Friday, August 17, 2012

Why The Commander in Chief Gets Credit For Combat Operations

As a young Second Lieutenant in the US Army, when I reported to my first assignment as platoon Leader, I met with the company commander.  He looked me over, closely checking my uniform, my shoes, my haircut, and my posture.  He then asked me to sit so we could discuss his expectations for my new platoon, and then he started the discussion.  His first statement to me was, "Lieutenant, you are responsible for everything your platoon does or fails to do."  Those words resonated with me as the framework for how to be a leader.

Of course, my company commander's statement applies to all branches of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coastguard.  Most importantly, it applies to our Commander In Chief - the President of the United States.  In each branch, soldiers are taught to respect the chain of command.  From R.O.T.C. cadets to Generals, military personnel learn that leaders of troops get all the criticism when things go wrong and all the praise when things go well.

Apparently, not everyone got that memo.  Recently, former Special Operations soldiers created a political web video criticizing President Obama.  See the video here.
But before I get into what I feel about this video, let me tell you a bit about the organization that bankrolled the video, the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund (SOOEF).

SOOEF is a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization, which under Internal Revenue Service Regulations means that it is a civic league or social organizations.  Generally, a 501(c)(4) organization can limit its membership to those with certain qualifications, ie, ex-special forces soldiers, but it must exist for charitable, educational, or social welfare purposes.  The organization is not tax exempt.  Unlike 501(c)(3) organizations, which are tax exempt, 501(c)(4) organizations can support political parties because they receive no tax exemption.  The SOOEF states that it's purpose is to stop politicians and the Obama Administration from leaking sensitive special operations information.  The organization claims to be non-partisan, unpolitical, and that it intends to target politicians who release sensitive national security data.  No issues there.

Apparently SOOEF doesn't like the fact that sensitive security data was leaked.  I used the passive tense "was leaked" because no one knows who leaked the information.  So, they blama Obama because it was on his watch.  Ok, I don't have a problem with that either.   Next, they blast the Obama Adminstration for using the Bin Laden capture as a political weapon.  Hmmmmm, uh ok, I don't agree but I can see that argument. 

Now, SOOEF crossed the line when it slammed Obama for taking some credit for the Bin Laden operation.   Here's what they criticized:

"Tonight I can report to the American people and to the world, the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden..."

"...I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against Al Qaeda..."

"I met repeatedly with my national security teams as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside Pakistan..."

"...I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice..."

" my direction, the United States launced a targeted operation against that compund in Abbottabad, Pakistan."

Um, what??!!??  Obama shouldn't get any credit for the Bin Laden operation?  Remember my leadership quote above?  Here is where it comes into play.  See, as you know the President is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.  That means, the military does what the President says, when he says it, and how he says for it to be done.  Case closed.  No discussion. Dismissed.  Besides, what would have happened had the mission failed?  Ask Jimmy Carter about failed missions.

Traditionally, Presidents receive credit for military manuevers.  Obama should be no different.  Abraham Lincoln receives credit for facilitating a Union victory in the Civil War.  There is no dispute that Franklin D. Rosevelt's leadership helped lead Allied Forces to victory in World War II, even though he died before atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Hell the GOP's clarion call is that Reagan's brilliant negotiation skills prevented the Cold War.  And let's not forget Bush Jr and his victory pose.

This criticism deems the SOOEF hypocritical for a number of reasons.  The most obvious being its statement that it is non-politcial yet it created a political webpage, a video, and it is spending one million dollars in swing states to oust Obama.  They know that their ads clearly benefit the Republican party.  They claim they are speaking out against other "politicians" but not one other than Obama/Biden are mentioned.

Additionally, SOOEF criticizes Obama for rightly taking credit for a successful combat operation as the Commander in Chief, yet they make no mention of other presidents who have done the EXACT same thing.  For example, the Bush Administration leaked the name of a CIA agent.  I couldn't find any mention of that on the SOOEF's site.  Even worse, the site lists as its motto, "I serve quietly.  I am not seeking recognition or accolades...," yet each supporter on the video lists their name and agency they once represented.  Doesn't sound like quiet service to me.

Ok, we all know that Citizens United allows corporations and certain non-profit organizations to spend unlimited funds on political speech.  But this co-mingling of the military and politics is abhorrent.  Even more so, making this sort of political statement against the administration when your supposed aim is to prevent leaks and protect military secrets is simply going make the media's appetite for this sort of information even more voracious.   These guys once served the federal government and the military so they should follow their own advice and shut the bleep up when it comes to politics.

Interestingly enough, most of the Americans that serve in these agencies are part of the demographic that Obama lost or struggled with: namely, white, male and military.  Based on that, I can't say I'm that surprised that this group has chosen to criticize the President.  I just think their criticism for Obama taking credit for the Bin Laden operation is pretty weak sauce.  Especially when they could use that money to support soldiers' families, provide education, or help them transition into other jobs.  In any case, members of SOOEF need to recognize that President Obama is the Commander in Chief.  And in that position, he is responsible for everything this country does or fails to do.  I rest my case.


1.  What is your take on SOOEF's criticism of Obama getting credit for military operations?
2.  Is the military intergating into politics an example of the ill effects of Citizens United?
3.  Do you think a president should take ownership of military operations, whether they fail or succeed? 
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