“Barack Obama had to be taught how to salute.”

This aspersion was cast recently in a blog comment, and it was true.  IMO, this kind of comment is a denigrating reference to the

(Jan. 28, 2009)President Barack Obama, with Ge...

Image via Wikipedia

President’s lack of personal military experience and it could have come from Rush Limbaugh.  (But it didn’t.  It was typed in a passionate blog debate.)  It is to Obama’s credit that he characteristically does not rise to the bait for this sort of thing.  BTW, I had to be taught how to salute too.  It was in July, 1955 and I was 18, having failed to perform my Community Organization duties before reporting to the Navy.

I don’t agree with the President all the time and I have criticized his fiscal policies often.  I think the spending has been too much of the kind that just dumps money on problems and fails to leverage jobs.  But at the same time, I am sure no economist.  Handling the GR isn’t easy.  History will judge whether Obama missed the target on that.  But I just read something that gives me new confidence that he has his, let’s say STUFF, together as Commander in Chief.  It is another article derived from Woodward’s new book, “Obama’s Wars.” It reveals the following:

“The president comes across in the review and throughout the decision-making process as a commander in chief who is analytical, strategic and decisive, with a broad view of history, national security and his role,” the official told CNN Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry.

The official said Obama wanted concise answers to questions about the capacities of the Afghan government and whether a counterinsurgency strategy could be effective there. The official said Obama wanted to know

exactly what kind of U.S. presence was required and what could realistically be achieved in the immediate future.

Woodward reveals a president greatly at odds with top military advisers Gen. David Petraeus and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Woodward writes that dissent turned into name-calling on both sides, the Post reported. At one point, Petraeus felt shut out and told an aide that he considered Obama adviser David Axelrod a “complete spin doctor.”

This is not a description of a vacillating novice in military matters, but just the opposite.

Obama let his admiration be known early on for Lincoln’s cabinet

Lincoln met with his Cabinet for the first rea...

Lincoln's Cabinet, via Wikipedia

of adversaries – that he wanted strong advisers who would present him with all viable options, the opposite of yes men.  This appears to be the case here.  It is the military’s job to present military advice, strategic and tactical, and then to carry out the decisions of the Commander in Chief.  Grand strategy, it seems to me, is a step above that.  Anyway, only a strong leader with a sense of history would control the process, and it appears to me that Obama is doing just that.

It improves my opinion further that the book “. . . describes a frustrated president who urgently sought an exit plan, only to be provided with options that involved increased U.S. troop levels . . . “, and,

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it

President Barack Obamaa shakes hands with a gr...

Obama at USNA, via Wikipedia

off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling his aides as he agreed to a short-term escalation of 30,000 troops, according to the Post.

These sentiments echo my own and give me renewed optimism that, militarily speaking, this President is a fast learner after all.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
This entry was posted in Armed Forces, Federal Government, Foreign Policy / War, War. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to “Barack Obama had to be taught how to salute.”

  1. Duane Graham says:


    How refreshing it is to read criticisms of Obama’s economic policies that don’t contain references to Karl Marx or argue for the return of pre-GR policies, hoping they will work in a way they didn’t work before.

    And your “new confidence” in Obama’s competence as Commander in Chief is also refreshing.

    Some of us who are Obama supporters were a little dismayed at his early legislative strategy of allowing Democrats in Congress—who are not a monolithic bunch, as we found out—to control the agenda to some extent. We wanted the Obama of your piece, a strong leader who was willing to call the shots.

    It’s good to know that in terms of our war commitments, he is willing to be that leader, no matter the political costs—he has been hammered by the left-wing of the Democratic Party, while receiving little credit from Republicans. In fact, some are giving him the business over Woodward’s portrayal, especially about not assigning more troops to the war in Afghanistan.

    In any case, because I am an unapologetic liberal we will differ on some important matters, but I respect your analysis and I am glad you are part of the Globe lineup.



  2. Just as an aside, Rush Limbaugh’s vast military experience would clearly qualify him to comment negatively on Obama’s salutes. That and his enthusiasm for putting other people, or their sons and daughters in harm’s way. Just for full disclosure, I’ve never been harm’s way myself, and I salute those (verbally) who have the guts to do it.


