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Ear to the Ground

General Passed Over for Giving Obama Advice

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Posted on May 30, 2011
U.S. Navy / Petty Officer 1st Class Molly A. Burgess

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, left, and Marine Gen. James Cartwright.

President Obama nominated Gen. Martin Dempsey on Monday to take over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military adviser to the president. Obama’s first choice for the job, according to The Washington Post, was Marine Gen. James Cartwright, who was reportedly denied the promotion for giving his own assessment of the war in Afghanistan.

The article portrays the president as an awkward fit with military leaders and describes Cartwright as one of Obama’s “favorite and most trusted military advisers.” On several occasions, the paper reports, Obama told Cartwright, who is currently vice chairman of the Chiefs, the job was as much as his. And why not? The chairman is supposed to be the president’s most trusted military adviser. Shouldn’t that person be someone the president trusts?

Apparently politics and hurt feelings took precedent. Here is the key section from the Post story:

During the White House’s strategy review of the Afghan war in 2009, [current Joint Chiefs Chair Adm. Mike] Mullen, [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates and [Gen. David] Petraeus all backed an option to deploy 40,000 more troops. Obama was leery and pressed Cartwright on whether he thought it was the right approach. In response, Cartwright presented an alternative plan to send half as many extra troops.

“He was very aware he was providing guidance that was not in alignment” with the rest of the Pentagon, said a military officer close to Cartwright who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations with the White House. But Cartwright felt compelled to give an independent assessment to the president, even if it risked alienating Gates and Mullen, the military officer said. “He was told [by Obama], ‘No, don’t just give me the old line, Hoss. Give me your opinion.’ ”

It seems Gates and Mullen, both of whom were appointed by George W. Bush and are retiring soon, have a lot of pull in the administration.

There are other complicating factors. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs needs to be confirmed by the Senate and the White House may have felt Cartwright’s nomination would have been a tougher fight to win. And, of course, this is all speculation based on unnamed sources. For all we know, Obama was never interested in the man, or the facts of the situation changed behind closed doors.

But the image of Obama’s top military and foreign policy advisers limiting his options to such a narrow field—and punishing those who go off-message—squares with our understanding of this presidency.

Here is William Pfaff in a 2010 column on the subject:

When Barack Obama was elected president with a pledge to fight the “right war” in Afghanistan, he undoubtedly expected Defense Secretary Robert Gates to set out a range of options from negotiations with the Taliban to nuclear war, with comprehensive analyses. Instead it would seem he was presented one plan, already in operation, of troop “surge” as in Iraq, to be followed by “counterinsurgency” as set forth by the general commanding, David Petraeus—heavily publicized as a dramatic new war-winning strategy.

Obama’s decision for our future military involvement in Afghanistan was always a choice of how many troops to send, not whether to send them at all or bring them home.

Regardless, it’s bizarre to think that the controversy that reportedly cost Cartwright a promotion was the general’s willingness to come up with a plan that sent only an additional 20,000 troops to an irrational war. Happy Memorial Day.  —PZS

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, May 31, 2011 at 3:15 pm Link to this comment

Gonna loose sleep over this one…yawn.

We have way, way too many generals, colonels captains, soldiers period!

There is a saying in the trades…turn them into cash.

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Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, May 31, 2011 at 2:33 pm Link to this comment

A shame this thread wasn’t “passed over”.

Mindless rubbish.

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By Observer, May 31, 2011 at 2:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

By bahmi > He is the perfect useful idiot.

Why getting soooo personal about our President who`s been misled from “everybody and everything” at day-one,however,as you say > the big hand has free rein . . . .  it has free rein with everybody and everything <. By that same logic you must be an >self-declared Idiot< by believing in the apparent, but then calling the President some despicable name.

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By Ralph Kramden, May 31, 2011 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why is Obama such a wusp? Or perhaps the question should be why is he such a bully? Oh when it comes Gaddaffi and Osama he is killer. When it comes to Georgia, Israel, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia he is a scared kitten. Bullies only take on the weak. There is a saying in Spanish: “El que es buen gallo en cualquier patio canta.” The good rooster crows in any patio. Well Obama ain’t a rooster, just a crabby, sadistic hen, and only cackles in the patios of weak enemies.

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By DigThis, May 31, 2011 at 7:54 am Link to this comment

“By rico, suave

So much for speaking truth to power.”


Power already knows the truth.

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rico, suave's avatar

By rico, suave, May 31, 2011 at 4:57 am Link to this comment

So much for speaking truth to power.

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By Ben Donahower, May 31, 2011 at 4:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Interesting!  Unfortunate that he got passed over
though.  Perhaps the single most important part of a
being an advisor to the President is not being a yes
man.

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drbhelthi's avatar

By drbhelthi, May 31, 2011 at 3:37 am Link to this comment

Disagree with the title.

Obviously, General Cartwright was not “passed over” for having given
the presidential imposter, “Obama,” advice. He was passed over for
having given more reasonable advice, which was not in line with what
his “associates” wanted him to give.  Although imposter Obama
instructed him to give his honest opinion, his honest opinion was not
what imposter Obama wanted to hear. 

Typical imposter Obama behavior.

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By bahmi, May 31, 2011 at 2:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

With a very weak president like Obama, it is always palpable to see the big hand in the background. This big hand has free rein with Obama, it has free rein with everybody and everything. It is money and power, and that is an unbeatable combination. Obama has neither. He is allowed his freakshow czars but the real heavy lifting is centered elsewhere.  He is the perfect useful idiot He does everything he is told.

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, May 30, 2011 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment

When any large organization (public or private) has access to unlimited resources, blanket authority to act as it pleases, no competition and the explicit, unquestioning support of government…...........well then, you get corruption mixed with megalomania…Exactly what the U.S. military has become.

Why would anyone believe anything the military or our highest level officials have our best interests at heart?

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By John Poole, May 30, 2011 at 4:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama may be feigning his style of asking for a multitude of opinions. Many
informed and knowledgable people who differed from the Patreus vision were not
asked to the White House for input.  Obama may appear to be open to a wide
range of options but my speculation is that he was well vetted and prepped by
Israel and whatever serves Israel best is what he will do. The tragedy of course is
that the leaders in Israel have chosen an unwise course.

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By ardee, May 30, 2011 at 3:30 pm Link to this comment

Why, I cannot help but wonder, is anyone surprised at irrationality at the top of our government or our military? When is the last time we saw anything but that?

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