Obama on collision course with military over Iraq?

It appears from press reports that the generals responsible for Iraq - David Petreaus and Ray Odierno, along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Robert Gates - are lining up in opposition to the president's planned 16 month withdrawal timetable.

How serious is the rift? Serious enough that the president felt it necessary to lay down the law in no uncertain terms:

CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.

Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."

In other words, Obama is ignoring the advice of his generals on the ground in Iraq as well as the military minds at the Pentagon and is going ahead anyway with his withdrawal plans.

It is very difficult to gauge what the generals might do to show their opposition to Obama. Will there be resignations? There have been very few generals who have stepped down in recent years over policy differences with the Commander in Chief. There is a code followed by these gentlemen that would prevent them from showing up Obama unless they were absolutely convinced that his actions would endanger their men. I don't think a disagreement over what amounts to a political decision by the president would trigger any mass resignations. Then again...

There may be a few officers who would be so opposed to a sped up withdrawal that they would take the drastic step of publicly breaking with Obama and resigning. The key, of course, is Petreaus. He has become a genuine American hero as a result of his leadership in bringing us to the cusp of victory in Iraq. Would he resign if he thought all of his hard work had gone for naught as a result of a premature American withdrawal? Again, it is very hard to say because we don't have all the details but there is a possibility that could happen. If it does, it would almost certainly open the floodgates and Obama would have a real crisis in the military on his hands.

That kind of thing would be extremely bad during a time of war. We are still fighting hard in Afghanistan and a loss of confidence in the Commander in Chief would be devastating. For this reason, I think it unlikely that General Petraeus will resign from CIC Central Command. But we can expect massive leaking from the Pentagon over how unhappy they are that Obama is ignoring their professional judgment and sticking to his campaign promise to get the troops out of Iraq in 16 months.


It appears from press reports that the generals responsible for Iraq - David Petreaus and Ray Odierno, along with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Robert Gates - are lining up in opposition to the president's planned 16 month withdrawal timetable.

How serious is the rift? Serious enough that the president felt it necessary to lay down the law in no uncertain terms:

CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.

Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."

In other words, Obama is ignoring the advice of his generals on the ground in Iraq as well as the military minds at the Pentagon and is going ahead anyway with his withdrawal plans.

It is very difficult to gauge what the generals might do to show their opposition to Obama. Will there be resignations? There have been very few generals who have stepped down in recent years over policy differences with the Commander in Chief. There is a code followed by these gentlemen that would prevent them from showing up Obama unless they were absolutely convinced that his actions would endanger their men. I don't think a disagreement over what amounts to a political decision by the president would trigger any mass resignations. Then again...

There may be a few officers who would be so opposed to a sped up withdrawal that they would take the drastic step of publicly breaking with Obama and resigning. The key, of course, is Petreaus. He has become a genuine American hero as a result of his leadership in bringing us to the cusp of victory in Iraq. Would he resign if he thought all of his hard work had gone for naught as a result of a premature American withdrawal? Again, it is very hard to say because we don't have all the details but there is a possibility that could happen. If it does, it would almost certainly open the floodgates and Obama would have a real crisis in the military on his hands.

That kind of thing would be extremely bad during a time of war. We are still fighting hard in Afghanistan and a loss of confidence in the Commander in Chief would be devastating. For this reason, I think it unlikely that General Petraeus will resign from CIC Central Command. But we can expect massive leaking from the Pentagon over how unhappy they are that Obama is ignoring their professional judgment and sticking to his campaign promise to get the troops out of Iraq in 16 months.