    • Jim Wheeler says:


      At one time I listened to Limbaugh, Hannity, et. al., from time to time, but lately I simply can’t stand their rants, which is what they mostly are. It doesn’t take a PhD to distinguish between reasoned commentary and pure demagoguery. But it isn’t only that. The rhetoric is so emotional and full of rage and contempt that I fear it may spur some of the more unstable and paranoid among us to violence. Timothy McVeigh comes to mind.

      Thanks for the comment.



  3. ansonburlingame says:


    I responded to this blog a couple of days ago and do not yet find it included in this string of comments. Did I hit the wrong button or…..?



    • Jim Wheeler says:


      I was looking for you to comment on this one. I went back 3 days in my trash bin to see if I might have missed it, and came up empty. I don’t have a clue what might have happened. Frustrating. Far as I know, when you comment on a blog there’s no record you can look for. Seems like there ought to be, similar to an e-mail you send.

      There are still things I’m finding out about WordPress. Duane is the most skilled at it of anyone I’ve seen. I’m wondering if he has purchased additional software we don’t have. For example, how he indents quotes in Comments. Huh.



  4. ansonburlingame says:


    My previous and now lost comment first acknowledged that I was the “passionate bloger”. It went on to put it into context. I was showing that the President started from zero military experience and had to move “fast”. I did not claim that he was not a fast learner, just showing where he started from.

    NO ONE can accumulate deep understanding of military power, strategy and tactics “on the run” in a very difficult job. It takes years of study, extensive reading and deep thought. The only Presidents having such before assuming office were Washington, Grant and MAYBE to some degree, Carter. Two out of the three were terrible Presidents. Even Lincoln had to flounder around several years to find the right commander.

    The only place that I really and loudly CONDEMN Obama is his “no disagreement on strategy” statement during the McChrystal debacle. He was either lying or did not know what was going on IMHO.

    New book coming out written seemingly by a “warrior”, a special ops Army LTC. Sounds like it is a “tell all” from the warrior class. I suspect it will show GREAT disagreement over both strategy and tactics. I hear the Pentagon tried to surpress the book!! Can’t wait to read it.



    • Jim Wheeler says:

      I completely agree that in-depth books are a prime source of understanding. I want to check out the other reference you gave on special ops as well.

      One thing good about blogging, I think, is that it inspires me, like you, to read. It is all too tempting to opine without first digging for evidence. I am looking forward to your review.



  5. ansonburlingame says:


    I left out Jackson as one of the military leaders elevated to the Presidency. Washington for damn sure, probably Jackson a good second with Grant and Carter, well they were Grant and Carter. Chose for yourself where they rank in “greatness”.



    • Jim Wheeler says:


      Well, I guess we mentioned Ike previously in the blog. I think Ford was a LCDR in the Reserves, and that doesn’t count for much. And there was Harry Truman’s Army service in WWI. He was an O-3.

      But you forgot a big one: Teddy Roosevelt, probably my all-time favorite President. Man, there wasn’t much experience he DIDN’T have, including military. His biography reads like an adventure novel! Teddy made terrific use of his military experience in the Panama affair when it split from Nicaragua and became independent. Classic use of the USN, brandishing sea power to great effect.

      I bought myself a Kindle reader yesterday and have downloaded Woodward’s book. Wanna trade book reports?



  6. ansonburlingame says:


    You are correct about Teddy. My oversight. But I think we agree that vast military experience and insight at the strategic level is not the norm for most Presidents.

    I LOVE my Kindle. I have Woodward’s book as well and am reading it carefully. Probably be several days before I am ready to “write about it”. I am still in the transition phase and reading exactly what I expected so far. A statement of “fact” based on unbelievable access. How in the hell did Woodward gain access to the deepest secrets of government (in 2008) that were briefed to the President elect.

    And look at the personality conflicts (Hayden a big one) with “hurt feelings”, politics, choices of people, etc. The observation that Jones “was not a strategic thinker” lends intial credence to my suspicions that NO ONE was within the inner circle of the intial Obama administration, meaning militarily. For sure most of them were politically very strategic. Look at the “political” concerns over Petraeus evidenced in the book for example.

    Fascinating thus far.

    Operation Dark Heart also arrives on my doorstep today. I have a lot of reading to do.



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