Delegator-in-Chief: Trump's Controversial Pentagon Policy

Author: Wendy Innes
Created: 29 June, 2017
Updated: 17 October, 2022
3 min read

The commander-in-chief made a controversial move earlier this month by handing the reins of authority over military operations in Afghanistan back to the Pentagon.

The move gave the Pentagon more authority over war operations, a major shift from the Obama administration, which insisted on micromanaging every aspect of the military. Trump did the same with operations in Syria and Iraq as well.

The president's decision is a welcomed change to some from the Obama administration, which would endlessly debate each and every aspect of military operations -- from troop levels to the movement of military assets.

Trump's detractors say the shift is unwise because it gives the Pentagon unchecked power to wage war, and is simply the president's attempt to absolve himself from responsibility when situations go awry.

While it's true that President Trump holds the record for the fastest job disapproval, according to Gallup, former US deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Middle East policy Andrew Exum says this is the right move.

"At one point toward the end of the Obama administration, cabinet secretaries—cabinet secretaries!—were literally debating whether or not it made sense to move three helicopters within Iraq and Syria. That decision should have been left to the very capable, very experienced commander on the ground," Exum wrote in February after a controversial operation in Yemen.

He added that his experience in the Obama administration led him to the conclusion that the way things were done was "slow and ponderous in a way that created real opportunity costs and denied subordinate commanders the flexibility to exploit opportunities they saw on the battlefield."

"Yes, it eliminated a lot of physical and political risk, but it negated one of the primary advantages the U.S. military enjoys, which is a highly trained and capable officer corps in the field that can exercise independent judgment," Exum wrote.

Michéle A. Flournoy, the top policy official for the Pentagon under the Obama administration, agrees with Exum.

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Flournoy said in March that this change "allows the military campaign to go forward without undue pauses, interruptions, or delays," but raises the point that it is not without risk.

"It can be detrimental, even dangerous, if a commander-in-chief does not feel ownership of the campaign or loses touch with how things are evolving on the ground," Flournoy said. Some of Trump's detractors went even further.

In a March article in the New York Times, it was said that the delegation of authority "could also leave the Pentagon to take the blame if things go wrong."

The article added that comments made by the president could signal that "military commanders would be held responsible for botched operations whether the president signed off on them or not."

An example of this potential point of contention was a Fox News appearance in the days following a January raid in which President Trump said that it was "the generals" who "lost Ryan." Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens was killed in a raid in Yemen.

Some took the president's remarks out of context.

The president actually made positive remarks toward the nation's generals, calling them some of "the most respected we’ve had in many decades." He basically said in the interview that no matter how good the plan and the people executing it are, things can and will go wrong.

It's important to note that the Yemen operation referenced in the Times article was initiated before President Trump took office. However, he did give the final go ahead.

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The balance of public discussion right now seems to suggest the military is happy with the decision to empower the Pentagon for war time decisions. But time will tell if the uncommon choice was a wise one.

In a world short on stability, that time could be sooner rather than later.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

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