President Obama has been subjected to substantial criticism for his handling of foreign policy since he took office on Jan. 20, 2009. An important complaint has been his failure to capitalize on the breakthrough in Indo-American relations begun with President Clinton's wildly popular visit to India in 2000 and cemented by President George W. Bush's bold decision to adjust U.S. nonproliferation policy in order to expand India's role as an ally and emerging power on the global stage. President Obama started off with some fanfare when he hosted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a state visit in November 2009, but subsequently adopted a Pakistan-centric vision for U.S. policy. Admittedly, exploiting the openings made by his two predecessors was not made easier by the dysfunction with India's political leadership (captured in uncomfortable detail in a recent book by Singh's former media advisor, Sanjaya Baru, The Accidental Prime Minister). 2013 proved to be a particularly tumultuous year, marked by an embarrassing contretemps over the actions of an Indian diplomat in New York, India clamping down on American perquisites in New Delhi, and the hasty departure of the U.S. ambassador to New Delhi.
Yesterday, I explained why General Martin Dempsey's promise to give his best professional military advice to the president, regardless of whether the president wanted to hear it, did not constitute a civil-military crisis. But just because there is no crisis of "generals out of control" does not mean that all is hunky-dory with civil-military relations in the Obama administration. I worry that the halting way the administration has crafted its new war strategy could contribute to a lingering civil-military relations problem.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey made headlines yesterday when he told the Senate Armed Services committee that his professional military advice to President Obama would be based on conditions on the ground. Framed that way, the story has more than a bit of dog-bites-man feel to it and, quite frankly, it does not warrant the breathless coverage it has thus far received. The headline provided by the Daily Beast is particularly egregious, "Can Obama Keep his Generals in Check in the War Against ISIS?"
MEMORANDUM: Strategic Planning
To: Central Military Commission Chairman, Xi Jinping
From: Vice Chairman, Gen. Fan Changlong / Vice Chairman, Gen. Xu Qiliang / Minister of National Defense, Gen. Chang Wanquan / Chief of PLA General Staff, Gen. Fang Fenghui
The possibility that Scotland may vote this Thursday to withdraw from the United Kingdom threatens to upset some of the most basic economic and political structures of the current world order. It is remarkable that this tumult could emerge from a region with a population just over half that of metropolitan Chicago. It is also remarkable that this could happen at a time of supposedly inexorable globalization.