Listening to the generals

LISTENING TO THE GENERALS….The president delivered a speech yesterday at the Naval War College, rehashing most of what you’d expect him to say about the war in Iraq. (Surprise, he’s “encouraged” by what he called “hopeful signs.”) When he opened the floor to questions, however, the audience seemed a little skeptical.

Q: Mr. President, I just returned from a week at the United States Army War College in Pennsylvania on national security. I walked away with so much more pride in our military. I would follow them anywhere. My question is: At the beginning of your speech — that you said that you consult with the military. With all due respect, sir, how much do you really listen and follow them?

BUSH: Yes, a lot. I don’t see how you can be the Commander-in-Chief of a well motivated military without listening carefully to the advice of your commanders.

Really? In order to be effective, he has to listen to the advice of his commanders? Does Bush remember this from January?

When President Bush goes before the American people tonight to outline his new strategy for Iraq, he will be doing something he has avoided since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003: ordering his top military brass to take action they initially resisted and advised against. […]

It may also be a sign of increasing assertiveness from a commander in chief described by former aides as relatively passive about questioning the advice of his military advisers. In going for more troops, Bush is picking an option that seems to have little favor beyond the White House and a handful of hawks on Capitol Hill and in think tanks who have been promoting the idea almost since the time of the invasion.

In November, after the election, CentCom commander Gen. John Abizaid rejected the notion of a surge, saying that he “met with every divisional commander, Gen. Casey, the Corps commander, Gen. Dempsey” and asked them if bringing “in more American troops now, [would] add considerably to our ability to achieve success in Iraq and they all said, ‘No.'” Indeed, Bush fired Gen. Casey, in large part because he neglected to tell the president what he wanted to hear.

And yet, here we are, just a few months later, watching Bush brag about “listening carefully to the advice of [his] commanders.” Please.

If Bush wants to reject the advice of top military leaders, that’s his prerogative; he is regrettably the Commander in Chief. But he really needs to drop this I-listen-to-our-military schtick.

Reporting on yesterday’s speech, Peter Baker noted, “[E]ven in this military setting, the audience responded politely and without much enthusiasm.” Bush used to count on these speeches to show how receptive military audiences are to his message. Not anymore.