Who Was Commander An Chief Of The U.s Military – Essay How Biden Will Fight—and Not Fight the Pentagon What the new president really thinks about the military—and what the military really thinks about him.
Then-Vice President Joe Biden is flanked by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley (left) and Maj. Gen. Andrew P. Poppas at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware on Nov. 15, 2016. Alex Wong/Getty Images
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- U.s. Army Pacific Commanding General Gen. Robert B. Brown (left) Presents Maj. Gen. Mark J. O’neil, Chief Of Staff, U. S. Army Pacific, With The Distinguished Service Medal
Who Was Commander An Chief Of The U.s Military
At the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump famously called America’s military leadership “my general”. It was a description that might have rubbed the military the wrong way had he not decided to increase defense spending by about $100 billion over three years. The spending spree, which included pay raises for uniformed officers, strengthened Trump’s position in the Defense Department and in the field. Many in the military, even in its highest and most skeptical ranks, supported Trump and celebrated his mockery of progressives.
Global Tensions Test Biden’s Resolve As U.s. Commander In Chief
The love affair did not last. Trump’s berating and mocking manner — “You’re all losers,” he said in his first meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in July 2017. “You don’t know how to win anymore.” – undermined his position as commander. above all, that by the end of his term, the military was fed up with him, as 2020 polls showed Joe Biden favored across the board, a stunning drop in Trump’s support from a group that overwhelmingly voted for him four years earlier. “I was really shocked at how many of my former colleagues voted for and openly supported the former president,” said retired US Army Major General Paul Eaton, who steadfastly declined to mention Trump by name. “But when he [Trump] hit the military, the military turned on him.”
And so it is that even within the military, President Joe Biden is defined not so much by who he is, but by who he is not—namely, Donald Trump. The difference between Biden and Trump is not that Biden is loathe to face the military—quite the opposite. For decades, his interactions with officers have been marked by a need to show that they are not afraid of him. But the new president is steeped in Washington mores than reality TV. Before Biden has had time to apply his treaty powers abroad, he has already used all his diplomatic skills in the Pentagon.
Biden, then a U.S. senator and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, speaks during a hearing in Washington on September 11, 2007, where U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus report on the progress of the Iraq war.Alex Wong/Getty Images
Biden remains largely a mystery to the military, and for good reason. Although Biden served 36 years in the US Senate, his experience in the upper echelons of the military has been sporadic. “We have to remember that Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations Committees,” said Gordon Adams, a former White House official on diplomacy, foreign assistance, defense and intelligence. “That’s not to say Biden didn’t know or talk to military leaders, because he certainly did, but his primary contacts were diplomats, not generals.”
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One thing the military knows about Biden is that he “knows the State Department and knows it well,” said Adams, now a fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center. “And that has shaped his views. He doesn’t see military policy as foreign policy.” As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2001 to 2003 and again from 2007 to 2009, Biden saw firsthand the ways in which agendas set by the military can easily distort diplomatic priorities.
When President George W. Bush began pushing for military action against Iraq in 2002, Biden drafted a bipartisan resolution emphasizing diplomacy over military force. But Biden’s decision was buried casually, a casualty of then-Secretary of State (and former CEO) Colin Powell’s promise that America’s march to war would not be a sprint. Bush’s pledge to prioritize diplomacy over force. assurances from military leaders that war in Iraq was the last thing they wanted. Powell, Bush and the military all said they agreed with Biden on what Antony Blinken, Biden’s foreign policy aide at the time, called “tough diplomacy.” Biden believed them and voted to give Bush broad war powers — a position he has tried to explain ever since.
After 36 years in the Senate and two bitter blunders in Iraq, Biden entered his tenure as Barack Obama’s vice president with deep-seated skepticism about what the military said it could do.
Biden tried to regain his position in 2007, when the Iraq war was already a quagmire. He opposed the Bush administration’s troop increase to save the US military’s status; suggested that Iraq be divided into Kurdish, Sunni and Shia states; and supported Nouri al-Maliki as Prime Minister of Iraq. But his opposition to the surge proved a mistake when additional troops helped stabilize Iraq; his proposal to divide Iraq was a caricature of military officers as naive and ignorant; and his support for Maliki seemed ill-advised when the Iraqi leader’s anti-Sunni policies spawned the rise of the Islamic State. This shocking record prompted former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to issue a harsh and very public criticism of Biden’s record. “I think he’s been wrong on almost every major issue of foreign policy and national security over the last four decades,” Gates wrote in his 2014 memoir about his time in the administration.
Given Biden’s record, it’s hard to disagree. Yet in almost every case, Biden not only favored diplomacy over military intervention, but tirelessly advocated for more State Department funding—an ever-popular mantra that has actually done little to diminish America’s willingness to choose the military as its instrument. respond to foreign policy challenges. From President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to send U.S. troops into South Vietnam in 1965 until today, the State Department has played second fiddle to the Pentagon in dollars ($50 billion compared to $740 billion in 2020) and prestige—where the chairmen of the House Armed Services Committees wield great influence, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the once powerful leader works almost anonymously.
Biden’s involvement in electoral politics has freed him from dependence on either the size of the military or its prestige. “We have to remember,” Adams said, “Delaware is not one of those states that depends on Pentagon spending. It’s not like Biden beat the military to provide Delaware with defense dollars.” In fact, Delaware has consistently ranked near the bottom of states in defense personnel recruitment and contract spending — a paltry $651 per capita in 2019.
It’s hardly a surprise that after 36 years in the Senate and two stinging missteps in Iraq, Biden entered his tenure as Barack Obama’s vice president with deep-seated skepticism about what the military said it could do — and what it could actually do. . This may explain his sharp disagreement with the military intervention in Libya in March 2011, his high-profile disagreement with the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May of that year, and his staunch support for the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq at the end. from 2011. It also helps explain why, while Biden rated the military well during the presidential election, senior military officers are maintaining a wait-and-see attitude about what he plans to do as president.
Vice President Biden then talks with U.S. soldier Gen. David Petraeus (second from left) in Maidan, Shar Wardak province, Afghanistan on January 11, 2011.
U.s. Army Pacific Commanding General Gen. Robert B. Brown (left) Presents Maj. Gen. Mark J. O’neil, Chief Of Staff, U. S. Army Pacific, With The Distinguished Service Medal
Biden talks with a US soldier alongside Petraeus (second from left) in Maidan’s Shar Wardak province, Afghanistan on January 11, 2011. SHAH MARAI/AFP via Getty Images
Biden’s several well-documented personal conflicts with the military as vice president shed light on his diplomatic approach to dealing with the Pentagon. A common thread in these confrontations has been the way Biden has insisted on holding on while refusing to resort to scorched-earth tactics.
The best-reported conflict occurred in the summer and fall of 2009, when Biden crossed swords with the military during the Obama administration’s review of US policy in Afghanistan – where the conflict with the Taliban had reached a tipping point. On the other side of the debate was the senior military leadership (including Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the recently ousted commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan) who supported a substantial increase of 80,000 troops (a “fully resourced, comprehensive counterinsurgency” campaign, as described by Army Gen. David Petraeus). which would tilt the war in America’s favor. On the other side was Biden, who argued that the United States should focus on its original mission of defeating al-Qaeda, which the then-vice president called “anti-terrorism plus.” In nine intensive meetings beginning in September 2009, Biden questioned the counterinsurgency strategy, offered alternatives to it, tried to recruit like-minded officers to his vision – and lost. Although the military didn’t get everything it wanted (Obama settled
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