The Best Defense

Annals of Obama & national security: Nailing a whistleblower while torturers go free, and what happens when Lute goes?

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?   

Getty Images

The Best Defense

Petraeus: The troops don't get to quit when they disagree, so why should I?

It was easy to miss this exchange, which near the end of Gen. Petraeus' confirmation hearing for CIA last week. It is worth reading closely.

GEN. PETRAEUS: ...So again, I would come back, if I could, Chairman, to my point, which has to do strictly with the military commander on the ground strictly evaluating, again, the military campaign plan in awareness of the strategic context and these other factors that are out there in explicit recognition that others have to evaluate those factors. I cannot do that. Only the president of the United States can assess all of the different considerations.

And again, I should note that I stated this in the situation room to acknowledge that indeed in this process there are broader concerns than those of the military commander. And as a result, I obviously support the ultimate decision of the commander-in-chief -- that is, we take an oath to obey the orders of the president of the United States and indeed do that.

SEN. LEVIN: And if you couldn't do that -- if you couldn't do that consistent with that oath, you would resign?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I'm not a quitter, Chairman. And I don't -- I think that that -

SEN. LEVIN: Well, but that's important -- (inaudible).

(Cross talk.)

GEN. PETRAEUS: I've actually had people e-mail me and say that, and I actually -- this is something that I have thought a bit about.

SEN. LEVIN: I'm sure you have. 

GEN. PETRAEUS: And I don't think that it is the place for a commander to -- actually to consider that kind of step unless you are in a very, very dire situation. This is a -- this is an important decision. It is, again, a more aggressive approach than the chairman, General Mattis and I and -- would have indeed certainly put forward, but this is not something I think where one hangs up the uniform in protest or something like that.

SEN. LEVIN: Just the final part of this -

GEN. PETRAEUS: You know, if I could continue though, Chairman, I feel actually quite strongly about this. Our troopers don't get to quit, and I don't think that commanders should contemplate that, again, as any kind of idle kind of action. That would be an extraordinary action, in my view.

And at the end of the day, this is not about me, it's not about an individual commander, it's not about a reputation. This is about our country. and the best step for our country, with the commander- in-chief having made a decision, is to execute that decision to the very best of our ability, to do everything I can during the remainder of my time as commander of ISAF to enable General Allen then to take the effort forward and then, if confirmed, to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to do everything I can from that position with that great organization to support the effort as well.

SEN. LEVIN: I think that's well put, and it's -- very reflective of your character. You are a man of extraordinary honor and we all are in your debt.

(HT to TD)

Getty Images