No 'Vague Orders' in Obama's War Management

President Obama's management of the war in Afghanistan may be falling into a trap that snagged his Democrat predecessors Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter -- at least if a comment by Bob Woodward is to be believed. And almost nobody seems to have noticed.

Newsbusters is one of the internet's real treasures. A day does not go by when I don't consult it at least once for the latest on media mendacity, viciousness, and insanity, and I am seldom disappointed.  

A good example can be found in Brent Baker's report on the Diane Sawyer interview with Bob Woodward concerning his latest book, Obama's War. The high point is reached when Diane Sawyer claims that nobody in history ever dictated a policy memo until Obama came up with the idea. (Woodward, master of history-while-u-wait, agrees).

But the Busters did miss one point worthy of comment. Discussing Obama's superhuman abilities in military command, Woodward makes this statement:

"... in the White House, what they're saying is one of the big problems in Vietnam was the orders were vague. And so make them specific in this case [Afghanistan]."

"... [T]he orders were vague." There's a famous photo, taken about 1967 or so, of President Lyndon B. Johnson on all fours on the floor of the Oval Office, with several of his aides crouched around him. They are examining a large sheet of paper that appears to be, and in fact is, a fine-scale military map. What were they doing? They were selecting that week's bombing targets in North Vietnam.

Johnson was not a trained air commander. He was not a photo-interpreter. He was not a military pilot. Neither was Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, or Dean Rusk. But once a week during the first years of the war in Vietnam, this crew got together and picked out the targets they liked. The choices were transmitted to air bases in Guam, Thailand, and South Vietnam, where the missions were planned for those targets, and those targets alone. Nothing else could be struck.

It gets worse. LBJ's staff also attempted to dictate how the targets would be hit -- what altitude the planes could approach at, what path they could take, when the attack could occur, and so on. They also often selected what kind of weapons could be used. Ordnance is a complex and arcane specialty, requiring considerable experience and judgment. None of this was exhibited by the Johnson White House. In one raid, they ordered F-105 fighter-bombers to attack a hardened target -- one protected by yards of reinforced concrete -- with 20mm aircraft cannon. Several aircrew were lost flying this mission, which accomplished precisely nothing.

Assistant defense secretary John T. McNaghton had a kind of semiotic theory of warfare, in which a war could be fought by making certain ritual gestures, somewhat in the same way the Renaissance Italian mercenary generals did things before the Swiss pikesmen came down out of the Alps and slaughtered them. Air Force B-57 bombers were ordered to fly at extremely low altitude over the South Vietnamese jungles to impress the Viet Cong. To the north, fighter-bombers were ordered to fly unarmed over SAM site under construction to "signal" the enemy that the U.S. could have bombed them but chose not to. This was supposed to convince the North Vietnamese to "choose" not to attack U.S. planes. The game ended when the first American pilots were knocked down.

"Vague orders"? More like obsessive-compulsive syndrome. The first four years of the war were fought this way (and keep in mind, this is only the air war. Some aspects of the ground war were just as strange), with neurotically detailed orders sent to the front by civilians with no military experience whatsoever. (Rusk had been a staff officer during WWII. McNamara had run a statistics office for the Army Air Force -- where he became known as "that a-hole major up at Wright-Pat" -- and LBJ himself had served six months or so as a kind of PR officer for the Navy.) All this micromanagement -- the term was coined to describe exactly this activity -- crippled the war effort, infuriated the military, and got a lot of people killed.

Why did Johnson do it this way? Put simply, he was utterly paranoid that some accident would broaden the war or otherwise get him in trouble. A bomb would fall on the Soviet embassy, a third-party ship would be sunk, something of that sort. He did not trust the military to do its job, an attitude fed by his aides, who both loathed and feared the Pentagon. So he bent over backwards to assure that nothing bad would happen, in the process throwing away a certain victory as well as ruining his presidency.

Compulsive micromanagement became the style of the Democrats. The same thing happened with the 1980 Eagle Claw rescue mission planned to free the American embassy hostages held by Khomeini's "students." Obsessive tinkering and interference by Jimmy Carter and his aides helped delay the mission, assuring that it ended in failure. (One classic line was uttered by Warren Christopher. When told by a Special Forces officer that his men would burst into the embassy and kill any armed man they saw, Christopher responded, "Couldn't you shoot them in the shoulder or something?")

Isn't it great to see Obama intent on upholding at least one tradition? If he seriously believes that "vague orders" were the problem in Vietnam, and can be overcome through strict, compulsive oversight by the mob of airheads he brought in with him... then God help us, the Afghans, and what remains of the Western world.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and will edit the forthcoming Military Thinker.
His book, Death by Liberalism, will be published by Broadside Books this January.
President Obama's management of the war in Afghanistan may be falling into a trap that snagged his Democrat predecessors Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter -- at least if a comment by Bob Woodward is to be believed. And almost nobody seems to have noticed.

