When the US Central Command launched a raid into Yemen last month that resulted in the death of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, the president, himself, had to give the go ahead for the mission. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, most recently yesterday, the idea that the president of the United States has to sign off on a raid conducted by fewer men than I commanded as an infantry captain and conducted into an area that closely resembles a free fire zone is ludicrous in the extreme. There are some good signs this idiocy is about to change.
The White House is considering delegating more authority to the Pentagon to greenlight anti-terrorist operations like the SEAL Team 6 raid in Yemen that cost the life of a Navy SEAL, to step up the war on the so-called Islamic State, multiple U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast.
President Donald Trump has signaled that he wants his defense secretary, retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, to have a freer hand to launch time-sensitive missions quickly, ending what U.S. officials say could be a long approval process under President Barack Obama that critics claimed stalled some missions by hours or days.
In declared war zones, U.S. commanders have the authority to make such calls, but outside such war zones, in ungoverned or unstable places like Somalia, Libya, or Yemen, it can take permissions all the way up to the Oval Office to launch a drone or a special operations team.
Trump’s subsequent defense of the Yemen raid, and discussion of accelerating other counterterrorist operations, shows his White House will be less risk averse to the possibility of U.S.—or civilian—casualties, unlike the Obama White House which military officials say was extremely cautious, to the point of frustrating some military commanders and counterterrorist operators.
This is as it should be. Once the president has designated the area in which combat operations are approved, there is not reason for him to be in the loop on specific missions. That is why the military has commanders and planning staffs.
I think under Obama the decisionmaking authority was pulled to the White House because of Obama’s personal narcissism
“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”
It is a very short leap from there to “I’m a better general than my generals. I’m a better SEAL Team Leader than my SEALs. I’m a better sniper than my snipers.”
Adding to that narcissism is Obama’s sense of masculine inferiority. Obama is without doubt the most effeminate, failed and ineffectual male to ever inhabit the oval office. He knew that. He knew that we knew that. To try to fight against the obvious he did tough guy things, like telling SEAL snipers when to shoot Somali pirates and bragging about the men he’d had killed with drone attacks: “I’m real good at killing people.”
To give you an idea of how ridiculous things were, check this out:
“Obama gave a lot of leash to commanders in the field—but not on everything,” said one former senior Obama administration official. “It’s all about controlling escalation. Do I want to give someone else the authority to get me deeper into a war?”
The official explained that in some cases, Obama deemed it necessary to push authority down to his commanders, as when he gave the Navy SEALs the green light to shoot the way out of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden’s Abottabad compound, though firing on Pakistani troops might have triggered armed conflict with Islamabad.
Obama used to give Mattis pre-delegation authority to act when he was head of Central Command on some issues, but not others, the official said. “Will you delegate authority if an Iranian boat gets close, I can take it out? Most presidents will think carefully about that,” the official said. “There’s usually a healthy back-and-forth to come up with the right balance.” The official spoke anonymously to discuss the sensitive discussions on approving raids.
This is not “leash.” This is pathological micromanagement. According to this Obama seriously contemplated having the bin Laden strike force surrender to Pakistani troops, because that would have been the result had he withheld authority to shoot their way out of the compound. And we see the impact of this passivity by the way the Iranians regularly harass our ships and allow their Yemeni proxies to fire missiles at them.
The idea that controlling a situation from the White House is superior to the combatant commander is just ridiculous. The combatant commander is going to be immersed in the regional politics and will have access to back channel communications that the White House doesn’t even know about. The Obama decision was about control, credit, and risk aversion. Hopefully that day is passing fast and we start teaching our commanders how to be commanders again.