes that America should generally act as an offshore balancer... That is, Obama thinks that America should avoid having a firm side in international disputes, and rather ‘go with the flow’ so that American influence will be maximized.

Gates knows this. However, Gates is involved in the bigger effort to transform our military-industrial-‘big war’-complex into a military-industrial-‘small war’-complex.

Gates’ work will continue whether or not Obama allows the Afghanistan War to be lost. Gates’ knows that he has limited political capital. Gates would rather spend that capital making the small-war-complex inevitable than risking it all on the Afghanistan War.

7 thoughts on “The Obama Foreign Policy”

  1. Agreed.

    One other thing that is evident is in the past 16 years we have had a serious issue with chain of command. Clinton and Bush both had “favorites” within the military that they perhaps gave undue influence and power to, subverting the traditional and absolutely critical military chain of command. Obama (whether by accident or perhaps via informed criticism from his former Marine General NSA and Navy Seal deputy NSA) seems to be intent on restoring chain of command. That of course requires competence on the part of the White House to be aware of impending speeches and public outings for General McChrystal and others involved in “dicey” subjects where dissent from the public line could be damaging to all involved.

    Nevertheless, Gen. Shinseiski was asked under oath before Congress what he thought was required for the war. To lie would be to bring discredit upon his uniform and service, plus the personal ethos instilled in officers. Gen. McChrystal was giving a speech of his own accord and offering his (unsolicited for public consumption at this time from the White House/Pentagon) opinion. There is a significant difference in chain of command there.

  2. Your analysis is very strong. But is there any way you can prove what you wrote here:

    “Obama does not care about the Afghanistan War.” (tdaxp)
    “Obama believes that America should generally act as an offshore balance.” (tdaxp)

    Are these thoughts based on your analysis of liberal thinking or based on something more substantial?

    My observations of the Obama Left (as opposed to the Clinton Left) is that foreign affairs don’t matter much unless they can used to gain something domestically. IOW, giving rhetorical support to the Palestinians or Chavez just appeals to the base . Clinton(s) on the other hand actually seemed willing to engage in geopolitics (Balkans, Somalia).

    How would you contrast the Obama Left and Clinton Left when it comes to foreign affairs?

  3. Eddie,

    Is the chain-of-command the same thing as chain-of-communication?

    It strikes me as bizarre, to use just this extreme case, that the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO mission chartered by the Security Council, is only able to give assessments to CINC-CENTCOM, and a couple of people in Washington.

    Alternatively, one can argue that the military has a duty to only propagandize its chance of victory at any given time. This would turn the military into a cheerleader for its mission at the time, while of course eviscerating its credibility.

    Similarly, I can imagine a view of the military in that it is only able to speak outside its chain of command in cases where it is sworn to. Of course, this would do a disservice to both the President and to Congress, as bureaucratic maneuvering could easily be used by high-level officials to squelch criticism of their management.


    I don’t see either Clinton or Obama persuing a left-wing foreign policy, though because of partisanship and polarization, I am sure they have many leftist supporters.

    Clinton’s foreign policy seemed to be a form of liberal internationalism with prominent military and economic components, similar to George W Bush’s first term.

    Obama’s foreign policy seems to be a form of offshore-balancing, that has the advantage of leaving him free to pursue his domestic policies in “splendid isolation.” With the obvious exception of willingness to fight and win ongoing military engagements, this is similar to GWB’s second term.

  4. Dan,

    Welcome to the military!
    If there is not an effective and adhered to chain-of-command, there will be chaos and disorder in the ranks.
    As well, if officers don’t follow the law (i.e. commit perjury or adultery), they can be cashiered, as countless have been since the beginnings of the Republic.

  5. Eddie,

    Thank you for your comment, though I do not know if it is not relevant to the current discussion.

    You are talking about chain-of-command, but the criticism refers to chain-of-communication.

    Are these identical concepts?

  6. To my understanding, they are one and the same in this instance.

    A general is not supposed to publicly advocate and push for his own policy (Aside from the regional theater commanders, who do so after clearing it with their superiors at DOD, or get fired for not doing so, as with Admiral Blair, former CENTCOM) that happens to be contrary to the president’s view or stated policy, or in an attempt to narrow the President’s options by creating the potential appearance of conflict between himself and the President and others above him in the chain of command/chain of communication.

  7. Eddie,

    To my understanding, they are one and the same in this instance.

    Yes, this is my question.

    What is the source of this understanding?

    There’s a lot of political opportunism going on, but I have yet to see those that criticized Gen. McChrystal for opportunism gave a reason for doing so other than vague ones on the level of an Ann Coulter argument (chain of command, etc.)

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