Newsbusters is one of the internet's real treasures. A day does not go by when I don't consult it at least once for the latest on media mendacity, viciousness, and insanity, and I am seldom disappointed.  

A good example can be found in Brent Baker's report on the Diane Sawyer interview with Bob Woodward concerning his latest book, Obama's War. The high point is reached when Diane Sawyer claims that nobody in history ever dictated a policy memo until Obama came up with the idea. (Woodward, master of history-while-u-wait, agrees).

But the Busters did miss one point worthy of comment. Discussing Obama's superhuman abilities in military command, Woodward makes this statement:

"... in the White House, what they're saying is one of the big problems in Vietnam was the orders were vague. And so make them specific in this case [Afghanistan]."

"... [T]he orders were vague." There's a famous photo, taken about 1967 or so, of President Lyndon B. Johnson on all fours on the floor of the Oval Office, with several of his aides crouched around him. They are examining a large sheet of paper that appears to be, and in fact is, a fine-scale military map. What were they doing? They were selecting that week's bombing targets in North Vietnam.

Johnson was not a trained air commander. He was not a photo-interpreter. He was not a military pilot. Neither was Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, or Dean Rusk. But once a week during the first years of the war in Vietnam, this crew got together and picked out the targets they liked. The choices were transmitted to air bases in Guam, Thailand, and South Vietnam, where the missions were planned for those targets, and those targets alone. Nothing else could be struck.

It gets worse. LBJ's staff also attempted to dictate how the targets would be hit -- what altitude the planes could approach at, what path they could take, when the attack could occur, and so on. They also often selected what kind of weapons could be used. Ordnance is a complex and arcane specialty, requiring considerable experience and judgment. None of this was exhibited by the Johnson White House. In one raid, they ordered F-105 fighter-bombers to attack a hardened target -- one protected by yards of reinforced concrete -- with 20mm aircraft cannon. Several aircrew were lost flying this mission, which accomplished precisely nothing.

Assistant defense secretary John T. McNaghton had a kind of semiotic theory of warfare, in which a war could be fought by making certain ritual gestures, somewhat in the same way the Renaissance Italian mercenary generals did things before the Swiss pikesmen came down out of the Alps and slaughtered them. Air Force B-57 bombers were ordered to fly at extremely low altitude over the South Vietnamese jungles to impress the Viet Cong. To the north, fighter-bombers were ordered to fly unarmed over SAM site under construction to "signal" the enemy that the U.S. could have bombed them but chose not to. This was supposed to convince the North Vietnamese to "choose" not to attack U.S. planes. The game ended when the first American pilots were knocked down.

"Vague orders"? More like obsessive-compulsive syndrome. The first four years of the war were fought this way (and keep in mind, this is only the air war. Some aspects of the ground war were just as strange), with neurotically detailed orders sent to the front by civilians with no military experience whatsoever. (Rusk had been a staff officer during WWII. McNamara had run a statistics office for the Army Air Force -- where he became known as "that a-hole major up at Wright-Pat" -- and LBJ himself had served six months or so as a kind of PR officer for the Navy.) All this micromanagement -- the term was coined to describe exactly this activity -- crippled the war effort, infuriated the military, and got a lot of people killed.

Why did Johnson do it this way? Put simply, he was utterly paranoid that some accident would broaden the war or otherwise get him in trouble. A bomb would fall on the Soviet embassy, a third-party ship would be sunk, something of that sort. He did not trust the military to do its job, an attitude fed by his aides, who both loathed and feared the Pentagon. So he bent over backwards to assure that nothing bad would happen, in the process throwing away a certain victory as well as ruining his presidency.

Compulsive micromanagement became the style of the Democrats. The same thing happened with the 1980 Eagle Claw rescue mission planned to free the American embassy hostages held by Khomeini's "students." Obsessive tinkering and interference by Jimmy Carter and his aides helped delay the mission, assuring that it ended in failure. (One classic line was uttered by Warren Christopher. When told by a Special Forces officer that his men would burst into the embassy and kill any armed man they saw, Christopher responded, "Couldn't you shoot them in the shoulder or something?")

Isn't it great to see Obama intent on upholding at least one tradition? If he seriously believes that "vague orders" were the problem in Vietnam, and can be overcome through strict, compulsive oversight by the mob of airheads he brought in with him... then God help us, the Afghans, and what remains of the Western world.

J.R. Dunn is consulting editor of American Thinker and will edit the forthcoming Military Thinker.
His book, Death by Liberalism, will be published by Broadside Books this January.

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