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The President and the Military

President Barack Obama’s relationship with the United States Armed Forces has probably always been a bit tenuous, but in one soldier’s view, it has unraveled completely.

The early days of his presidency contained avoidable gaffes. For example, Obama referred to a Navy medic as a “corpse-man” and spoke of the fallen troops which, he noted, he saw in the audience during a Memorial Day speech. At best, these gaffes demonstrated a remarkable lack of curiosity about a military he commanded. Anyone with the most rudimentary attention to the US military should have known the proper pronunciation of corpsman, although one might grant a pass on the “fallen heroes” comment.

Next came the conclusion of the Iraq War. This soldier noticed something was lacking in the president’s speech to announce the end of the war: it contained no acknowledgment of any sort of lasting, grand achievement. Sure, he mentioned the sacrifice of US troops, the defeat of the Saddam Hussein regime, but no major victory. In other words, we did not win.

This may sound contradictory—claiming he acknowledge no long-term victory while recognizing the ouster of Saddam Hussein—but the former regime was the first part of the war. Next came the insurgency, against al Qaeda types and other various groups.

The problem was—despite the poor communication of the war’s objectives on the part of the Bush administration, both to the troops and to the public—US troops had achieved much. Outside of ousting Saddam Hussein, the US and allies had practically defeated various insurgent groups across the country and established a long-term trend of improving conditions. Iraq had a fighting chance, and the United States was less one enemy state and arguably plus a new ally.

Withdrawing troops was, indeed, arranged by the previous administration, but that was always contingent upon conditions on the ground. As of the withdrawal date, conditions surely warranted a residual force, but it was a goal of the current administration to end US involvement in Iraq; and that is what transpired.

After the Iraq War ended, conditions deteriorated in the absence of a US military presence that likely would have deterred the sort of invasion that has occurred in recent months. Even if the group now known as the Islamic State had invaded Iraq, some sort of US presence—perhaps an air base—would surely have offered the Iraqi Army an obviously needed helping hand.

Put in a harshly blunt way, the Obama administration lost a war that was won. The administration made little to no effort to maintain the gains of the Iraq War, paid for in the blood and treasure of the US military and her allies. On the macro level, this is the same as American infantry fighting bloody battles for remote hills in the jungles of Vietnam only to concede them back to the enemy later.

As the situation deteriorated, the president was indignant at the idea that it was he who ended the war, offering instead to pass the blame—per administration SOP—to his predecessor. Many observers found this odd, given the countless promises to end the war and endless bragging for doing so.

Ultimately, the job of commander-in-chief is awesome. More often than not, troops revere their commander-in-chief, despite policy differences; that reverence is supposed to travel in the other direction, too. After all, the troops volunteer to carry out policy from the commander-in-chief. Gaffes demonstrating disinterest at best, disrespect at worst, and conceding the gains of a long, hot, and bloody war are not good ways to gain that reverence.