Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Presidential Indecisions: Presidents Carter and Obama

President Obama's inability to make a decision about how many troops to send to Afghanistan is, to me, a great disappointment. As far as making important geopolitical military decisions, Barack Obama is the most indecisive president we've had since Jimmy Carter.

I was nineteen years old when Iran underwent the socio-political religious revolution that brought its current (and oppressive) regime to power. The young Iranian revolutionaries had captured the U. S. Embassy in Tehran and taking hostage all of the U. S. personnel who were stationed there.

It took President Carter months to make a military decision regarding the hostages. Carter finally decided that the best course of action would be to attempt to rescue the hostages. The attempt was made, resulting in failure.

I don't fault Carter for the failed rescue attempt; I fault him for his indecision.

Although I was young at the time, I was very aware of national and international events and I was paying close attention to the deteriorating political situation in Iran, occasioned by the revolution. In the weeks prior to the hostage crisis, all nonessential U. S. embassy personnel along with the families of all essential embassy personnel were evacuated from Iran by the U. S. government. By the time of the actual hostage taking, the only people left in the U. S. embassy to take hostage were either essential U. S. Foreign Service personnel or U. S. Marines Corps embassy guards.

As a news junkie, who was serving his third year of active duty military service with the U. S. Army (7th and 25th Light Infantry Divisions), I knew immediately what the president's decision should be regarding the hostages in Iran: The president should tell the Iranians that everyone they have managed to take hostage is either an essential member of the U. S. Foreign Service or the U. S. Marine Corps and that they all volunteered to serve their country at risk of their own lives. The president should tell the Iranians that he now considers these U. S. personnel to be dead and that he has decided to send a division of U. S. Marines into Iran with orders to take control of the embassy, recover the bodies of all civilian and military U. S. personnel, and recover the U. S. flag. The Iranians would be informed that the U. S. Marines would soon be landing, marching through the country into Tehran, and accomplishing the objectives of their mission.

Regarding the Iran hostage crisis, I thought this was the best military option to take. More importantly, I knew immediately that this was the best military decision to make. And the situation required a prompt decision.

Likewise, the president of the United States, President Barack Obama, should have known—immediately—the best military decision to make concerning Afghanistan: give the commander of the U. S. troops in Afghanistan that which he requested: more troops. Any president should have already anticipated such a request and already formed an answer to it long before the commander actually made his request. Had Obama never even anticipated the making of such a request? Had he anticipated it but simply couldn't decide upon what he should do? Have we in fact elected our most indecisive president since Jimmy Carter? It's beginning to look that way to me. And I am truly disappointed with President Obama's indecisiveness regarding the situation in Afghanistan.

On the international stage, the U. S. is seen as a great and powerful nation amongst the nations of the world. Along with this power and greatness comes great responsibility. President Obama may hope that people take his indecision on Afghanistan as evidence of his humanitarianism (the man just won the Nobel Peace Prize for crying out loud!) but his indecisiveness is no doubt perceived as a weakness by many (most) nations; just as President Carter's was. Obama's indecisiveness will certainly be perceived as a weakness by the gangs of thugs and warlords the military has been dealing with in Afghanistan for the past eight years. But Obama (and the U. S.) cannot afford to present an appearance of weakness and indecision, especially in military matters.

Like any politician, I'm sure president Obama would love to have things both ways: get the troops out of both Afghanistan and Iraq while presenting the image of our nation as strong and victorious in its battle with evildoers (i.e., the terrorists!). But he can't have things both ways can he? So what, exactly, is he waiting for?

I think that he honestly doesn't know what to do. For one thing, he's probably listening to too many of his advisors. For another, he is very used to compromise and deal-making (remember, he was a U. S. senator). But this is no time for seeking conflicting counsel, compromise, or deal-making; Obama should have made up his mind about this matter two months ago. Regardless of his decision, whenever he finally decides to make one, he will be perceived as weak, which is a bad image to project in a dangerous world.

The best decision he could have made regarding sending more troops to Afghanistan would have been to have given his commander the troops that he had requested as soon as possible. I have, however, heard that the president's commander in Afghanistan did somewhat of an end-run around the chain of command in order to request more troops from the president. This is certainly problematic, and it puts the president into a very difficult position, nevertheless he should have granted his commander's request immediately because more troops were apparently needed (i.e., if we want to win we need to send more troops).

Jimmy Carter faced a somewhat similar situation during his presidency. Carter announced a plan to withdraw all U. S. military forces from South Korea, and when an Army general (I believe it was the commander of the Second Infantry Division) skirted the chain of command in order to tell the president that his idea to withdraw the U. S. military from South Korea was be a terrible mistake, President Carter promptly took his general's advice and promptly "fired" him. President Obama simply should have done the same; promptly.

Perhaps Jimmy Carter should no longer be thought of having been our most indecisive president; Barack Obama seems to be taking on that title now.

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