When it comes to presidents tuning out generals, the left has changed its tune, now that it has a commander-in-chief it believes in.
President Obama is apparently at odds with his military leaders on Afghanistan policy, and the liberal chattering class is giving him all the tactical support he could want. Yet George W. Bush was vilified for not listening to his military leaders on certain matters of war and peace.
"It's painfully brutally clear that this is a president who isn't listening...to the people's will, to the people's representatives...he isn't listening to his generals; he isn't listening to those in his party who are beginning to separate themselves from what they see as a disastrous policy...
Former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki became a hero to Democrats as the "martyr" to lack of troop strength in Iraq. Shinseki testified in 2003 that any invasion of Iraq would need several hundred thousand troops. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld disagreed. Shinseki, so the story goes, was nudged into retirement for taking a public position contrary to that of the administration. Candidate Obama dutifully also promised to listen to his generals. (As something of a jab to the Bush team, President Obama named Shinseki secretary of Veteran Affairs).
So, to be clear: the civilian leadership of the Bush administration -- the president, vice-president, defense secretary, etc. -- overruled the military brass on war strategy in Iraq.
And, the left didn't like that.
Well, fast forward to Fall 2009: On ABC's "This Week," the very same Katrina vanden Heuvel declared:
I respect President Obama for what he is doing with this review process. I think it shows good judgment. He knows it’s the defining decision of his administration. I think what General McChrystal has done forces us to think very tough -- in a hard way in this country about civilian control of the military. And he might go back and read the Constitution, Article II, the president is the commander-in-chief. I think we’re at a dangerous moment in the civilian-military relationship.
Whoa!!! Who does General Stanley McChrystal think he is? How dare this military commander in Afghanistan lobby for more troops in Afghanistan? Shouldn't he offer a new plan to defeat the enemy in that country -- different from the one that the president basically approved six months ago -- but be quiet about it?
Doesn't he realize that he is supposed to accede to the strategy of the President of the United States, AKA, the commander-in-chief? That's the problem with the military brass -- it's overstepping its bounds! It needs to realize that the civilian leadership has to run the military!!
Vanden Heuvel didn't make her astonishing flip-flop alone: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi chastised McChrystal for letting his views be known.
This isn't just a simple case of the supporters of the party previously out of power switching sides now that it it's in power. Conservatives who still support the war are urging President Obama to listen to McChrystal's advice. But those conservatives still recognize that the final call still goes to the commander-in-chief. Indeed, conservatives as a group are more likely to cite the "commander-in-chief" aspect of a president's responsibility as much as anything else.
It's the left that now seems to want to have it both ways: A Republican president should have listened to his generals when it comes to troop strength. But a Democratic president should overrule (and, implicitly, discipline) his top general who is advocating for more troops in the very war theater that then-candidate Barack Obama called the "central front of the war on terror."
It is this kind of inconsistency that caused many to doubt the ability of the left -- by extension, the Democratic Party -- to lead in matters of war and peace. President Obama had better decide soon how he balances the view of his man in Afghanistan with his sensibilities as commander-in-chief.