The Cult of the Commander


There's an awful lot to object to in the McCain/Lieberman "The Surge Worked" op-ed. Notably, they don't grapple with the fact that before the surge began, the surge's proponents outlined goals for the surge, and the surge's goals have not been achieved. But there's also John McCain's almost frightening inability to understand the appropriate division of labor in the policymaking process:

As the surge should have taught us by now, troop numbers matter in Iraq. We should adjust those numbers based on conditions on the ground and the recommendations of our commanders in Iraq -- first and foremost, Gen. Petraeus, who above all others has proven that he knows how to steer this war to a successful outcome.

So what if Petraeus says he needs to maintain surge-level forces indefinitely and the Joint Chiefs say the only way to do that would be to cut back on deployments in Afghanistan but our commanders in Afghanistan say they can't afford to cut back. Indeed, what if they say they need a surge of their own? Who do we listen to? Admiral Fallon? Who knows? The answer, clearly, is that while a responsible president needs to listen to what his military commanders in theater think but then he needs to use independent judgment. You're never going to get an answer like "Sir, my strategy has failed" or "Sir, this other guy's mission is more important than mine" out of an official in any kind of organization -- military or civilian.

What's President McCain going to do when it turns out that all of his subordinates throughout the government want more resources to be put at their disposal?