Obama the Military Leader Should Be Wary as Army Confidently Marches Off

It's easy for a leader to get carried away by the gung-ho enthusiasm of the military.


By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

I appreciated Barack Obama's reply to the question at last night's press conference about the "enchanting" aspects of his job.

I am the son of a U.S. Army major, but like many of those who came of age in the Vietnam era, I tended to blame the ideologically blinded, aging generals (and their civilian bosses)  for the U.S. blunder in southeast Asia, which cost too many Americans and Vietnamese their lives. I was suitably wary when my work as a newspaper correspondent first took me into the field with the Army in the 1990s.

Like Obama, I was—well, enchanted is the wrong word—but certainly dazzled by the caliber of the young men and women in uniform I encountered: smart, brave, funny, spirited patriots all. One aches with pride to meet such kids. And that impression was reinforced when I spent a little time with them in Iraq.

Indeed, the toughest chore for a commander-in-chief who has not served in the military must be saying "No" when these gung-ho characters insist that, no matter what the mission, they will prevail. It's good that Obama has surrounded himself with former admirals and generals who, having spent a lifetime in the military, understand its limits as well as its strengths. Otherwise he might be too dazzled.

Even the greatest strategists, like Gen. Robert Lee at Gettysburg, can make that error. In July 1863, Lee could not believe that his Virginians under Gen. George Pickett would not carry the day with their dashing charge. They had done it many times before. He failed to recognize that there were equally splendid boys from Pennsylvania dug in on Cemetery Ridge, who would fight with courage, and tactical advantage, to defend their native soil.

A good thing to keep in mind, as the Army ships out for Asia once more. 

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