Feinstein’s sense of the chain of command

FEINSTEIN’S SENSE OF THE CHAIN OF COMMAND…. On ABC yesterday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told George Stephanopoulos she’d like to see President Obama approve Gen. McChrystal’s recommendations for an additional 40,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Indeed, Feinstein said the president really doesn’t have a choice — if McChrystal wants the troops, he the president must follow through.

“I don’t know how you put somebody in, who is as ‘cracker jack’ as General McChrystal who gives the president very solid recommendations and not take those recommendations if you are not going to pull out,” Feinstein said on “This Week.” She added, “If you do not want to take the recommendations then you put your people in such jeopardy.”

I’m not entirely sure what Feinstein is trying to say here. The president has a team to help shape the decision-making process. Sometimes he’ll follow the advice he receives; sometimes he’ll go in a different direction. Why would it put “people in such jeopardy” if Obama’s decision varies from his team’s advice?

What’s more, Feinstein made it sound as if the president has to do what McChrystal wants because the president hired McChrystal to do the job. But that’s flawed, too — the president is the commander in chief. There’s a clear chain of command here, and it’s not Obama’s job to follow orders.

I have no idea what the president is going to do in shaping the future of the U.S. policy in Afghanistan, but this notion that Obama should have no independent judgment on troop deployments — military leaders’ advice is sacrosanct — is just wrong. Indeed, as Tom Ricks noted last week, when George W. Bush approved the “surge” policy in Iraq, the president “was rejecting the advice of almost all his military advisors.” I don’t recall Feinstein raising much of a fuss at the time.

Tim Fernholz explained the other day:

Rejecting, or accepting, the advice of military commanders is something presidents can and will do, because they have broader responsibilities, something that has been forgotten by Republicans who are using the White House policy process to exploit tired cliches about which party is better suited to national security policy — you’d think that the Iraq War would have changed that calculus. […]

It’s not clear at all that Obama will end up differing with McChrystal, but if he does there is significant precedent for that decision, and plenty of good reasons to cite.