When President Obama earlier this year announced his plan to withdraw the “surge” troops from Afghanistan by the end of next summer, conservatives — seeming to not fully comprehend the idea of chain-of-command — were incredulous that the President did not do exactly what the commanders on the ground advised him to do. But with months to let American laws of civilian control of the military sink in, the idea still doesn’t seem to have caught on. “The commanders on the ground feel that we should bring down our surge troops by December of 2012,” Mitt Romney said in last month’s GOP presidential foreign policy debate criticizing the president’s decision. Romney added, “I stand with the commanders in this regard.”
Newt Gingrich has also attacked Obama for not doing whatever the generals tell him to do. Here’s what the former House speaker said shortly after Obama’s decision was made:
GINGRICH: I think we are drifting to a very, very dangerous situation. None of the generals recommended the speed of the drawdown the president wants. [...]
And if you watch what is happening there’s a steady drift from the United States at a time when the president is signaling his desire to get out as fast as he can and potentially faster than the generals think is safe. … You should go to the White House and ask the president why did he overrule all his generals?
Yet there was at least one point in Gingrich’s career in which he understood the chain-of-command, and actively promoted it. In 2006, a number of retired generals called on then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to step down because of poor leadership in the Iraq war. Gingrich defended Rumsfeld in an April, 2006 interview on Fox News, saying, “We have civilian control. … The generals don’t control”:
WALLACE: Do you agree with any of the criticism from those six retired generals that Secretary Rumsfeld went in with too few troops, went in without a plan, hasn’t been listening to the generals?
GINGRICH: Look. First of all, Don Rumsfeld listens to generals. He doesn’t obey them. We have civilian control. The president is in charge as commander in chief. The secretary of defense works for the president. The generals advise. The generals don’t control.
Watch the two clips:
So what does Gingrich really believe? Does the president control the military or do the generals control the president? For Newt, it probably depends on which political party the current White House occupant belongs to.