Michael Crowley looks at the landscape in Iraq and wonders if sectarian chaos will cause Obama to stay longer than the SOFA deadline of December 31, 2011:
It's hard to say for sure. During the campaign, he was tonally emphatic about ending America's commitment there. But he has always allowed for revisions based on the judgment of his commanders. It's awfully hard to imagine that surge architect David Petraeus would be willing to watch his gains there disappear in a maelstrom of car bombs and sectarian assassinations. If Petraeus says we need to maintain a substantial troop committment, will Obama defy him?
Michael Cohen demurs:
You know it's been a while since I studied civil/military relations but President Barack Obama acts in defiance of no man or woman in uniform. They follow his orders - seeing as he is commander-in-chief and all. I don't mean to pick on Crowley but this slip is indicative of an ongoing erosion in civil/military relations.
In 2004, you had General Petraeus wading into domestic politics by writing an op-ed supportive of President Bush's policy in Iraq on the eve of the general election; you had Bush and Senator McCain basically saying that decision-making about troop levels would be made by Petraeus, as opposed to his civilian bosses. Right now in Afghanistan we're seeing a ramping up of a counter-insurgency mission that stands in sharp contrast to President Obama's statement on Af/Pak policy in March. And in perhaps the most underreported example, you had Jim Jones statement that no more troops would be going to Afghanistan undermined a mere ten days later by leaks from Gen. McChrystal that more troop requests were on the way. Granted these are somewhat disparate examples, but they point to the far more public role that military leaders are playing in national security debates - and often at the expense of civilian leadership.