President Obama deferred to Defense Sec. Robert Gates, who he chose to inherit from President George W. Bush, on all things military because hey, Big B wasn’t exactly an expert on running two wars on the day he took office. But what’s this about Obama even letting Gates run the repeal of DADT?
In an assessment of Obama’s relationship with the U.S. armed services and Pentagon leaders, the NYT delves into Obama’s sometimes tense relationship with the men (and sometimes women) telling him what’s best for the country. Not surprisingly, there are a few digs, like people doubting the president’s management skillz!
A former adviser to the president, who like others insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the situation candidly, said that Mr. Obama’s relationship with the military was “troubled” and that he “doesn’t have a handle on it.” The relationship will be further tested by year’s end when Mr. Obama evaluates his Afghanistan strategy in advance of his July deadline to begin pulling out. As one administration official put it, “His commander in chief role is about to get tested again, and in a very dramatic way.”
But it’s Obama’s deference to his Pentagon head that should have you most concerned.
Perhaps his most important tutor has been Mr. Gates, the defense secretary appointed by Mr. Bush and the first kept on by a president of another party. They are an unlikely pair, a 49-year-old Harvard-trained lawyer turned community activist and a 66-year-old veteran of cold war spy intrigues and Republican administrations. But they are both known for unassuming discipline, and they bonded through weekly meetings and shared challenges.
Mr. Obama has relied on Mr. Gates as his ambassador to the military and deferred to him repeatedly. When Mr. Gates wanted to force out Gen. David D. McKiernan in May 2009 as commander in Afghanistan in favor of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, Mr. Obama signed off. Likewise, cognizant of Bill Clinton’s ill-fated effort to end the ban on gay and lesbian soldiers, Mr. Obama let Mr. Gates set a slow pace in overturning the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, even though it has disappointed gay rights advocates.
Though times, they are a changin’. And while Obama has let Gates call the shots for some time (oh man was that an oversimplification of how military decisions are made), he’s been brushing up on brass tacks.
But as he grows in the job, Mr. Obama has shown more willingness to set aside Mr. Gates’s advice. When General McChrystal got in trouble in June for comments by him and his staff in Rolling Stone magazine, Mr. Gates favored reprimanding the commander. Mr. Obama decided instead to oust him and replace him with Gen. David H. Petraeus, who led the troop increase in Iraq.
[…] Mr. Obama has made a point of seeking his own information, scribbling questions in memo margins and scouring the Internet. At one meeting, he surprised the generals by citing a study of post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers serving repeat tours.
Then he surprised everybody with a doodle of Bush bent over the Oval Office desk with Gates playing a power top.